July 7, 2009

NASA looks at ocean storm air turbulence

The U.S. space agency said it is funding development of a satellite data system to provide aircraft pilots with updates about severe ocean storms.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the University of Wisconsin are developing a prototype system that combines satellite data and computer weather models with cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques.

The goal is to help guide pilots away from intense storms.

Turbulence is the leading cause of injuries in commercial aviation, said John Haynes, program manager in NASA's applied sciences program. This new work to detect the likelihood of turbulence associated with oceanic storms using key space-based indicators is of crucial importance to pilots.

A variety of NASA spacecraft observations are being used in the project, including data from the space agency's Terra, Aqua, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, CloudSat and CALIPSO satellites.

The prototype system, which will identify areas of turbulence in clear regions of the atmosphere as well as within storms, is expected to be tested next year.