Weather weenies rejoice: Arboretum device offers more data

While the Penn State Arboretum will always be a place for plant lovers, it may find a new following among weather wonks.

Tricia Rizza, WeatherSTEMOctober 28, 2014/University Park

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image: Anne Danahy

Tricia Rizza, with WeatherSTEM, finishes installation work on the weather system Edward Mansouri, CEO of the Tallahassee, Florida-based company, donated to Penn State. The equipment includes weather instrumentation as well as an instrument for measuring soil temperature and moisture. A 1995 Penn State meteorology graduate, Mansouri said the goal is engage students in studying science by using real data.

While the Penn State Arboretum will always be a place for plant lovers, it may find a new following among weather wonks.

That’s because the University’s inviting garden with oaks, flowers and ornamental grasses is now also home to a high-tech weather system.

The system is the work of Edward Mansouri, a 1995 Penn State meteorology graduate and founder of WeatherSTEM, which develops interactive curriculum for K-12 classes. Mansouri donated the equipment, which he and Tricia Rizza, also with his company, installed on the rooftop and in a garden at the Arboretum Oct. 21 and 22.

“One of the goals is to find ways to engage students in science lessons by using real world data,” Mansouri said.

The system includes weather instrumentation that monitors for temperature, humidity and rainfall, and a camera that takes a picture of the sky each minute. The sky images are matched with the data collected, forming a sky video that provides a day of weather in 30 seconds.

“The skyward pointing camera takes a picture a minute. You’re going to be able to grab this movie that shows the movement of the sky every day.”  -- Jon Nese, associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Meteorology

The instrument installed on the roof snaps pictures and collects temperature data, while also measuring sunlight and carbon dioxide levels. Another instrument installed in the soil measures soil temperature and moisture.

The movie of the sky, complete with the data, is available free at:
http://centre.weatherstem.com/psu.

“The skyward pointing camera takes a picture a minute,” said Jon Nese, associate head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Meteorology. “You’re going to be able to grab this movie that shows the movement of the sky every day.”

Nese noted that along with the standard data, the instrumentation collects measurements that are useful to the agriculture industry and students learning about growing crops.

Mansouri’s company, Ucompass.com, headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida, creates curriculum for a K-12 weather course for schools in the state. The company has installed units in 12 counties and will have them in all 67 Florida counties by the end of 2015, Mansouri said. But this is the first in the country’s northern reaches, making the Arboretum a testing ground for how it operates in the cold climes.

The equipment was installed with the help from Kim Steiner, director of the Arboretum, and Shari Edelson, director of horticulture and curator at the Arboretum. Edelson said the system is another resource for K-12 visitors to the gardens.

“This is something that’s scientifically based and fits in with the pre-existing goals of the curriculum,” she said.

An added practical benefit will be the readings the equipment provides, such as one on soil moisture levels, which will help Edelson decide how much watering is really needed to keep the plants happy.

An added bonus: The Penn State website will include a weather almanac that will let faithful football fans  — or anyone else — look up the weather for every Nittany Lions home game dating back to 1954.

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