This post was 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.
The science flight on Friday, August 16th was a big success. What’s more, a member of the met team was selected to fly at the last minute. Lesson learned: always be prepared! Sean Freeman, an undergraduate meteorology and computer science major at Florida State University, put his name on the list as a potential “flyer.” Unfortunately, he found out bad news on Thursday: the manifest was full…he would not be flying on the DC-8. Then, early Friday morning, he received a call that a spot opened up…he now was on the list! I rushed him to Ellington, he received his safety brief, and he was off to experience airborne science first hand.
The goal of Friday’s science flight was to examine the North American Monsoon. In general, a monsoon is a seasonal reversal of the wind pattern. During the summer, this comes about because land (e.g., the North American continent) heats up a lot more than the surrounding waters, thus creating a large-scale temperature gradient. Elevated terrain, such as the mountainous regions of Mexico and the western U.S., enhance this process. The net result is a lot of thunderstorms over the continents, which transport pollution into the upper levels of the troposphere. Once there, the pollution has the potential to impact climate on a global scale. So, understanding this phenomenon is very important to understanding our climate.
The planes took off at ~10 AM CDT. They headed west along the U.S./Mexico border, sampling aged outflow from thunderstorms associated with the monsoon. They then turned northeast, and headed toward Colorado. On their way to Colorado, they passed over the large Four Corners power plant, and were able to sample its “pollution plume.” Once over Colorado, they encountered a smoke plume from wildfires. The flight scientists took advantage of this situation and sampled the smoke plume. The DC-8 flew legs through the smoke, while the ER-2 got remote sensing data from above.
Storms were beginning to pop up around Houston; so the ER-2 headed home to beat them. The DC-8 headed home, but did some more science on its way back. Over Texas, it descended close to the surface to sample air from a large oil field. As the DC-8 got closer to Ellington, a large cluster of thunderstorms decided to pop up and race them home! Met team member Sean Freeman was lucky enough to ride in the cockpit for landing, so he saw these storms up-close and personal. A few commercial airlines even had to make emergency landings at Ellington to avoid these storms. The DC-8 landed just before the rain and lightning reached Ellington…success (well kinda, the storm was not forecast by the met team, so no success for us!).
Below are some great images Sean provided from his trip on the DC-8. Overall, this flight was a great success and accomplished many of the science objectives of SEAC4RS!