We were invited to visit the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) facility on Arrival Heights by Xinzhao Chu today. Arrival Heights is an important place for atmospheric research. LIDAR is just one of the experiments happening there. Dr. Chu and her student Zhengyu (Harry) Hua showed us the LIDAR system that they use to make measurements of the mesosphere.

Dr. Chu Teaching at Arrival Heights
Dr. Xinzhao Chu tells a group of wormherders about the research projects happening at Arrival Heights near McMurdo Station, Antarctica.


The LIDAR system in McMurdo uses two separate lasers and telescopes to make measurements. Each laser uses a different wavelength of light (372 nm and 374 nm). The lasers hit iron particles that are in the mesosphere and the light that bounces back is collected and recorded. LIDAR in Antarctica is used to study the mesosphere which is a layer of the atmosphere that is poorly understood because it is above the reach of aircraft and balloons but below the level of orbiting spacecraft.

The LIDAR telescopes at McMurdo
Walter Andriuzzi and Ashley Shaw look at the LIDAR system at McMurdo Station. There are two separate telescopes for detecting the laser light of different frequencies after it strikes iron particles in the Mesosphere.

Studying the Mesosphere

Measurements of the mesosphere can only be made when the sky is clear. Even with clear skies there is some noise in the measurements. During the AustralRelating to the southern hemisphere. The austral summer is from December to February and the austral winter is from June to August. winter there is less noise so it is an ideal time for Dr. Chu and her students to take measurements. Harry will be overwintering at the station this year for what has become a rite of passage for Dr. Chu's students. He will be one of only about 150 people overwintering at McMurdo and he will be one of the only scientists in that group.

Zhengyu Hua uncovering LIDAR
Zhengyu (Harry) opens the covers on the LIDAR system at McMurdo. Soon he will be doing this job in the night sky during his 2017 overwinter stay.

Scientists and Engineers

Dr. Chu and her students need to be scientists and also engineers. They have to be able to understand the equipment they are using and be able to make repairs and adjustments as necessary. As the only overwintering member of his team, Harry will need to be able to diagnose any problems and perform the necessary repairs on the LIDAR system by himself.

Zhengyu (Harry) Hua and the LIDAR laser
Walter Andriuzzi listens as Zhengyu (Harry) Hua explains how the LIDAR laser works.

Good Luck Harry

Harry just celebrated his 23rd Birthday on Monday; there was a small party for him in the coffee house. Overwintering in Antarctica will be an interesting way for him to start his 24th year. I am sure he will be lonely at times, maybe often, but I am also a little bit envious of him. It would be amazing to experience the polar winter. I imagine the night sky is incredible. The air in Antarctica is so clear with no air pollution and when the sun sets there will be very little light pollution. I would guess Harry will have some amazing views of the night sky and the aurora, when it's not too cold out to look.

McMurdo Station