Glory Versus the Curse of the Black Carbon

Kick back, make yourself some popcorn, and enjoy one of the latest offerings from NASA Television: a tongue-in-cheek trailer about the horrors of airborne particles called aerosols. Black carbon plays the villain, and it’s this sooty particle (which comes from wildfires, campfires, various industrial processes, and diesel fumes) that gets the blame for “cursing” atmospheric scientists with a “scourge of ignorance”.

Plenty of specialists here at Goddard Space Flight Center will tell you that, over the years, we’re making real progress understanding aerosols, but there’s little doubt that the tiny airborne droplets and particles have given climatologists headaches over the years.

Back in March of 2009, James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, laid out the key obstacles underpinning what he called the “Nasty Aerosol Problem” in a presentation he gave in Copenhagen. As he puts it in one slide: 

* “We do not have measurements of aerosols going back to the 1800s – we don’t even have global measurements today.

* Any measurements that exist incorporate both forcing and feedback.

* Aerosol effects on clouds are very uncertain.”

    NASA’s upcoming Glory mission, which carries a promising new gizmo for studying aerosols called the Aerosol Polarimetery Sensor (APS), looks to be our next best shot for getting a better handle on the problematic particles. Glory is hardly the only NASA effort addressing aerosols, but I’ve certainly noticed that nothing rivals a satellite mission (as opposed to, say, ground or aircraft campaigns) when it comes to generating buzz in the hallways.

    You can learn more about Glory here, here, and here. And why not follow Glory on Twitter or Facebook?

    –Adam Voiland, NASA’s Earth Science News Team