NASA mission investigates intense summer thunderstorms | Weather blog


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NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center ER-2 # 809 launches on June 17, 2021 for science flights on Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTSS) in Palmdale, California.

Credits: NASA photo / Carla Thomas

Pilot on foot.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center ER-2 pilot Gary Toroni and engineering technician Raul “Corky” Cortes prepare life support for the Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTSS) science flights in Palmdale, Calif., June 17 2021 before.

Credits: NASA photo / Carla Thomas

NASA and university scientists will study the intense summer thunderstorms over the central United States to understand their effects on the Earth’s atmosphere and their contribution to climate change.

As part of NASA’s Earth Science Division, the Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTSS) project will fly from Salina, Kansas in the summers of 2021 and 2022. The project will directly examine the convective effects of thunderstorms over North America.

The DCOTSS mission aims to understand how dynamic and chemical processes interact to determine the composition of the stratosphere, and how that composition can change in response to sustained changes in the climate system.

After a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the DCOTSS science flights will start on July 16. NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center ER-2 aircraft will fly up to 70,000 feet to collect atmospheric chemistry samples to better understand the material transported by convection storms into the stratosphere. Rising air, particles, and chemicals from these intense thunderstorms, known as overshooting storms, can be carried high above the lowest layer of the atmosphere into the stratosphere that most thunderstorms do not normally reach.

The ER-2 offers sampling capabilities at a greater height range than other platforms. 12 instruments will be installed on the ER-2 to measure gases and particles carried into the stratosphere by strong thunderstorms. During the campaign, the scientists will collect and analyze this data to understand the effects of excessive storms on the Earth’s atmosphere.

Image of the height view of the thunderstorm.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center ER-2 flies over an excessive storm during a previous mission.

Credits: NASA Photo / Stu Broce

“This is the first mission specifically designed to study the effects of excessive storms,” ​​said Dr. Kenneth Bowman, DCOTSS Principal Investigator and Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University.

“About 50,000 storms occur over the US during a typical summer, so excess storms occur somewhere in the US almost every day,” he said. “There are many scientific questions about the impact of these storms on the stratosphere that we can answer with data from DCOTSS. These include the processes that take place at the peaks of these intense storms, the potential effects of man-made chemicals on the stratospheric ozone layer, and the sources and composition of aerosol particles in the stratosphere. “

Close up picture of aircraft.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center ER-2 # 809 prepared science flights on Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTSS) on June 17, 2021 in Palmdale, California.

Credits: NASA photo / Carla Thomas

According to Dr. Bowman has learned a lot about thunderstorms from other observation systems such as radar and satellites over the past 10 years. These systems have shown that excessive storms are more common than scientists originally thought. Excessive storms not only have a potential impact on the ozone layer, they also emit water vapor into the stratosphere. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

With excessive thunderstorms most common over the central United States, Salina, Kansas is an ideal base for ER-2 flights. The ER-2 flies up to 50 kilometers downwind from the overshooting storms to collect data safely and accurately.

Several series of flights are planned as part of this campaign. These consist of a five-week test flight and two seven-week scientific missions from Salina. As part of the flight test series, the ER-2 flew from NASA Armstrong Building 703 in Palmdale, California in June to ensure the aircraft and instruments were working properly and to collect data in locations that would not normally be thunderstorms.

The measurements from the California flights will differ significantly from those during the summer campaign and will provide a useful comparison with the measurements of gases and particles in the Midwest.

Elena Johnson
Armstrong Flight Research Center

Editor: Laura Newton

Article Credit: NASA

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