NASA To Search For Climate Change Clues In The Tropopause
January 18, 2014

NASA Aircraft Searching For Climate Change Info In Western Pacific Stratosphere

[ Watch the Video: Global Hawk Gets To Work In The Western Pacific ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA has deployed their pilot-less Global Hawk research aircraft in the western Pacific in order to monitor changes to the upper atmosphere and discover how changes there are impacting the planet’s climate.

The mission, announced by the US space agency on Friday, is part of their Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX) airborne science campaign. Over the course of the next several years, ATTREX will measure the moisture levels and the chemical composition of the upper regions of the Earth’s lowest atmospheric layer, a region where even minute changes can have a significant impact on the planet’s weather.

The Global Hawk aircraft departed from the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California and landed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guan Thursday evening. It will begin science flights on Tuesday, and the data it collects will be used by scientists to better understand the physical processes occurring in this region. Furthermore, the observations will allow them to make more accurate climate predictions.

“We conducted flights in 2013 that studied how the atmosphere works and how humans are affecting it,” Eric Jensen, ATTREX principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said in a statement. “This year, we plan to sample the western Pacific region which is critical for establishing the humidity of the air entering the stratosphere.”

According to NASA, previous research has demonstrated that even minor changes to the chemistry and amount of stratospheric water vapor can significantly affect climate by absorbing thermal radiation rising from the surface. Predictions of humidity changes in this part of the atmosphere, which is also home to the Earth’s ozone layer, are uncertain due to poorly understood physical processes that occur in the tropical tropopause.

“ATTREX is studying moisture and chemical composition from altitudes of 55,000 feet to 65,000 feet in the tropical tropopause, which is the transition layer between the troposphere, or the lowest part of the atmosphere, and the stratosphere, which extends up to 11 miles above Earth's surface,” the agency explained. “Scientists consider the tropical tropopause to be the gateway for water vapor, ozone and other gases that enter the stratosphere.”

As part of this current mission, the Global Hawk 872 has been outfitted with 13 research instruments that will be used to sample tropopause near the equator above the Pacific Ocean. Using those instruments, the aircraft will capture air samples and analyze clouds, temperatures, water vapor, gases and solar radiation through remote sensors.

“Better understanding of the exchange between the troposphere and stratosphere and how that impacts composition and chemistry of the upper atmosphere helps us better understand how, and to what degree, the upper atmosphere affects Earth’s climate,” Jensen said.

The ATTREX mission, which first sampled the tropopause region in the Northern Hemisphere last January, is headed up by Jensen and Project Manager Dave Jordan. The project’s team also includes investigators from Ames, the Langley Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), as well as universities and private sector companies.