For snowflake morphology research, CSU grad student receives Spiros G. Geotis Prize

Julia Rentsch

 

(Graphic by: Kate Knapp)

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Video by Sierra Cymes, CTV11.

Colorado State University graduate student Cameron Kleinkort became the second CSU recipient of the Spiros G. Geotis Student Prize when it was awarded to him last month for his research on snowflake morphology.

Kleinkort, who is currently in his second year of working toward a master’s degree in electrical engineering, performed the research in connection to a project headed by Dr. Branislav Notaros of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

Cameron Kleinkort, right, and his advisor Dr. Branislav Notaros stand in front of thei wind fence around their snowflake camera setup (Photo courtesy of Branislav Notaros).
Cameron Kleinkort, right, and his advisor Dr. Branislav Notaros stand in front of the wind fence around their snowflake camera setup. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Branislav Notaros.)

“Getting to research and model the intricate details of snowflakes to see how they affect radar signatures sounded very intriguing, so I started my research under Dr. Notaros and joined his lab,” Kleinkort said.

Kleinkort was presented with the award at the 37th American Meteorological Society Conference on Radar Meteorology held in Norman, Oklahoma. Notaros said the occasion was the first AMS conference and the first radar conference both Kleinkort and Notaros had ever attended.

“This makes me even more glad about this award,” Notaros wrote in an email to the Collegian.

Kleinkort’s paper was titled “3-D Shape Reconstruction of Snowflakes from Multiple Images, Meshing, Dielectric Constant Estimation, Scattering Analysis and Validation by Radar Measurements” (Cameron Kleinkort, Gwo-Jong Huang, Sanja Manić, Ana Manić, Patrick Kennedy, John Hubbert, Andrew Newman, V. N. Bringi and Branislav Notaroš).  

“So what we do is we have a five-camera system called the MASC, multi-angle snowflake camera, and we have it out in Greeley, Colorado, and we take five simultaneous views of an individual snowflake in free-fall, and using those five different views, we reconstruct 3-D shapes of snowflakes,” Kleinkort said. “And based on those 3-D shapes, we throw them into our computational electromagnetic scattering code, and generate simulated radar observable data and compare it back to CHILL radar.”

Dr. Elene Chobanyan, Cameron Kleinkort and Kleinkort's advisor Dr. Branislav Notaros conduct research on snowflakes. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Kleinkort)
Dr. Elene Chobanyan, Cameron Kleinkort and Kleinkort’s advisor Dr. Branislav Notaros conduct research on snowflakes. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Kleinkort.)

The CSU-CHILL National Weather Radar Facility, located in Greeley, Colorado, is an advanced, transportable, dual-polarized, dual-wavelength weather radar system. The facility is operated by CSU under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and the University. Kleinkort’s research was supported by a grant from the NSF.

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“Basically, the radar can see multiple different parameters that help classify snow,” Kleinkort explained. “So it helps tell you what you’re actually looking at, like birds have a different signature than snow. Rain has a different signature than snow, based on all these different parameters. That’s the simulated data we’re generating.”

The ultimate goal of the research was for one better estimate of how much snow is falling, and also a better classification of the types of snow that appear on radar data. They hope that better weather prediction strategies will eventually result due to the connection between individual snowflakes’ structures and on-the-ground conditions after a snowfall. 

“A lot of it is dependent upon the environmental conditions of the time, so what is happening actually up in the clouds, the temperature, pressure, humidity, everything, and that’s how they form,” Kleinkort said. “I mean, you’ve seen images on Google of pristine, perfect crystals and whatnot… which is a lot different than if you have some solid piece of hail or some freezing rain, which is when it hits it automatically freezes and can cause a lot of damage and havoc on the roads and everything.”

Extended amounts of time spent out in the cold were required for this research, Kleinkort said, because they needed to make sure their equipment was functioning.

“In the winter, we’ll go out and we’ll be sitting in a little van watching snow to make sure the equipment is working, because we’ve had a lot of problems,”  Kleinkort said. “So we’ll drive out to Greeley in winter storms, sit there, be freezing (and) look at snow fall.” 

Interior of the multi-angle snowflake camera (Photo courtesy of Cameron Kleinkort)
Interior of the multi-angle snowflake camera. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Kleinkort.)

Kleinkort said he and his colleagues are still in the preliminary stages of the research and are continuing to attempt to extract more data from the radar, which is not yet being used for any actual prediction.

“I was absolutely thrilled to learn from the Conference Chair about Cameron winning the Spiros G. Geotis Student Prize,” Notaros wrote in an email to the Collegian. “He is… our own very best undergraduate to join our graduate program and perform even better. I had him in several classes and was his research mentor during (his) undergraduate years as well.”

Notaros said the Spiros G. Geotis Prize is the most prestigious AMS award a student can get in this area. Kleinkort said winning the prize came as a shock.

“It was very unexpected… I was very surprised, and honored at the same time,” Kleinkort said. “Working on this project has really been a roller-coaster.”

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @julia_rentsch.