Local Faces and Local Places

Over the past few days Josh and I have gotten to take in some local sights and mingle with some of the lovely people residing in Alvaiade (where we are living) and Vale do Cobrao (where we are working). Friday, we launched the noon weather balloon, then headed over to Foz do Cobrao to find a pretty spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. We walked down to a little dam in the River Ocreza and picnicked on rocks along the riverside.

Picnic lunch view

After lunch, we embarked on a hike along the River Ocreza to the Portas do Almourao. This afternoon, a fire had broken out on the ridge; you can see the smoke in the picture above. While we were on our hike, a bucket helicopter was flying overhead to put it out. This area is prone to wildfires, and the response to this relatively small one was impressive. Thankfully, it was not close to our instruments and appeared to be in an area away from people’s homes.

Bucket helicopter bringing water to the wildfire
The hiking path got a bit perilous!
Selfie at the Portas do Almourao
Full view of the Portas do Almourao… beautiful place!

Later Friday, we spent the afternoon and evening with our Vale do Cobrao friend, Felicity! We lounged in the sun by her lovely pool with an awesome view of the project instruments.

Lounging by the pool! Check out the towers in the background; the nearest one is 100m!

Felicity also graciously welcomed us for dinner to try out her new Uuni woodfired oven ( We had so much fun learning how to use the thing. We did end up with flames shooting out both ends at one point, but we learned quickly and made some beautiful and delicious pizzas.

Beautiful and delicious handmade woodfired pizza!

She also shared wine, homemade mango sorbet, and amazing tales of her worldly journeys. And some Rosie time!

Sweet Rosie

On Saturday, there was a pig roast and gathering of the land-owners on whose land our instruments are sited, the community members of Alvaiade and Vale do Cobrao, and the scientists on the Perdigao project. Turn out was great! We had a dialogue with some interested community members about our activities here.

Jose Palma addressing the group of community members (top) and the delicious roasted pork and local beer we shared at the gathering afterward (bottom). 

While direct communication was difficult for those of us not able to speak Portuguese, the locals were very friendly and inviting… and happy to hand us a beer! It was a nice way to make connections with the people around us.


Sights and Science

Over the past few days Josh and I have been struggling to come back to a normal sleep schedule after our overnight operations Monday night. This has made for a few lethargic days here at the Holiday House! But now I have the energy to share some stories of our most recent days in Portugal.

Part I: Sights
First, I want to start with an absolutely shameless plug for the keepers of our accommodations here in Alvaiade. Luc and Vera are an extremely kind Belgian couple who keep a bed and breakfast called Casa das Estevas and the neighboring Holiday House in which we are staying. The house is lovely and well kept, but beyond this Luc and Vera go above and beyond to make our stay comfortable. Last Sunday they drove us out to the little village of Arnerio, which is a little more than 5km south of Alvaiade. From there, they led us on a wonderful day hike up to the top of the Portas de Rodao above the River Tejo. The views were spectacular including landscape vistas, interesting wildlife like the large and impressive Griffon Vulture, and neat little bits of history including the gold-panning past.

The hiking trail we followed

View northeast from atop the Porta de Rodao toward Villa Velha de Rodao along the River Tejo

View southwest from atop the Portas de Rodao of the River Tejo

View of the surrounding ridges from our hike with Luc and Vera

The rolling rocky fields left over from gold-panning of the river

Close-up view of the smooth rocks
The rocky fields were amazing! We spotted them from the peak of our hike then continued down to them. The rocks were smooth and perfectly rounded presumably by the river from which they were pulled during gold-panning activities. The expanse of these stones was incredible. We climbed up one of the mounds of these rocks, and the sound they made when ground under our feet was quite strange. A hollow, ethereal sound that I never would have expected to come from rocks. Once we finished our hike we came back into the village, and Luc and Vera treated us to “een pint” (rhymes with hint), Dutch for a little beer. It was a refreshing way to finish an active and beautiful hike through the Portuguese countryside.

