NASA Research to Help Aircraft Avoid Ocean Storms, Turbulence
Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in
“Turbulence is the leading cause of injuries in commercial aviation,” said
The system is designed to help guide pilots away from intense weather. A variety of NASA spacecraft observations are being used in the project, including data from NASA’s Terra, Aqua, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, CloudSat and CALIPSO satellites.
The prototype system will identify areas of turbulence in clear regions of the atmosphere as well as within storms. It is on track for testing next year. Pilots on selected transoceanic routes will receive real-time turbulence updates and provide feedback. When the system is finalized, it will provide pilots and ground-based controllers with text-based maps and graphical displays showing regions of likely turbulence and storms.
“Pilots currently have little weather information as they fly over remote stretches of the ocean, which is where some of the worst turbulence occurs,” said scientist
NCAR currently provides real-time maps of turbulence at various altitudes over the continental
The next step is to pinpoint areas of possible turbulence within and around intense storms. The team will study correlations between storms and turbulence over the continental
In addition to providing aircraft and ground controllers with up-to-the-minute maps of turbulence, the NCAR team is turning to an artificial intelligence technique, known as “random forests,” to provide short-term forecasts.
Random forests, which have proven useful for forecasting thunderstorms over land, consist of many decision trees that each cast a yes-or-no “vote” on crucial elements of the storm at future points in time and space. This enables scientists to forecast the movement and strength of the storm during the next few hours.
“Our goal is to give pilots a regularly updated picture of the likely storms ahead as they fly over the ocean, so they can take action to minimize turbulence and keep their aircraft out of danger,” explained NCAR scientist
The NCAR project is funded by NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, which seeks to translate NASA’s investment in Earth observations into applications that address real problems. The program and its partners are working to bridge the gap between research results and operational aviation weather products in such areas as in-flight icing, convective weather, turbulence, volcanic ash and space weather.
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