WEST LAFAYETTE – During the summer, the monsoon season in North America creates massive storms in the Midwest.
These storms can cause a phenomenon where the lower atmospheric layers, the troposphere and the stratosphere, mix.
Although rare and difficult to study – the stratosphere hovers 6.2 to 31 miles above the Earth’s surface – this mixture must be studied because, as climate change occurs, the world’s monsoons can change. .
To study these layers and the barrier between them, NASA created the DCOTSS (Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere) project. DCOTSS is studying the impacts of convection on the summer stratosphere over North America using a NASA ER-2 aircraft equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.
The first test flights recently completed at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, in the western Mojave Desert.
âThe reason we use the ER-2 is because it is truly the highest platform available from NASA. It can get you farthest into the stratosphere, âsays Daniel Cziczo, head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University’s College of Science. âIt can go up to 70,000 feet (about 13 miles). We go up and down in altitude so that we are essentially passing through layers of the troposphere and the stratosphere. Most other research planes struggle to make this transition, but the ER-2 can actually make it. With the ER-2, we can go from 60,000 feet to almost 70,000 feet.
The ER-2 can hold multiple instruments during each flight. The nose of the plane contains an instrument called PALMS-NG (Particle Analysis by Laser Mass Spectrometry – Next Generation).
Cziczo is the manager of PALMS-NG, while Justin Jacquot and Xiaoli Shen, Purdue EAPS postdoctoral research associates, work on instrument development, field use, and analysis of the data it produces.
âIf we see the climate changing on the surface, we can measure it,â Cziczo says. âBut we don’t go into the stratosphere often, so the more measurements we have, the better we understand it now and in the future, the better we’ll be able to understand the changes that are happening and how that might impact us in the future.
The PALMS-NG is based on an earlier instrument used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which had been flying since the 1990s but has been updated for increased performance.
PALMS-NG is capable of using in-flight mass spectrometry to assess atmospheric particles. The instrument, located in the nose of the aircraft, measures the single-particle aerosol composition using UV laser ablation to generate ions analyzed by time-of-flight mass spectrometry.
âIt is able to analyze atmospheric particles one by one,â explains Cziczo. âIt can determine their size and their chemical makeup, basically a ‘fingerprint’ of who they are. This is extremely important for understanding things like air quality, climate, and precipitation – all parts of what we do in DCOTSS.
On June 9, the ER-2 made its first successful flight with the new PALMS-NG instrument. The PALMS-NG project is made possible in part by its partners from NASA, NOAA, Original Code Consulting (OCC) and Air Innova.
According to NASA, the DCOTSS project brings together 12 instruments for in situ measurements of important trace gases, aerosols, reactive species and meteorological parameters. These data are complemented by the NEXRAD radar network, satellite data products and operational modeling to provide a more complete mapping of the Earth’s atmosphere.
DCOTSS consists of a series of five-week tests as well as two seven-week science deployments from Salina, Kan., To cover the period from early to late summer.
âDCOTSS is extremely important for the future of the atmosphere,â Cziczo says. âBecause as our climate changes, we’re most likely changing the monsoons here and in Asia, and that’s going to cause changes in the stratosphere and the troposphere. That’s one of the main things we’re trying to figure out with this: the fundamentals of how this exchange happens.
âIf we don’t have a benchmark now, we’re not going to understand what change is happening. Because the monsoon is so important for water, vegetation, land use, agriculture, etc., if we don’t understand it now and can’t project it into the future, we’re in big trouble.