Part II: Science
Monday night I posted a snippet blog of our first Supersonde IOP (intensive observation period). I’ll offer a bit more detail now. In addition to the weather balloons we release every six hours each day, we have enough balloons to do four Supersonde IOPs, during which we launch balloons every 3 hours from noon to 6am the next morning. I found this cool website about weather balloons/radiosondes if you want to learn more about what they do. The supersonde schedule looks like this:
12:15pm – normal launch time
03:15pm – supersonde launch
06:15pm – normal launch time
09:15pm – supersonde launch
12:15am – normal launch time
03:15am – supersonde launch
06:15am – normal launch time
We want to call Supersone IOPs on nights with few clouds so that the ground cools freely – clouds at night can act like a blanket keeping the heat from the daytime trapped near the ground. These conditions allow for a stable boundary layer to develop. A stable boundary layer is defined as a layer of cool air near the surface of the earth where the air is stably stratified. That just means the air above this cool layer is warm. Since warm air rises and cold air sinks, cool air at the surface does not want to rise and we call that stable as opposed to unstable air which has the tendency to rise and therefore mix (like a pot of boiling water). Stable boundary layers are interesting because many complex and poorly understood flows can happen within them. We also want to target nights with relatively calm winds so that the tethered lifting systems (TLS) operated by the University of Colorado–Boulder and the Army Research Laboratory can both fly during the IOP. We hope that these IOPs can help us understand more about stable boundary layer flows.

Monday night’s sunset in Vale do Cobrao with the CU-Boulder tethered lifting system silhouetted to the right of center.
The first Supersonde IOP was last Monday night. Josh and I launched a ballon at 3pm (which I showed in the previous blog), then we went home and had dinner while the normal 6pm launch was completed by NCAR. Then we returned for the 9pm launch and were in it for the long haul. After the 9pm launch, we walked down to the CU-Boulder crew operating the TLS.

The tethered lifting system flying in the dark.
We learned about the ascent-descent profiles this system observes. It can fly up to 500m above the surface! We also made a friend with an Empusa pennata, commonly called a conehead mantis. We had never seen this type of praying mantis before, but he and Josh became buddies and he checked out the TLS data!

Josh and his Praying Mantis buddy

He even posed for a picture!

Praying Mantis buddy taking a look at the live TLS data
Time passed quickly and we soon had to say goodbye to our human and bug friends and head back up the hill to the midnight sounding. On our way up, Josh and I noticed a strong temperature gradient with cold air at the base of the valley and warmer air up near the sounding site. It was cool to sense this ourselves and verify it with instruments! The midnight sounding went up, and we got to enjoy one perk of being up so late! The time difference meant we could catch the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Playoff game! Josh and I are both Pens fans, so we had the game skype-screenshared to us so we could enjoy the Pens win live. This passed the time until the 3am sounding was launched and almost until we were finished tracking it. Finally, we got to head home and I found myself in bed at 4:50am. A long night of science, but also a little fun.

I’m going to leave you with a couple weird slow-motion videos Josh and I took of preparing our late night snack of strawberries and whipped cream on the site. Late night fieldwork makes things seem funny or cool that probably aren’t… but here they are anyway. Fieldwork is weird, but fun. Also, French President-brand whipped cream is TO DIE FOR.





Today into tonight, we are participating in the first Supersonde intensive operation period or IOP. This means Josh and I are releasing extra sondes such that we have launches every 3 hours instead of every six as in normal operations. Here’s a look at the 15Z sonde at 3:15pm local time. We’ll be launching balloons until 3am tomorrow morning. Wish us luck and caffeine!


The Revenge of the Rain

Finally, after what seems like an eternity of rain (it was really only 4 days), the clouds broke apart yesterday. As you could perhaps infer from my last blog about the puzzle, Josh and I were starting to get a little stir crazy. So yesterday, once the daily meeting was over we made a trip to the instrument site to do a little housekeeping, then convinced a pair of UC-Berkley students – Leendert and James – to join us on a quick hike up to the ridge overlooking our site where the wind turbine sits.

Josh leading the way up the trail past one of the instrumented towers on the mountain.

The first bit of the hike started off easily enough. The road was well cleared and the grade wasn’t too steep. About a mile in, that changed. Suddenly, we were climbing what seemed to be a vertical wall to get to the ridge!


Some extreme huffing and puffing later, we made it to the ridge. The view was WORTH IT! We could see beautiful panoramic views to the southwest, and an awesome birds eye view of the instrumentation throughout the valley below to our northeast. The closeup view of the wind turbine was really neat also!

Josh, James, and Leendert (L-R) at the Perdiago wind turbine

View southwest from the ridge. The Ocreza River is visible here.
View down into Vale do Cabrao where most instruments are sited.
SELFIE! Josh, me (Liz), James, and Leendert atop the ridge. You can see some of the instrumented towers in the valley behind us.

After a bit of taking in the sites on top of the ridge, we noticed a few large rain shafts had developed in the area. Surely there couldn’t be more rain coming for us! With an exasperated sigh, we took off at a brisk pace to try to beat the rain down the mountain.

Rain shafts approaching us on the ridge. That rain looks heavy!
Scurrying along the ridge, but the rain already started… note Josh’s grey jacket for proof.


Hurry we might, we were not successful. The rain did stay fairly light, allowing us easy passage down the very steep grade we had climbed before. Once we were on a bit more easy ground, the atmosphere had no more sympathy for us. It rained buckets.

