This post and photos were provided by Nick Heath, a student from Florida State University on the Studies of Emissions and Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys (SEAC4RS) airborne science mission.
Today was a busy day at Ellington Air Force Base. SEAC4RS “took off” with our first science flight out of Houston. Three planes were deployed: the NASA DC-8, the NASA ER-2, and the SPEC Learjet (based in Huntsville, AL). The goals of the flight were to examine southeastern United States chemistry and to fly through a growing cumulus cloud (but not growing too rapidly, of course!).
As a member of the meteorology (met) team, Jim Bresch rose before the sun to give last minute weather consultation for the flight. Then, some of the met team prepared for “nowcasting,” while others put together a weather briefing for the remainder of the week (I told you it was a busy day!). Nowcasting involves using current conditions to make short-range forecasts for the next 1-2 hours. We had a group of people looking at the latest radar and satellite imagery and relaying information to the planes in real time. The goal is to keep the planes safe, but also guide them to their target locations (such as a growing cloud).
The planes took off around 8 AM CDT, and things got lively in mission control. The nowcasters were nowcasting, the flight navigators navigating, and everyone had something to contribute to the flight. Things got interesting around 2PM when the DC-8 and Learjet began looking for storms to survey over northern Alabama. Members of the met team were watching the radar and satellite to help the planes find a storm they could fly into. For the weather nerds out there, the planes were looking for an isolated storm whose top was not higher than ~25,000 ft. The nowcasters were using GR2Analyst to find these conditions, and relaying information and pictures up to the DC-8 in real time. Eventually, the planes found a storm they could survey, and the Learjet and DC-8 both made passes through it.
While the planes were flying, the science team was preparing plans for the next flight, which is to take place Wednesday, 14 August 2013. We had a meeting at 11 AM. Mission meteorologist Lenny Pfister gave the weather outlook for the rest of the week. Following that, Pablo Saide, from the University of Iowa, presented the atmospheric chemistry forecast for the same time frame. Many interesting things were presented: very anomalous weather patterns, lots of convection, smoke plumes travelling into our region all the way from Idaho, and a large prescribed fire set to take place on Wednesday in South Florida. In the end, the science team decided to focus the next flight on SE USA chemistry and the North American Monsoon. Flight tracks currently are being drawn up to make the most of our situation. It is amazing to watch the mission leaders synthesize all of this information, and then design a brilliant flight plan to capture all of the major features. I guess there is a little artist in all of us scientists!
I will be back with more updates after our next flight.