|History of Storm Peak Laboratory|
SPL has been an evolving research facility in the atmospheric sciences since its first incarnation during the winter of 1979. At that time, during a NSF sponsored cloud seeding experiment at Colorado State University, it was created to fill an observational need during a short six-week field season. From its inception it was primarily manned by students and research associates, taking observations as needed for the project and the student theses.
SPL originated as an observing facility during the NSF sponsored Colorado Orographic Seeding Experiment (COSE) centered on the Park Range of Northwestern Colorado. This location was carefully chosen for the project by a large team of researchers from several universities, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), lead by the Principal Investigator, Prof. Lewis Grant at the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University (CSU). The grant funding the project was the largest single research grant ever awarded a faculty member at CSU up to that time.
The fact that a ski area was located on the mountain played no small part in the ability to establish an observation site on the summit. The entire infrastructure was in place. Roads, ski lifts, groomed trails for snow mobiles, and electrical power. It was at this point that a working relationship with the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation (SSRC) was established. This relationship has been nurtured and maintained ever since and it is largely responsible for our continued ability to conduct research projects at the site years later.
From the end of the second COSE project in 1980 until 1984, the lab consisted of a single 16 foot camper trailer. At the beginning of the COSE project in 1979 it was located in the attic of the Thunderhead Lodge at SSRC. It was moved three times over this period each time getting successively higher in elevation on the mountain.
In the fall of 1984 SPL caught the attention of a plant pathologist professor Dr. Monty Harrison and his student Gary Franc at the Department of Plant Pathology and Weed Science at CSU. They hypothesized that plant pathogens were being transported to Colorado in snow storms and they wanted to work out of SPL to test this hypothesis. It was at this time that we secured permission from the SSRC to move SPL to the West Summit of Mt. Werner in the ski area’s US Forest Service permitted area. This would be the final and highest location for SPL at 10,525 feet AMSL.
During this move, and because Harrison and Franc would need more space to operate, the laboratory size was tripled with the addition of a state surplus 40 foot mobile home and an enclosed walkway between the two trailers which became known as the cold room. This building arrangement is retained to this day with a cold room becoming an integral part of the way in which work is conducted in the winter at the lab.
Virtually all of the material and labor to make this move and enlargement of SPL was donated by professors and students at CSU. The laboratory now had room to overnight four people, a small kitchen and rudimentary toilet facilities.
SPL began to develop its own research direction at this point. Projects were being funded that were specifically targeted to take advantage of the unique capabilities it offered. As research continued the capabilities of the site became more understood.
The primary researcher from this point forward was Dr. Randy Borys. Having obtained his PhD at CSU in 1983 and working there for a period as a Research Associate he took a position at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in 1987. The transfer of SPL was made in 1989 from CSU to DRI.
It was at this time that the USFS determined DRI should have their own Special Use Permit separate from the one of the SSRC, of which SPL had up to that point been considered to be a part. In 1993, the SSRC decided to install a new ski lift near the SPL site and open new terrain for skiing surrounding the lab. This would place the lab squarely in view of the public on a daily basis. As such both the ski area and the USFS decided that the building must be upgraded to blend in which the architectural appearance of other ski area buildings and be a permanent structure.
Construction of the new facility began in July, 1995 and was completed in October at a minimal cost. The facility received bunks for nine, a grey water leach field for sinks and two bathrooms with incinerating toilets, a full kitchen and a garage.
The net result of the increased space was increased use by outside investigators and educators and additional research at the DRI which has lead to a state-of–the-science compliment of aerosol and cloud microphysics equipment dedicated to use at SPL.
In 2006, the laboratory entered a new era. DRI hired a new Director for the lab, Dr. Anna Gannet Hallar, and a new 20 year Special Use Permit was issued. Ian McCubbin became Site Manager of the facility in 2007. In 2009, via the support of DRI, a septic system was installed at SPL. This gave the facility flushing toilets and running water. Water is supplied via a snowmelt system in the winter and hauled to the facility in the summer.
Then in 2010, SPL received a major infrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation. The renovations (from 2011-2012) allow air sampling, chemical and biological measurements under up-to-date conditions in warm and cold laboratories. A chemistry laboratory with laminar flow clean bench and chemical hood now meets current and future needs for preparation of aerosol filters, cloud water and snow samples. Cyber-infrastructure was improved by adding a high bandwidth direct point-to-point connection to a fiber optic communications node. Expanded capabilities for atmospheric sampling were enabled through construction of new air-handling manifolds that allow contamination-free collection of natural, anthropogenic, and biogenic aerosols and gases under well-characterized aerodynamic conditions. A climate-control system was added to ensure proper functioning of temperature-sensitive instruments.