By Confidente Reporter
THE Namibian coast hosts the perfect natural laboratory to study aerosol-cloud interactions, which are some of the largest uncertainties in the prediction of future climate.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists and two research aircraft are in the country to study a major unknown in future climate prediction.
NASA as an independent agency that collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase understanding of our home planet, to improve lives and safeguard the future. Further NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records.
This agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how the planet is changing.
The coast of Namibia is one of three places on Earth with persistent low-level clouds, and the only such location with a steady supply of tiny aerosol particles in the form of smoke from inland fires that mix with the clouds. NASA’s Observations of Aerosols above Clouds and their Interactions (ORACLES) mission will observe and measure how these particles interact with clouds and change their ability to warm or cool the planet.
The ORACLES field campaign is based out of Walvis Bay, where thanks to a grant from the US Embassy in Windhoek, faculties and students from local universities will be working alongside the ORACLES team. The project team has built new relationships with African colleagues, in particular, the Namibia University of Science and Technology.
In addition the NUST personnel support logistics for ORACLES field work will collaborate in data analysis and modelling with provision of ground-based remote sensing of the atmosphere from the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre in the Namib Desert, which previously worked with NASA using the desert as an analog for the surface of other planets.
The NASA’s P-3 aircraft, managed by the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, carries five remote sensing instruments and flies through the cloud and aerosol layers at up to 20 000 feet to gather direct measurements from more than a dozen cloud and aerosol probes attached to the wings and inlets on the windows.
NASA’s ER-2 aircraft, managed by the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, will fly at 65 000 feet with instruments that make measurements similar to those acquired by the satellites.
ORACLES flights will complement and validate current satellite observations of aerosols and clouds, and test instruments that may fly on future satellites, by making detailed observations that are impossible to make from space with current capabilities.
Unlike a satellite, which generally gets one pass per day over a certain location, both aircraft will be able to sample clouds and aerosols throughout the day over the entire study area to see how they evolve. Together, data from the two aircraft will provide a comprehensive picture of how aerosols behave in the presence of clouds – and how aerosols directly or indirectly change how clouds behave.
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