Saturday, August 15, 2015

Virgin Mtn Weather Station - Lines of Latitude

I have always had an interest in the weather, computer software development, the out-of-doors, maps & charts, and both tinkering and science in general. It is a mixed bag of interests no doubt. A little while back I came upon the Arduino micro-controller systems and found a way to pull all of my interests into one collective focus. This post is an introduction to my latest DRASTIC (Desert Research And Science Technology Innovative Charting) project.
Over the last year I have focused my spare time and energy on developing, testing and calibrating a weather system that tracks soil temperature at multiple depths, two outside temps, humidity, barometric pressure, elevation, soil moisture, light, date and time. A lot of my time was spent testing different power options and testing them. The result was a combination of the wiring of the hardware, optimization of the code, rechargeable batteries and two solar panels. This allows me to run my system around the clock. I haven’t tested it for multiple cloudy days to see how long it will stay powered but I know that it can run for at least 36 hours if the batteries are full. I certainly could add a larger power bank of batteries however I am trying to keep in small and I am cheap so I am trying to make it as small and inexpensive as possible. Even if it does lose power it will just wake up when it gets enough and start logging again. The flowing chart shows some of the testing of battery life with different code modifications.
(the graph above shows the effect of different modifications to the Arduino on the battery life)

When sitting on my front porch I have a direct line of sight view of the Virgin Peak. This is one of our family’s favorite places to visit, especially in the summer so we thought an experiment to understand the weather patterns on the mountain would be fun. In a relative short amount of time we can be heading up the mountain to cooler temperatures, but we wanted to know exactly what kind of temps we could find.

Last year I did a research project where I calculated the Wildfire risk potential for the Gold Butte region based on historic fires. You can read more about this project here:
As I ran through this project it became very apparent that there are many eco-regions within Gold Butte and micro climates within those areas. Looking at the map you can tell that there are different areas within the general area but I like to be able to classify these areas based on specific criteria. These areas can be generally classified by looking at the relationship between elevation, vegetation,slope, soil and geology. This project is a next step in better understanding the relationship between the different areas within Gold Butte. With this experiment I hope to be able to better classify these regions and understand how weather affects these different regions including precipitation, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

With this in mind we designed an experiment where we created duplicate stations to run parallel to collect data. We would then put one on the mountain and the other at the house. We wanted to be able to see if there was a direct relationship or formula we could find to calculate the temperature on the mountain based on the temperature at the house. After building and testing our stations the next step was to pick the locations for our stations. After studying the map we found that we could run both stations on the exact same line of latitude on the mountain and our place in Logandale with 21 miles in-between.

With our experiment designed and our stations built and tested we were ready to deploy them and execute our experiment. I brought along both stations on our ride so we could deploy one and then chart the trip as we went. This chart shows the elevation profile of our trip up the mountain. I had the station set to take a reading and log every 30 seconds.

We had an excellent trip up the mountain. We were a little delayed in getting going as we waited for the rain to slow down but going out in a storm always pays off in the spectacle of rain in the desert.

Post Script: After we deployed our station Virgin Mountain bas gotten hammered with rain. I guess I will find out how good my weather proofing turned out this time. The last station that I deployed was back in September up on the Mesa on September 7, 2014 and the next day the area got the hardest rain we have gotten in a long time with record flooding....and my station biffed it after some rain got in my enclosure and shorted out one of my circuits.