Radar meteorology improves by breakthrough cooperation

Dmitry Moiseev's post as radar meteorology professor is one of over a 100 university posts funded by donations. With its solutions for weather, environmental, and industrial measurements, Vaisala carries out close collaboration with researchers in radar meteorology, has made several donations to the University.

Professor Dmitry Moiseev at the Faculty if Science has worked at the university since 2007. This university researcher, who transferred from Colorado State University, was given the opportunity to develop remote sensing for meteorology.  

– The project proved fascinating and unique. Our collaboration between Vaisala, the radar manufacturer, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the University of Helsinki has been a pioneering one. Each partner brings their own valuable and unique viewpoint and expertise to the whole, he says.

Moiseev has held the post of associate professor in radar meteorology in Kumpula since 2013, and was promoted to professor in 2021. The objective of the associate professorship is to build a successful research programme in the field, train new experts in radar technology, and further develop various technological solutions.

Moiseev's work is also supported by donations to the university, since the university uses proceeds from the fund of the future of the University of Helsinki for the post. Vaisala has also made several donations to the fund of the future. In addition to the funding partnership, Vaisala has also carried out a great deal of other collaborations with the university.

Scientific locomotive of cooperations

Moiseev and his Vaisala-employed partners have become good acquaintances over the years.

– In our shared projects, Dmitri is the scientific locomotive of the train. Vaisala brings the technology and product development into the collaboration, while the scientific elaboration and application of research results is up to the scientists, says Erkki Järvinen, director in charge of meteorology radars at Vaisala.

Vaisala appreciates academical research and the associate professorship in their own field. The researchers, for their part, praise the well-running collaboration and say consensus is easy to reach. The research is very international.

– We have worked with the NASA research unit to measure snow at the Hyytiälä forest station, for example, and we have several partnering universities internationally, Moiseev says.

More than a weather radar

In 2004, Vaisala had a weather radar built at Kumpula campus for a collaboration between Vaisala, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the university.  The golf ball-like protective dome of the radar on top of the Physicum building is visible far and wide on the Helsinki horizon. The radar is still used by both the university and the meteorological institute, a producer of weather information and a research institute under the Ministry of Traffic and Communications.

– At the time my associate professorship was established, Vaisala was still a newcomer in the field of radar meteorology, and the Kumpula weather radar was still a prototype, says Moiseev.

Feedback to Vaisala on the radar and its function was central, especially at the start of the collaboration. The feedback helped in further developing the weather radar, like improving the signal-processing features and testing new algorithms.

In addition to the large radar in Kumpula, the university also has some smaller radars of its own, and these days the focus of Moiseev's work is on training new users of the weather radars.

– In Finland, it is a challenge to cover the blind spots that are nowhere near the large weather radars. This is why we also need training in the use of smaller radar equipment.

Weather radar technology updated regularly

The Kumpula weather radar is about halfway in its 20-30-year lifespan. The technology has last been updated in 2010, and future development has to be discussed.

– The radar is still used in its original capacity as a weather radar. However, now it is much more exact than originally, and you can distinguish e.g. swarms of insects and items blown about by wind, which in turn can give us information about weather features, says Moisseev.

At Vaisala, the collaboration is also considered to be very useful.

– Dmitry's interests dictate what we measure with the radar. However, the collaboration gives us, the company, the opportunity to gain analytical data that has been gathered 'hands on' from practical research, says Erkki Järvinen from Vaisala.

One of Moiseev's research focuses is on clouds containing a mixture of different elements. Clouds containing small, ice-cold water drops, for example, have features that we need to predict in order to know where the clouds containing water are going to drift, and whether they will disrupt aviation, for example. We also need to find out when the drops will transform into snow or ice. Moiseev has responded by developing the use of the Kumpula weather radar to use laser to test the composition of clouds.

Cooperation between many partners

The University of Helsinki, Vaisala, and the Meteorological Institute are working in close collaboration. The different objectives and needs of the partners are easily merged in the everyday teamwork.

In his own research, for example, Moiseev is focusing on different cloud formations, which relate to the bigger picture of weather phenomena on land, at sea, and in the air.

– Studying the composition of clouds will be an important part of my own research in the future, as well. Vaisala, in turn, may want to test and develop technology, and the Meteorological Institute may seek open-source data, such as prediction of extreme weather conditions with the help of the weather radar, Moiseev describes different viewpoints.

– Predicting potentially dangerous weather phenomena, such as torrential rainfall, will help us prepare for e.g. floods, which will be of use to people in general. The radar can also predict storms by measuring the amount of water droplets or insects in the air, and this information is of use to e.g. airports, says Moiseev.

Annakaisa von Lerber, researcher at the Meteorological Institute, is a partner in the collaboration where the objectives support one another.

– The viewpoints stemming from the nature of Vaisala's business mean that we consider things in a timespan of a half or whole year, and from the company's viewpoint we also need to make the research commercially useful. Though most researchers are also interested in longer-term research questions, the varying time perspectives in our research have not caused any problems, she says.

Erkki Järvinen from Vaisala also thinks the collaboration between many partners has worked well.

– The cooperation constantly brings us new contacts, ideas, and a natural interaction between companies and other research organisations outside of us three partners – the university, the Meteorological Institute and Vaisala.

– In the collaboration at grassroots level, it's a short way to chatting about this and that, Järvinen says.

Students are a valuable part of community

In addition to researching, Dmitry Moiseev also teaches. The radar meteorology module in the master's programme in atmospheric sciences includes a lab course, as well as observations in Kumpula and Juupajoki, the weather station at Hyytiälä forest station of the University of Helsinki.

– The course seems to be popular among the students. The students have not yet gained a very deep scientific basis, so they're able to pose surprising questions. The collaboration between different partners also gives the students a wider perspective on their studies, says Moiseev.

Some of the students' ideas have been refined into research questions.

– The main thing, however, is to teach them to think and make observations with the equipment. All new information that we gain with it is a plus, says Moiseev.

– The students in the field are competent workers – where else would we even get such a well-educated workforce? Erkki Järvinen appreciates the significance of student cooperation.

Professorships funded with donations

Establishing or partially supporting professorships with donations is an effective way for companies to promote a certain area of research and teaching that is vital to the company. Research and teaching improve competence both in the university and society at large. Basic academic research also improves the potential for applied research and the generation of new innovations and discoveries.

Persons appointed to donated professorships are always elected in accordance with the normal academic recruitment practices of the university. Professors holding a donated professorship will carry out academic and free basic research in their field according to their own interests. The donators are important partners, with whom to keep up a dialogue and promote an important shared field. A professor may also make a cooperation contract with a company in accordance with university principles.

Experts at the beginning of their tenure track may also be appointed to associate professorships as donated posts for the first or second period, and then the university may tenure the post as a permanent professorship after deliberations.  The tenure-track progress is evaluated every five years.

The fund of the future at the University of Helsinki is part of the university's basic capital, and it comprises the donations to the government's matched-funding scheme for 2009-2011, as well as the basic capital investment based on government donations. The university invests all donations, and uses the 3% proceeds for projects supported by donations and e.g. donated professorships annually.