Another area scientists are hoping to collect data on is how aerosols are transported up into the atmosphere by storms, or convection.
Convection can lift gases and aerosol particles high into the atmosphere, and using aircraft to take measurements of those particles will help scientists better understand how high they go and their vertical structure in the atmosphere, said Eric Jensen, a NASA research scientist with the Ames Research Center.
Trying to fill gaps in climate models
Currently, global climate models do not represent this process very well, so this should help improve that in the future.
In order to measure convective processes, which depend on weather, the scientists have to be flexible about where they fly. The planes have been flying every other day, and when the flights are in the air, a team is looking at weather forecasts to determine where they should fly next.
But even while the flights are in the air, plans can change. Data from the aircraft get sent to the ground in real time, and if scientists think the planes need to shift over or move higher or lower, they can let the pilots know.
"We've been very successful at changing the flight plans in real time to optimize what we are doing," said Jensen. "It's sort of a new way of doing things."
The flights will also help test and develop new instruments for satellites. These instruments, called polarimeters, use measurements of reflected light to tell whether a particle is spherical or has edges, giving clues to the type of particle it is.
Ideally, a satellite with Lidar and a polarimeter could enable NASA to get a lot more information about aerosols than it can from current technology.
Hal Maring, a NASA program scientist, said Houston is a good base for the flights because the area around it has a lot of atmospheric activity this time of year.
The planes will fly until the project runs out its budget for flight hours, which Maring anticipates will be around the middle or end of September. As to where they will fly, it depends in part on the weather, and emissions.
"[It is] highly dependent on weather forecasts and something we do called chemistry forecasts. We have predictive models that will be our best guesses as to, chemically speaking, what will be in the air over the next few days," said Maring.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500