Leendert taking some brief shelter at Vale do Cabrao’s communal oven.

We were soaked! But it was a good quick hike with lovely views! Hopefully our UC-Berkley colleagues still want to be our friends after this! I’ll leave you with a short video James shot of Josh and I coming down a steep and slippery cobblestone road into  Vale do Cobrao so you can see how we were feeling! The rain certainly put up a strong final hoorah to remind us we don’t know everything about the atmosphere!



The Perdigao Spirit

In my third reminiscing post I want to focus on the people of the Perdigao project team and Vale de Cobroa village, where our site is located. Spending time with these people has been very enjoyable and rewarding. The team spirit among all the project participants has allowed us to get all key instruments up and running during week one of the project. This milestone could surely not have been met without everybody offering a helping hand.

Let me start with my team from OU. During the first two weeks of the project, the OU team included me and Matt Carney. Matt is the mastermind behind miniCLAMPS: he designed the new trailer, got it ready for the Perdigao project, and also worked long hours with me in the field getting it deployed and all instruments up and running. Without his commitment this project would not have been possible.

The pictures show Matt troubleshooting the instruments in the trailer, setting up the AERI, and as fearless driver with our truck in the narrow streets of Alvaiade.

After two weeks, my PhD student Elizabeth Smith joined us. Elizabeth was already a key member of our team during the PECAN experiment and I knew I could trust her representing our team, together with Josh Gebauer, while Matt and I came back to the US for a break. Elizabeth immediately stepped up in a number of ways, volunteering for early morning soundings, helping getting the lidar scans fine-tuned and the related plotting scripts running, as well as setting up automatic emails when power issues arise at our site.

Elizabeth and Laura (student of Julie Lundquist at CU) receiving training for the radiosonde releases from Holger Voemel (NCAR)


Elizabeth snuggling with Murphy, the cat of Felicity, our local friend.

We share the Lower Orange site with Julie Lundquist and her team, who will operate a profiling lidar and a tethered lifting system (TLS) at the site. I have known Julie for many years (we already worked together on the Joint Urban Project in OKC in 2003) and I am very glad we get to collaborate again.

Matt, Julie and I watching how the power supply to the Lower Orange site is improved on a cold morning.

Installing Julie’s profiling lidar at theLower Orange site. The lower right image shows Ludovic Bariteau, who will operate the TLS, and Ed Creegan (ARL) finalizing the power supply for the lidar and TLS.

Speaking of Ed, words cannot express how much we owe him for all the help he provided to all the teams involved in the project. Whenever, there was an issue at any site/instrument Ed would be ready to help. Julie and I decided this deserves a special Thank You:

The project would also not have been possible without the help of our Portuguese PIs Jose Palmer and Jose Carlos Matos, as well as the NCAR project manager Alison Rockwell.

Jose Carlos M., Jose P., and Alison greeting the team on arrival on April 18.

All three were instrumental in getting the instruments deployed at the various sites and in organizing the daily meetings in the ops center as well as handling all important communications and project documentation.

Jose Carlos M. helping us along with Joe Fernando (right) and other team members to carry our lidar into the Lower Orange site.

Alison nervously watching how the water vapor DIAL is transported into the Upper Orange site.

Finally, I want to mention our local friend Felicity. She lives in Vale de Cobroa, the village next to our site. She retired there about 4 years ago after an exciting career in international humanitarian aid. She was born in Scotland, but spend years living in Africa, India, and Washington DC. She is also an artist and has converted part of her house into a glass blowing studio. Each visit with Felicity is a wonderful experience, her stories are endless and her desire to make this world a better place  has not stopped with retirement.

Felicity showing us some of her glass art.

Felicity’s pets Murphy (cat) and Rosie (the gentle giant!)

Bill Brown (NCAR) explaining the radiosonde instruments to Felicity

Watching the radiosonde go up with Bill, Felicity, Matt and Liz!

The last picture says it all, only the sky is the limit when people learn from each other and collaborate. I know, Liz and Josh are currently following this spirit and taking good care of miniCLAMPS.  Working with such great people is truly rewarding.

Some of the photos were taken by Ludovic, who shared them with us. Thank you so much.





Here is my second blog, reflecting back on my first three weeks in Portugal. These weeks were quite busy and the focus of our efforts was clearly on getting miniCLAMPS up and running at the lower Orange Site. Most days we were busy from early in the morning until late in the evening, often catching up with family and work email close to midnight.

However,  we had two days when we decided to have short excursions in the late afternoon, leaving Alvaiade after the daily planning meeting. On the first trip we ended up in Castelo de Vide and Mavrao, and Liz already wrote a nice blog about these two cities.

