Science In Seconds
with Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen
“ACTIVATE is trying to address probably the biggest uncertainty in simulating climate, and that’s how air particles called aerosols interact with the clouds.”
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ACTIVATE Makes a Careful Return to Flight
Four months ago, with COVID-19 disrupting life across the globe, it seemed virtually unthinkable that a major NASA airborne science campaign would fly again anytime soon.
But today, that's exactly what's happening. In August, NASA's Aerosol Cloud Meteorology Interactions Over the Western Atlantic Experiment (ACTIVATE) eased into its second set of 2020 science flights out of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
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Sea salt, soot, sulfate — probably not the first words that come to mind when you think of clouds.
But as these and many other microscopic aerosol particles rise through the atmosphere, they act as nuclei on which water vapor can condense to form cloud droplets.
Because different kinds of aerosol particles affect the formation and evolution of clouds in ways that aren't entirely well understood, and because more data on that process will help researchers refine climate and weather models, it's a phenomenon ripe for an intensive field study.
Many ask what the motivation was for how the ACTIVATE mission was conceived. This feature article walks readers through how past single-aircraft campaigns in regions with limited weather conditions and flight hours have not been able to comprehensively build sufficient statistics for robustly characterizing aerosol-cloud interactions and their dependence on meteorology. The ACTIVATE sampling concept and “measurements-to-models” approach are introduced in this work as a way to respond to these past limitations and to pave a path forward for the research community.
On January 7, 2020 NASA held a live media event at the Armstrong Flight Research Center to introduce the five Earth Venture Suborbital-3 investigations. View the ACTIVATE segment here which features principal investigator Armin Sorooshian and instrument scientists Luke Ziemba and Dave Harper. +Visit the media page to view the video
AVAPS (Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiler System) was first tested aboard the NASA Langley King Air UC-12 on 12/16/2019. The intrepid operator (Taylor Shingler, NASA LaRC) first initializes the mini-sonde by selecting a clean transmission frequency and connects the sonde to a transceiver on the aircraft to verify proper communications and sensor operation. +Visit the media page to view the video and story
NASA’s Aerosol Cloud meTeorology Interactions oVer the western ATlantic Experiment (ACTIVATE) project is a five-year project (January 2019 – December 2023) that will provide important globally-relevant data about changes in marine boundary layer cloud systems, atmospheric aerosols, and multiple feedbacks that warm or cool the climate. Marine boundary layer clouds play a critical role in Earth’s energy balance and water cycle.
ACTIVATE will study the atmosphere over the western North Atlantic Ocean and sample its broad range of aerosol, cloud, and meteorological conditions using joint flights with two aircraft based at NASA’s Langley Research Center. As an integral part of ACTIVATE, a suite of modeling tools and analysis techniques will be employed to inform preflight planning, perform data analysis, and climate model uncertainty quantification and improvement.