NASA To Conduct Major Airborne Scientific Study In Southeast Asia
March 19, 2012
NASA scientists are planning a complex and ambitious study to probe a vast expanse of the Southeast Asian atmosphere from top to bottom.
AsianScientist (Mar. 19, 2012) – NASA scientists are planning a complex and ambitious airborne science campaign: to probe a vast expanse of the Southeast Asian atmosphere from top to bottom at the critical time of year when strong weather systems and prolific regional air pollution pump chemicals and particles high into the atmosphere.
More than 150 scientists, technicians and airborne research specialists gathered in Boulder, Colorado, last month to develop strategies for the campaign: the Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study, or SEAC4RS.
SEAC4RS will take to the field in August, pending approval of NASA’s plans by the government of Thailand where the flights would originate.
Thailand was chosen for the aircraft base so that the planes can sample the two big meteorological drivers of the region’s atmospheric circulation: the summertime monsoon circulation to the west and marine convection to the east and south that can loft emissions into the stratosphere.
“Southeast Asia is a really important part of the world. A large fraction of the world’s population lives there,” said Brian Toon, chair of the University of Colorado’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.
“There are emissions from big seasonal fires and megacities that are moved around the region by a complex meteorological system. When these chemicals get into the stratosphere they can affect the whole Earth. They may also influence how the seasonal monsoon system behaves. With SEAC4RS we hope to better understand how all these things interact.”
Some scientists believe that Southeast Asia is the primary place where new air is transported into the stratosphere. SEAC4RS will investigate that hypothesis and provide new insights into exactly what the effects are of the pollution vapors and tiny particles called aerosols that reach the stratosphere.
Questions asked will include: Do the particles reflect incoming solar energy and produce a net cooling of our planet? Do the gases alter the chemical balance of the upper atmosphere and features like our protective ozone layer?
“(Southeast Asia) may be the most difficult place on the planet to forecast. Because the region hosts both severe air pollution episodes and some of the cleanest areas on Earth, it is an excellent natural laboratory to understand how pollution, weather, and climate interact,” said Jeffrey Reid of the Naval Research Laboratory’s Marine Meteorological Division in Monterey, Calif., the SEAC4RS lead for aerosol and radiation activities.
Reid’s research is focused on developing methods to monitor the lifecycle of air pollution particles in Southeast Asia and to what extent aerosol pollution can change clouds.
From a global climate perspective, clouds act both to keep energy rising from Earth’s surface in the atmosphere and to reflect incoming solar energy back into space. Aerosols can change the blanket-like and mirror-like properties of clouds to change this energy balance. On a local level, the tiny pollution particles are thought to influence weather conditions by changing the timing and amount of rain falling from clouds.
Another benefit of this thorough examination of the region’s atmosphere will be more accurate satellite data.
“Southeast Asia is an incredibly difficult place to do satellite remote sensing because clouds so often get in the way,” said Hal Maring of the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters.
“By using aircraft to collect data from inside the atmosphere rather than above it, we can compare those measurements with what our satellites see and improve the quality of the data from space.”
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