On our second excursion on May 3rd  we drove to Monsanto, a small town perched on a hill among large boulders close to the Spanish Border. Monsanto was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site and has also been called the  “the most Portuguese village of Portugal”. There are indications of settlements as early as the ice age, the Romans had a settlement followed by the Moors, before it was recaptured by Portuguese Kings in the 12th century and given to the Knights of the Templars.

Similar, to Mavrao and Castelo de Vide, Monsanto offers fantastic views of the landscape in the region:

Inside the village, the integration of the village into the natural landscape is very unique:

The ruins of the castle are also quite impressive and we also witnessed some celebrations for the Festival de la Cruz, which goes back to a siege by the Romans during the second century BC.

We hiked up to the castle following one of the longer, rougher paths that brought us to the leaning boulders:

It was a short but wonderful trip. The only disappointment was, that all restaurants seemed to be closed for dinner. We then had the idea to make a quick trip to Spain and eat dinner there, but we ran into the same problem that the restaurants were only open for lunch. So,  after a good Spanish coffee we drove back to Alvaiade





I have now been back to Norman for a few days and had some time to reflect on my first three weeks in Portugal. There are a number of reasons for why these three weeks are very memorable and I will try to reflect on these wonderful memories in a few blogs.

My first post will focus on the beauty of the vegetation and in particular the flowers.  Each town we visited, I was impressed by how many flowers people have in their gardens and around their houses. The pictures speak for themselves:

A few images from Castelo de Vide:

These pictures were taken in the medieval  part of the city, which is surrounded by the old wall. The streets are very narrow and access is difficult and yet there are flowers everywhere.

A few images from Mavrao:

The castle in Mavrao and its garden is very unique and one of a kind.

Finally, a few images from Monsanto, a UNESOC World Heritage Site:

Very nice courtyards and streets:



Amazing roses:

Trees growing in interesting places among the rocks:



Rainy day distractions

Today it rained, and it rained a lot. Our instruments and the miniCLAMPS trailer all decided to behave today, too. On top of this, neither I nor Josh were signed up for a balloon launch today. So a day off, but nothing to do with the rain. Our day started slowly. We ate a leisurely breakfast and waited for the first showers to roll in. By 11am, we realized we were bored and couldn’t find much motivation to catch up on work. So naturally, we tuned in to daytime Portuguese  television! We watched local news coverage of the upcoming Papal visit and US politics, three Portuguese soap operas, and daytime talk shows. But we couldn’t understand much of what was happening on the screen… all those attempts at learning Portuguese have apparently not paid off.

I began to search our Holiday House for something fun to do. I cracked open a large wooden chest by the stairs, and hit the jackpot. a 500-piece* puzzle of a KITTEN?! If you know anything about the BLISS group, you know we are cat people. So away Josh and I went on this puzzle.

200-piece kitty puzzle

We started optimistically… neither of us had done a puzzle in years and surely our color and pattern recognition skills have evolved making puzzles a cake walk. WRONG. We worked on this puzzle for hours! Wine was needed.

Wine break needed

Thankfully Laura from CU-Boulder and James from UC-Berkley showed up around dinner time to give us a hand! The puzzle was FINALLY finished around 10pm!  Meow!

The spoils of our labor!

*Edit: I originally understated our true toils! The puzzle had 500 pieces, not 200!


Portugese Students Visit miniCLAMPS

Universidade do Porto mechanical engineering students with Perdigao Project scientists in front of miniCLAMPS at the Lower Orange Site.

Yesterday, 45 mechanical engineering students from the Universidade do Porto visited the Perdigao campaign area to learn more about the science goals we are working toward.  The students toured many of the instrument sites and watched a radiosonde release.

Liz and Josh explaining how miniCLAMPS works.

Pictured here are the students learning about how the CLAMPS system operates from Liz and Josh. Some of the students had really good questions for us. We are always happy to share our science!

Photos generously provided by Jose Palma.


We’re in Portugal, not Italy!

We’ve been pretty busy working out some little bugs with our system, so I haven’t had much fun stuff to share over the last week. Josh arrived safe and sound in Lisbon yesterday, and I bid farewell to Matt and Petra as they travelled  back to Norman. Now Josh and I have full reign over miniCLAMPS (if you don’t count the remote log-ins from Dave that is)! We are trying not to break it! 🙂

Tonight, Josh is making our dinner! He has decided to channel his inner Italian Grandmother Joan and make us pizza from scratch! Well mostly from scratch… we cheated and bought the dough. I haven’t tasted it yet, but it smells good!


Josh trying out his Italian heritage in Portugal!