Study will examine how storms can change stratosphere’s chemistry

Texas A&M University researchers will collect important atmospheric data from a high-altitude NASA aircraft thanks to recent funding received from NASA’s Earth Venture program.

Kenneth Bowman, professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, will lead the $30 million research project on the impact of strong storms on the stratosphere.  Frank Keutsch, professor of engineering and atmospheric science at Harvard University, will serve as deputy team leader.

Titled “Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere,” the project will investigate how strong summertime convective storms over North America can change the chemistry of the stratosphere. This is a large and complex effort, Bowman said, with field deployments scheduled for the summers of 2020 and 2021. A kick-off meeting for the research team will be held at Texas A&M in early 2019.

“Intense thunderstorms regularly penetrate deep into the lower stratosphere, carrying water and pollutants that can change the chemical composition of this important atmospheric layer, potentially affecting stratosphere ozone,” Bowman said. At Texas A&M, this research will also involve Assistant Professor Anita Rapp, two graduate students, a postdoctoral research scientist, and several undergraduate students.

An additional goal of the study is to better understand aerosol composition in the central U.S.

“Currently the composition and sources of aerosol in this region are very poorly understood, resulting in large uncertainties in their impact on the chemistry and radiative properties of the stratosphere,” said Keutsch. “This study will provide unprecedented insights into this problem.”

Data will be collected across the central United States using the NASA ER-2 high-altitude aircraft, with operations based out of Salina, Kansas. The project will also involve data from NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites, conventional weather observations and forecast models, and ground-based meteorological radars.

In addition to researchers from Texas A&M and Harvard, the project team will include university participants from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Miami, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.  Government participants will include scientists from NASA’s Ames, Armstrong, Goddard, and Langley research centers, as well as the National Center for Atmospheric Research and NOAA.

This project is one of five new NASA Earth science campaigns that will begin in 2019 to investigate a range of pressing research questions, from what drives intense East Coast snowfall events to the impact of small-scale ocean currents on global climate.

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