Researchers fly and sail to stormiest place on Earth to study cloud processes

By Jayme DeLoss

Aerosol filter samplers

Aerosol filter samplers at sunset on the Australian Marine National Facility (MNF) research vessel, R/V Investigator. Photo by Kathryn Moore.

By ship and by plane, Department of Atmospheric Science researchers ventured to the stormiest place on Earth, the Southern Ocean, to collect cloud, aerosol and precipitation data for a project called SOCRATES. Knowledge gained during the Southern Ocean Clouds, Radiation, Aerosol Transport Experimental Study is expected to enhance weather and climate modeling and forecasting capabilities across the globe.

Data collection

Graduate student Kathryn Moore, stationed aboard the research vessel RV Investigator, collected data and samples to document primary ice nucleation and its influence on cloud phase. Primary ice nucleation is the formation of the first ice crystals in a cloud, which usually occurs on atmospheric aerosol particles known as ice nucleating particles. Cloud phase is the state of the cloud, liquid or ice.

“The SOCRATES project was designed to collect samples and observations to provide new datasets and parameterizations with which to test and improve weather and climate models,” Moore explained.

Hands-on data collection was necessary to advance understanding of cloud formation over the Southern Ocean because current assessment is based almost entirely on satellite observations. This gap in knowledge leads to inaccurate climate models.

“The Southern Ocean is one of the most remote regions on Earth, far from anthropogenic and terrestrial aerosol sources, and so it is an ideal place to study natural aerosols and their interactions with clouds and radiation,” Moore said.

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