John J. Cassano

John J. Cassano

Ph.D. Atmospheric Sciences,
University of Wyoming, 1998
Associate Professor
Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC)

Office: Ekeley S331
Phone: 303-492-2221
Cassano Research Group

Research Interests

Cassano’s research involves the study of the meteorology and climate of both polar regions using regional climate models and numerical weather prediction models, in-situ and remotely sensed observations, and various data analysis techniques. His main areas of active research include regional climate modeling and model development, analysis of coupled climate system components, and numerical weather prediction.

Current Research: Probing the Antarctic atmosphere with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

My research group is using UAVs, or drones, to study the Antarctic atmosphere. Aerosonde UAVs, with a 3.6-meter wingspan and a takeoff weight of 20 kilograms, have completed 300 flight hours during flight operations in September 2009 and September 2012. The September 2009 flights were the first wintertime UAV science flights in the Antarctic, and the 2012 flights, with durations of up to 19 hours, were the longest duration UAV flights in the Antarctic.

We are using the Aerosonde UAVs to study air-sea interactions at the Terra Nova Bay Polynya. The Terra Nova Bay Polynya is a region of open water surrounded by sea ice; the sea ice forms when strong winds blowing off the Antarctic continent push sea ice away from the coast. Since sea ice acts to insulate the relatively warm ocean from the cold overlying atmosphere, the presence of a polynya—and lack of insulating sea ice—results in large heat and moisture transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere. The UAVs measure this heat and moisture transfer between the atmosphere and ocean and document the changes in atmospheric state as the cold continental air passes over and downwind of the Terra Nova Bay polynya. As part of this project, the Aerosonde UAVs have flown in temperatures colder than minus 30 degrees Celsius and in wind speeds greater than hurricane force (40 meters per second).

unmanned vehicle

An Aerosonde unmanned aerial vehicle being launched from the top of a pickup truck at the Pegasus ice runway, McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in September 2012. Photo credit: John Cassano

Pegasus ice runway

Trail of light created above the Pegasus ice runway by the wingtip lights of the small unmanned meteorological observer (SUMO) aerial vehicle during a flight near sunset in September 2012. Photo credit: John Cassano

The Cassano research group also is using smaller (0.8-meter wingspan, 580-gram takeoff weight), less expensive, and less logistically difficult UAVs to make local atmospheric measurements. We flew these smaller UAVs, known as small unmanned meteorological observers (SUMOs), in the vicinity of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in January and September of 2012. We are using observations from these UAVs to study the structure of the atmosphere’s lowest 1 kilometer and to document changes in the atmospheric boundary layer during time periods of tens of minutes to hours. The SUMOs have proven capable of measuring very sharp temperature inversions and have observed rapid deepening of the boundary layer.


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