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KITcube: Overall monitoring system for probing the atmosphere

KITcube: Overall monitoring system for probing the atmosphere

Dr. Norbert Kalthoff, Dr. Andreas Wieser,
Dr. Ulrich Corsmeier ,
Dr. Bianca Adler


With KITcube the advanced mobile integrated observation system the Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research has created a measurement system that allows temporally and spatially high-resolution measurements within a volume of 10 x 10 x 10 km3. By combining active and passive remote sensing instruments with classical in situ sensors, which probe the same volume at the same time, maximum synergy is achieved. KITcube resolves all relevant atmospheric processes and allows detailed process studies, which finally leads into a better knowledge for model-based predictions. KITcube is characterized by a high flexibility. It can be deployed for measurement campaigns to sites around the globe and operated over long time for atmospheric monitoring.

Research fields

The observation system KITcube focuses on four topics:

  • Model evaluation: KITcube data capture processes on different scales and allow the evaluation of different types of numerical models from Large Eddy Simulations (LES) to mesoscale prediction systems.
  • Clouds & Precipitation: The formation and development of clouds and precipitation is one research topic that is addressed with KITcube. The instrumentation enables access to better understanding of cloud microphysical processes. Beside the temporally and spatially development of cloud structures and the resulting precipitation also mixing processes can be studied and different hydrometeors are detected.
  • Convection: For convection studies KITcube measurements are conducted to investigate why convection is triggered in certain areas at a particular time and under which conditions shallow convection develops into deep convection.
  • Turbulence: By means of remote sensing systems KITcube can probe the entire boundary layer at almost the same time and determine horizontal and vertical structures in the convective boundary layer. Thus it is possible to survey the structure of gusts and to minimize the statistical error of turbulence measurements.


For more information about the individual measuring instruments klick on the links in the following graphic.



Cloud Radar
X-Band Radar
K-Band Radar
Rain Gauge
Cloud Camera
Turbulence Station Energy Balance Station Meteo. Tower Mobile Meteo. Station Scintillometer


Measuring campaigns - KITcube in field

KITcube is deployed to national and international measuring campaigns to investigate both basic aspects of atmospheric research and applied issues. In addition to the standard equipment of KITcube, additional instruments are integrated to cover specific measurement demands. During measuring campaigns external research teams are provided with an ideal working environment and infrastructure for operating their own measuring equipment within KITcube.



A first set-up and measuring phase with KITcube took place between 2010 and 2011 in the palatinate village Hatzenbühl. Therby all measuring systems as well as the central data acquisition and processing were operated together the first time. This opportunity was also used to celebrate an opening ceremony with the Presidential Committee of the KIT.





Within the framework of the Hydrological cycle in Mediterranean Experiment (HyMeX) the first special observation period (SOP 1) was conducted in autumn 2012 in the western Mediterranean. HyMeX aims to improve the understanding and quantification of the hydrological cycle and related processes in the Mediterranean with emphasis on high-impact weather events, inter-annual decadal variability and associated trends in the context of global warming. During SOP 1 KITcube was positioned at one of HyMeX's supersites on the island of Corisca. The deployment of KITcube at this position allowed to study the impact of the mountainous island on initiation and modification of isolated deep convection and provided upstream conditions for the intense precipitation events affecting continental south-eastern France and northern and central Italy. The KITcube instruments were deployed at two main sites: one at Corte in the Tavignano Valley in the centre of the island and one at San Giuliano on the east coast.






The HD(CP)² Observational Prototype Experiment (HOPE) was performed in April and May 2013. For this field campaign KITcube was installed in the vicinity of Forschungszentrum Jülich. The unique approach of the measurement campaign was the density of the measurement network: Within less than 5 km distance two other measurement systems were installed and operated the universities of Cologne and Bonn, by MPI for Meteorology as well as by TROPOS in Leipzig. Instruments at these locations were for example microwave radiometers, wind profilers as well as cloud and X-band radars. Research goals of IMK during HOPE were on the one hand the determination of the energy balance components at the land surface, additionally considering nearby stations of the TERENO project and on the other hand the investigation of the structure of turbulence in the boundary layer. Therefore, one of the WindTracer Doppler-lidars was located about 3 km west of the main KITcube supersite together with a second energy balance station. Using Dual Doppler techniques, coherent structures were detected in the horizontal wind field. Moreover, this measurement setup allows for simultaneous observations of turbulence profiles at multiple locations. At the KITcube supersite, two additional lidar systems were installed and operated by the University of Hohenheim, measuring temperature and humidity in the boundary layer with high temporal resolution. By combining these measurements with Doppler-lidar wind measurements of KITcube, vertical profiles of turbulent fluxes can be determined. The profiles derived in this way are an important contribution for the validation of LES performed within HD(CP)².





The Dead Sea region faces big water-related challenges. Among them are sea level decline, desertification, flash floods, ascending brines polluting freshwater, sinkhole development, and the repeated occurrence of earthquakes. Climate change and extensive exploitation of groundwater and surface water even aggravate the situation. These challenges can only be mastered in an interdisciplinary research effort involving all riparian countries. DESERVE is designed as a cross-disciplinary and cooperative international project of the Helmholtz Centers KIT, GFZ, and UFZ with well-established partners of the riparian countries. Within DESERVE, the research of IMK-TRO focuses on the operation of a long-term meteorological monitoring network with several meteorological stations in combination with intensive special observation periods with KITcube, and numerical modelling.





In summer 2016, a field campaign will be conducted in South West Africa within the framework of DACCIWA (Dynamics-aerosol-chemistry-cloud interactions in West Africa). The measurements involve research aircrafts and a wide range of surface-based instrumentation at three sites in Ghana, Benin and Nigeria. The KITcube will be deployed at Savé in Benin for approximately two months. The main focus of these measurements is to identify meteorological controls on the whole process chain from the formation of nocturnal stratus clouds, via the daytime transition to convective cloud, and the formation of deep precipitating clouds.

Namib Fog Life Cycle Analysis

For the Namib desert, one of the driest regions on Earth, fog is an important source of water and influences the spatial distribution of the flora and fauna. The knowledge about the spatial and temporal patterns of fog distribution is incomplete and, in particular, the amount of fog water deposition is unknown. The aim of the Namib Fog Life Cycle Analysis (NaFoLiCA) is to improve the understanding of fog dynamics in the region.