West Castle Alpine Monitoring System

AMS Overview

West Castle Watershed, an ecologically rich region West-Southwest of Lethbridge Alberta, is home to the West Castle Field Station owned and operated by the University of Lethbridge. The research station currently sleeps six and provides hot water and electricity, with plans for expansion and upgrade currently in the process of negotiation. Only ninety minutes from the University of Lethbridge, situated 200 m from Castle River, and within a watershed of significant importance to the health of the Old Man River, the facility is an ideal base camp for the support of GEES research. Furthermore, West Castle Ski Resort is located approximately 3 km south of the field station, on the East facing aspect adjacent to the West Castle protected Wetland. In April 2014, Dr. Christopher Hopkinson (PI) and Reed Parsons (laboratory technician, HQP) approached Castle Mountain Resort (WCR) with a proposition to install three meteorological towers on the Resort property; phase I of the AMS project.  Temperature, wind speed and wind direction data as wells as manual snow depth measurements, are used extensively by WCR management and the Ski Safety Patrol team in a variety of daily decision making processes, directed towards the safety of WCR patrons;  for example, wind run, snow loading and snow pack stability. Recently, the resort installed meteorological sensors on top of several lift towers, but have indicated the sparse acquisition does not provide a complete description of the meteorological processes over the Resort property.  Management were quick to see the value additional data would have in the contribution to, not only their operations and safety protocols, but to the gaps in the WCR annual climate record. The partnership agreement was such that the University would provide the tower and footing infrastructure, MET sensors, and human resources, while the WCR would provide mountain access and transit, footprint excavation as well as the provision of Wide Area Network (WAN) access. Tough Country Communications Ltd.(TCCL), based out of Pincher Creek, Alberta, are the Internet Service Provider for WCR. The company have recently expressed an interest in the AMS project, with respect to in-situ RGB imaging. The intellectual resources and remote sensing expertise within The ARTeMiS lab in conjunction with the communications industry expertise demonstrated by TCCL, provide a symbiotic framework on which a strong industry partnership could be formed.  West Castle Watershed is the ideal field site, as it fulfills the logistical, research, as well as current and future industry partnership objectives.

The alpine monitoring system (AMS) in its envisaged state of completion, is a network of in-situ meteorological stations, comprising of highly accurate environmental sensors, remotely accessible via a Campbell Scientific (CS) 900 MHz RF401 telemetry system. Each station is defined as a node, collectively forming a Packbus mesh network; the network protocol proprietary to Campbell Scientific sensors and dataloggers. In addition to initiating a scheduled remote data collection sequence, a parent node, implemented using a windows based PC, executes several automated tasks. The parent formats and stores the collected data as comma delimitated ASCII files; aptly named with respect to the concatenation of the station name, as well as the time and date of the collection.  The parent then pushes each text file to a server outside the Local Area Network (LAN) via the Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). Server-side scripting provides an online resource representing current (relatively) and historic values for wind speed and direction, albedo, lapse rate, snow depth and the like, for the area of interest.  All weather sensitive electronic components, for example, CR1000 datalogger, and RF401 telemetry module, are housed within a CS environmental enclosure (ENC16/18) mounted to each tower.  In the event that a remote connection cannot be established, each station stores its data locally via the CFM100; a compact flash CR1000 peripheral manufactured by CS. Using proprietary CS software (PC200W, Loggernet), individual station data can be downloaded locally by connecting to the external RS232 port located on the outside of each enclosure. Having the port externally accessible allows data to be collected without opening the enclosure door, exposing the sensitive components to potentially harmful conditions. The sites for the individual node installations, were selected using the knowledge of the CMR maintenance staff in order to satisfy the following criteria: node infrastructure must not impose any risk to patron safety nor impede CMR trails or runs; sites shall be representative (within reason) of the elevation band on which it is located within the West Castle Watershed;  sites requiring tower erection must be accessible by Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) in order to facilitate installation of the concrete foundation and footings required for structural support.

Motivation Environmental monitoring is essential in understanding the processes and metrics studied under the umbrella of Geography, Ecology and Environmental Sciences (GEES). Hydrologic processes and monitoring, snow pack analysis, vegetative metrics, and geomorphologic phenomena are but a few examples of the research areas ARTeMiS graduate and undergraduate students are involved in. Additionally, the ARTeMiS lab is heavily invested in environmental monitoring and remote sensing hardware; more specifically, with respect to multi-sensor integration for mobile and in situ data collection. Beyond laboratory testing, a field site is required for the testing of hardware with respect to environmental applications, as well as to support current and future graduate and undergraduate research, in the form of case studies, for example. We envisage the site as an educational tool whereby students gain hands-on experience with professional research grade environmental monitoring and remote sensing equipment. An ideal site would be ecologically and geologically diverse with a variety of geomorphological features, as well as logistically feasible in terms of site access, safety and distance from the University of Lethbridge. We see government and industry partnerships as a valuable extension of the research and development aspirations of the ARTeMiS laboratory. The symbiosis between parties eases logistical constraints as well as bridges the ever present gap between academia and the public and private sectors, and as such, the ideal site would be of significant interest to government and or industry.

West Castle Study Site: Each number represents a MET station in the network.

West Castle Study Site


Looking East from Barnaby Ridge

West Castle Study Site
Reconstructed from an Airborn LiDAR servay in 2014