An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Michael Town, Upper School science and engineering teacher

The Lakeside Summer Research Institute is an apprenticeship-model research experience offered through Lakeside Summer School Programs, piloted in 2018. Learn more about the project here.

I’m very excited to be back this summer mentoring the Lakeside Summer Research Institute (LSRI) 2019 cohort. We had a successful experience last summer studying snow and avalanche science, with all three students presenting their work at the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop in October 2018. You can read about the 2018 cohort’s work here.

This summer we have four ambitious students exploring three geoscience-related projects. Students are both building on prior work and launching new investigations. We are also excited to be working symbiotically with Lakeside’s Service Learning and Outdoor Programs. Here's what the students are exploring this summer.

Stability of avalanche forecasts from the Northwest Avalanche Center

During the winter of 2017-2018, United States Forest Service avalanche forecasters asked the Advanced Physics: Applications and Engineering class if anyone would look into the stability of their avalanche danger forecasts. In other words, when and how often does the avalanche danger forecast change moving from a two-day forecast to a one-day forecast. Two Advanced Physics: Applications and Engineering students took up that challenge. The results were so intriguing that we’ve been asked to review the student work, extend research into the 2018-2019 winter season, and look for any patterns we can find by forecast region or avalanche problem. Simon K. ‘21 is in charge of this investigation. A strong coder, he’s excited to tackle the data management and analysis challenges ahead.

The temperature, cloudiness, and snow extent on Mount Baker

It turns out that Lakeside's Outdoor Program likes to take students on trips that have repeatable routes and timing; it makes things safer and simplifies logistics. This also makes people like Chip Mehring and Logan Searl (the former and current Upper School Outdoor Program coordinators) walking, talking climate records. Inspired by these two committed professionals, I began working with them on a way to collect quantitative climate data from outdoor trips. We settled on deploying temperature sensors on the Mount Baker ascent trip. On the summer 2018 trip, students deployed sixteen autonomous temperature sensors in different arrays along a southern ascent of Mount Baker (pictured above). The distribution of shaded, exposed, and buried sensor arrays will tell us the temperature, cloudiness, and snow extent on Mount Baker for July 2018-July 2019. 

Problem: we don’t have access to the data yet. The sensors are still on Mount Baker and do not transmit. We are waiting for the next round of plucky Lakeside students to retrieve our sensors. In anticipation of this problem, Tea Freedman-Susskind ’19 and I deployed a similar array of shaded, exposed, and buried sensors on Lakeside’s campus last winter. The goal was to collect data that would allow LSRI 2019 students to develop algorithms to be used on the Mount Baker data set once it is retrieved. Of course Tea and I had no idea it would snow so much this winter, but Seattle’s Snowmageddon 2019 provided a perfect training data set for LSRI 2019 students.

Allistair Y. ’20 and Kimberly L. ’21 are working on this project, researching the climate of Mount Baker, reading peer-reviewed literature on data processing of temperature arrays, and coding their own algorithms. They’ve made good progress adapting preexisting code to our purposes.

All LSRI 2019 students will visit Mount Baker this summer to gain a better understanding of the environment we’re studying, collect a few sensors, and help the Washington Trails Association maintain the trails – connecting their work to Lakeside’s Service Learning Program!

Lakeside weather analysis

A couple of years ago, our awesome maintenance team installed a meteorological station on the south side of the Allen-Gates building, collecting data I’ve been able to use in my Honors Physics and Engineering courses. We now have two full years of weather data and we’re ready to begin understanding the weather at Lakeside. Varun I. ’22 has taken on the challenge of analyzing daily, monthly, and annual cycles of temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and insolation on Lakeside campus. We’re not sure exactly what trends or patterns he’ll find. We do know that his project will have symbiosis with the Mount Baker project. It will provide ground-truth temperature and insolation data that Allistair and Kimberly can use to train their temperature sensor array algorithms. Varun will also be laying the foundation for Seattle-focused weather and climate studies conducted by future LSRI students.

I’m excited at our prospects this summer! Each student is bringing some amazing strengths to the group, and have already shown themselves to be motivated and adaptable problem-solvers. Stay tuned for some of their results later this summer!