Storm Peak Laboratory
There are only a handful of high elevation weather labs in the world, and one of them sits at the top of the Steamboat Ski Area.
Maybe you’ve noticed that building just at the top of the Morning Side Chairlift at the Steamboat Ski Resort with all the crazy antennae and satellite dishes on the roof, and wondered what goes on there. While some local organizations are lucky enough to get inside those doors for special tours, the facility is not open to the public.
The Storm Peak Laboratory is an atmospheric science and snow hydrology research center run by the University of Utah, whose mission is to advance discovery and understanding within these scientific fields. In other words, just as you are out there enjoying the fresh air and pristine wilderness that surrounds the ski area, you’ve got some of the best scientists in the world just a few feet away doing their best to protect it.
Storm Peak Laboratory was constructed during the summer of 1995 in the Rocky Mountains of northwestern Colorado (3220 m M.S.L.; 40.455 deg N, -106.744 deg W). The new facility is the latest stage of an evolutionary process of providing a practical, easily accessible facility for researchers, teachers and students of all ages and abilities.
We caught up with Dr. Gannet Hallar, Professor at the University of Utah in the Department of Atmospheric Science, who is the director of Storm Peak Laboratory. Under her leadership, the lab has undergone major changes including new instrumentation, new field courses and a significant building expansion. She host many undergraduate and graduate level field courses at the laboratory from a variety of institutions, including the University of Utah, University of Colorado, Texas A&M, etc.
Tell us about this facility and what makes it special.
We are located at the top of the Steamboat Ski Resort next to the Morning Side chairlift in the Routt National Forest. The lab maintains a special use permit through Forest Service for the land surrounding the facility. We are a unique high mountain in-cloud facility, one of only a few in the country
What kind of research is conducted there?
We do atmospheric science research. We study the impact that gasses and aerosols in the atmosphere have on climate and human health. We also study clouds and what types of particles make clouds, as well as water and ice content in clouds.
What is the commute like and how do you get all the gear up there?
On most days we take the chairlift. We have a Pisten Bully snowcat and use snowmobiles to transport equipment. Some of our researchers use snowshoes to walk to and from the chairlift because they don’t ski.
Who is studying there?
Atmospheric scientists who study particles, clouds, and gasses, and we also host snow hydrologists. We have people come from all around the country. We have some permanent staff, but we always have different groups visiting. Right now, we have a group from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a group from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. We also conduct a lot of field classes for students from universities all over the country. We have a 9-person bunk house, full kitchen, classroom and meeting room. The facility is 2,500 square feet.
What’s the data used for?
We do long term monitoring of several things to investigate atmospheric trends. We are part of an international global atmospheric watch program that collects long term data on particles in the atmosphere and measures trace gasses and how they change over time. Similar to all other sites, we are seeing a significant increase in greenhouse gasses, especially CO2. We are also seeing changes to an increasing number of wildlife. We keep a long-term data record that goes into national database and publish papers on what we find about what is changing in our atmosphere.
Are you publicly or privately funded?
We are primarily federally funded and receive most of our funding from the National Science Foundation. It’s always a challenge to stay sustainable and the government shutdown really affected us. If you’re interested in supporting the lab, we always appreciate donations, which can be given through our website.
What is your mission?
A lot of technology development happens here. For example, our group from MIT is developing new technology to measure clouds which has the potential to address climate change and improve the de-icing of airplanes. We also do a lot of graduate and undergraduate training up here. One thing we are very proud of is how many students are trained in this facility, approximately 100 every year.
Crocker Science Center
The University of Utah dedicated its new Gary and Ann Crocker Science Center (CSC) in 2018. Led by a $10 million donation from Gary and Ann Crocker, the U completely renovated the 83-year-old George Thomas Building on Presidents Circle. The CSC was originally a library for the U, before becoming the home of the Natural History Museum of Utah from 1968-2011. The CSC is the heart of the College of Science, housing research, teaching, and support for the College.
During the groundbreaking, former dean Henry White stated, “This modern science hub is ready to serve new generations of students, faculty and staff at the University of Utah. We are extremely grateful for Gary and Ann’s pioneering support for this building to become a world-class science education and research center on campus.”
Research in the CSC draws faculty and students from all seven departments and one school in the College – Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy, Materials Science Engineering, Geology & Geophysics, Atmospheric Sciences and Mining Engineering — to study STEM subjects from ecology to the basic machinery of cells, and from rock formations to the air we breath. In addition to a fully equipped, world-class biotechnology incubator, the newly renovated Crocker Science Center houses two large lecture halls, teaching laboratories, classrooms, and a host of research programs, including the celebrated Science Research Initiative for undergraduates from the U‘s College of Science.
The rooms are designed with glass walls to serve as a living exhibit of modern science and thus to encourage public viewing and visual participation. Two Creek Coffee is also found on the second floor and is very popular with the COS to grab a cup of coffee and snacks before heading to class or finding a quiet space/classroom to study.
The CSC is also home to the Henry Eyring Center for Cell and Genome Science, Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy and the U’s Center for Science and Math Education along with the COS Dean's and staff offices.
- During renovations to make the Crocker Science Center, workers found human skeletal remains. Scientists determined that these were most likely artifacts of the University of Utah School of Medicine between 1905 and 1920. The bones recovered during this project were donated to the Department of Anthropology to be used as part of their human osteology teaching collection.
- The mobile art piece in the atrium is called “Life of Tree” and was designed by Bill Washabaugh. He says, “it was inspired by the biological Tree of Life which highlights the underlying connection between the parts of our natural world. It is the link between patterns across seemingly disparate disciples.” It depicts a Pinyon Pine Tree reflected in water, hence the upside down nature of the sculpture. This reflection also symbolizes the metaphor that all scientific theories are a reflection of the underlying reality. In addition, the kinetic “Life of Tree” is solar powered much like a real tree.
- Throughout the building, numerous areas of exposed structure are labeled with placards and diagrams — serving as in situ learning exhibits for students to discover more about the art and science of structural engineering.
- A $5.9 million high-resolution cryo-transmission electron microscope (cryo-TEM) was installed in December 2017 and is one focal point of research instrumentation in the building. The cryo-TEM allows researchers to observe and construct images of three-dimensional structures of important biomolecules with atomic resolution, providing insights into their biological functions in humans.
- The dinosaur heads in the Ririe Room are a nod to its history as the former Utah Museum of Natural History, relocated and renamed the Natural History Museum of Utah in the Rio Tinto Center in the U's Research Park.
- In 2022 it was announced that the Applied Science Project, consisting of the retro-fitted historical Stewart Building and a new structure south of the Crocker, will complete what will then be called the Crocker Science Complex. The Complex will be the new home of the Departments of Physcs & Astronomy and Atmospheric Sciences. It will also be the new home of the Wilkes Center.