NASA to Study Climate with Airborne Campaigns

In 2015, NASA will launch five airborne field campaigns to study how long range air pollution, warming ocean waters, and fires in Africa affect our climate. This effort into several incompletely understood Earth systems is part of NASA’s Earth Venture class projects. It is funded at a total cost of no more than $30 million dollars over five years. The initiative is designed to fill major knowledge gaps in earth sciences. A mixture of plane flights and surface measurements will shed light on processes that NASa’s satellite missions cannot pick up.

A NASA press release explained the following five Earth Venture investigations:

• Atmospheric chemistry and air pollution-a project to study the impact of human-produced air pollution on certain greenhouse gases. Airborne instruments will look at how atmospheric chemistry is transformed by various air pollutants and at the impact on methane and ozone which affect climate.
• Ecosystem changes in a warming ocean-the mission seeks to improve predictions of how ocean ecosystems would change with ocean warming. The mission will study the annual life cycle of phytoplankton and the impact small airborne particles derived from marine organisms have on climate in the North Atlantic. The large annual phytoplankton bloom in this region may influence the Earth’s energy budget.
• Greenhouse gas sources-the project will quantify the sources of regional carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, and document how weather systems transport these gases in the atmosphere.
• African fires and Atlantic clouds-the project will probe how smoke particles from massive biomass burning in Africa influences cloud cover over the Atlantic. Particles from this seasonal burning that are lofted into the mid-troposphere and transported westward over the southeast Atlantic interact with permanent stratocumulus climate radiators, which are critical to the regional and global climate system.
• Melting Greenland glaciers-will investigate the role of warmer saltier Atlantic subsurface waters in Greenland glacier melting. The study will help pave the way for improved estimates of future sea level rise by observing changes in glacier melting where ice contacts seawater.

“These new investigations address a variety of key scientific questions critical to advancing our understanding of how Earth works. These innovative airborne experiments will let us probe inside processes and locations in unprecedented detail that complements what we can do with our fleet of Earth observing satellites,” said Jack Kaye, associate director for research in NASA’s Earth Science Division.

Image credit: NASA

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