NASA Prepares Air Quality Study Campaign

By Mark Carreau
Source: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
June 10, 2013

NASA plans to launch an intense airborne campaign to study the migration of black carbon, organic gases and aerosols from the surface to the stratosphere, using agency-owned DC-8 and ER-2 aircraft, along with a leased Learjet.

The Studies of Emissions, Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys (SEAC4RS) campaign, based at Johnson Space Center aircraft operations facilities at Ellington Field in Houston, will investigate the seasonal impact of natural and manmade emissions on air quality and climate; provide a calibration check for current satellite observations; and provide opportunities for instrument prototyping.

The flight campaign, which extends from Aug. 7 through September, will be closely coordinated with satellite and ground-based observations as well as Global Hawk drone-based atmospheric studies. An estimated 250 experts will participate.

The three aircraft, equipped for high-altitude flying, will be scheduled for missions every other day throughout the period for studies of emissions rising from metropolitan areas as well as those carried aloft naturally by wildfires, hurricanes and seasonal changes in forested areas and grassland regions, primarily in the Southwest and Southeast, according to Hal Maring, NASA’s SEAC4RS program manager.

“Part of the philosophy is that we want to be able to use the aircraft to the maximum possible extent,” said Brian Toon, a veteran University of Colorado atmospheric researcher who serves as SEAC4RS’ principal investigator, speaking with Maring at a June 6 news teleconference. “By having a variety of topics we are interested in, one of those is likely to be present any given day.”

The campaign will address atmospheric conditions on four fronts. In the Southeast, efforts will be made to determine whether measures to reduce automobile emissions with catalytic converters and other restrictions have been effective. Flights through the North American Monsoon, a moisture-laden clockwise circulation across the Southwest into Mexico, will characterize what sorts of pollution are transported aloft. Similar flights through smoke rising from wildfires in the Southwest fueled by prolonged drought will attempt to characterize differences in the pollution rising from pine trees and charred grasslands. Hurricane missions will assess what the counter clockwise motion of the tropical storms is transporting aloft and how well the particulates are detected by satellites.

Flight observations will be coordinated with NASA’s A-train Earth observing constellation, Aqua, Calipso, Cloudsat and Aura, as well as the Terra satellite and ground stations in the study areas equipped with Lidar and photometry to characterize airborne pollution.


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