Cold War thaw makes possible Va. climate study Americans, ex-Soviets study weather conditions

July 20, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA — WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. -- A team of scientists from the United States and the former Soviet Union is taking advantage of a calm political climate to study how wind, waves and ocean currents affect weather conditions around the world.

During a two-week project that began July 13, scientists from both countries are working side by side, studying together for the first time oceanographic conditions off the East Coast and comparing each other's special data-gathering equipment.

Rick Gasparovik, who has been directing the cooperative project from its temporary base here at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, said the scientists had limited contact through conferences and publications, and had been eager to work together for years.

The chance finally arose when the breakup of the Soviet Union brought about improved relations between the countries.

"The opportunities for joint work were infrequent at best," said Mr. Gasparovik, who works for the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University. "You could interact at conferences, but it was rare to work together," he said.

Using microwave remote sensors, research aircraft, space capsules and the Russian ship Akademik Ioffe, scientists are collecting oceanographic information in the Atlantic southeast of Long Island, N.Y.

The team makes frequent flights up the coast from Wallops Island, using two U.S. DC-8 airplanes and a Russian TU-134.

Because the ocean currents, tides and wind fields are well documented and predicatable in that area, the site was chosen to compare how accurately the different scientific equipment functions.

Mr. Gasparovik said the two groups will swap data at the end of the experiment and may begin an exchange of scientists if the project receives additional money.

Except for some language problems -- none of the U.S. scientists speak Russian and only a few Russians speak English -- the team has been working well.

"We find when you talk to them, they're not that much different than we are," said Mr. Gasparovik.

He said one of the most obvious contrasts between the two groups of scientists is the salaries they earn. Russian scientists, he said, make the equivalent of $20 to $40 a month.

While in the country, the Russians are being housed at nearby motels. Some were able to tour Baltimore before they traveled to Wallops Island to begin the project.

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