CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 5/3/22: Like clockwork, monitoring towers and scientific gadgets run continuously at the Bondville Environmental and Atmospheric Research Site (BEARS) in central Illinois, gathering data on current weather, climate, and atmospheric conditions. The facility caters mainly to government agencies and university researchers, offering services that few other weather stations provide.
Managed by the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), BEARS maintains the monitoring equipment for projects of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the ISWS Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring program (WARM), Colorado State, and the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA). Some of the projects date back to the 1950s.
The equipment measures air temperature and precipitation, humidity, windspeed and direction, solar radiation, evapotranspiration, airborne particles, and other factors. NOAA projects study how aerosol particles and surface radiation affect the climate. The U.S. EPA assesses the effectiveness of emission reduction programs by reporting trends in pollution concentrations and the effects of air pollution on sensitive ecosystems.
BEARS is south of Bondville in Champaign County, an ideal location for weather and climate data collection, according to Jennie Atkins, WARM program manager and manager of the BEARS site.
“It’s on a rural, open piece of land with few trees and nothing that hinders the wind, which is good from a climate perspective,” she said. “It’s also in the center of the country and near a research university.”
The site has several WARM program wells to routinely monitor groundwater levels and extra land for research projects. In a recent project, University of Illinois (U of I) researcher Joy O’Keefe placed painted bat houses that were closed off to bats on the site to study how temperatures varied in houses of different colors and materials. She was able to access real-time temperature data from the WARM equipment nearby.
Mike Atkinson, part-time ISWS researcher, maintains all the equipment at BEARS and collects, measures, and weighs samples that he sends to the various agencies. While hundreds of weather stations are located across the country from numerous networks, the BEARS site is unique. Often, stations are in remote locations where there is no support.
“What this site offers that most do not is infrastructure,” Atkinson said. “We have power, a road, cell service, a building with a bathroom, site maintenance, and me to maintain the scientific equipment and troubleshoot if there is a problem with the data collection. The scientists from the agencies really like that they can contact me to check a pump when their data input comes to a screeching halt.”
Information gathered at the Bondville site is easily accessible through government agency websites and weather and climate networks. WARM data, for example, are available on the program website, http://www.isws.illinois.edu/warm/. Scientists use the long-term records to study trends.
“This is all shared data,” Atkinson said. “Nobody is operating in a silo and hoarding all the data.”
In the 1950s, the U of I Electrical Engineering Department built a radio tower system on the site for the U.S. Navy. Called a Wullenweber direction finder, the system was used to track ships through radio transmissions. The ring consisted of 120 vertical antennas 65 feet high.
Later, airline pilots called the ring a “giraffe cage” since it looked like a giant cage from the air, Atkinson said. When pilots saw the poles, they knew that they were approaching the Champaign airport.
The ring of poles is gone, but an underground bunker is still on the property with U.S. government approval paperwork for the project from 1967 still taped on the wall.
Media contacts: Jennie Atkins, 217-333-4966, firstname.lastname@example.org; Mike Atkinson, email@example.com