Airborne radar is a critical tool for studying weather and related hazards, especially over rugged terrain or the open ocean, where other tools can have major limitations. Now, major advances in cellular technology, component miniaturization, and radar antenna simulation software have paved the way for a next-generation radar being designed by NCAR for installation on the NSF/NCAR C-130 aircraft. Instead of relying on a single mechanical rotating dish, this airborne phased array radar (APAR) will incorporate thousands of miniature transmitters and receivers mounted on a octagon shaped plate. It will feature four removable, C-band active electronically scanned array antennas mounted on top, both sides, and the bottom of the aircraft.
NCAR APAR will operate like many radars in one, enabling researchers to sample the atmosphere far more frequently. Data with greatly improved spatial and temporal resolution will be gathered along a plane’s flight track, with significantly reduced signal loss in heavy precipitation. The APAR wavelength (5-cm) allows measurements of storm dynamics and microphysics deeper inside the storms, while allowing the aircraft to remain at a safer distance. The system will also feature dual polarization capability that can distinguish between raindrops, ice crystals, and snowflakes. The result will be improved observations and predictions of dangerous rain and snow events, including severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, winter storms, and other hazardous, difficult-to-study weather conditions.
Because APAR will gather much-improved observations of dynamics and microphysics from within storms, its development holds the potential to make significant improvements in understanding, tracking, and forecasting many types of weather, including:
- Tropical cyclones (hurricane genesis, track, intensity change, landfall location, and impacts)
- Severe weather (tornadoes, supercells, squall lines, derechoes, etc.)
- Mountain-related precipitation and flooding
- Winter storms and fronts (blizzards, ice storms, etc.)
- Oceanic weather (showers and thunderstorms)
- Climate processes that connect the ocean and atmosphere (El Niño, La Niña, etc.)