Each year yellow dust storms kick up over the high deserts of China during the winter and send dense plumes over populous cities to the east in the spring. The researchers want to track the movement of the aerosols and their vertical distribution in the air and attempt to make a two-day "aerosol forecast." Once they accomplish this, the scientists hope to include aerosols in global climate models. "The lifetime of aerosols and their long-range transport increases dramatically high up in the atmosphere," says William Collins of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
To track the aerosols and conduct other related experiments, the researchers are using two research vessels, four research planes and ground-based instruments, as well as half a dozen satellites (see map below). The findings should explain how the multicomponent aerosols affect clouds, solar radiation and ultimately the earth's global climate and energy balance.