King Air, the University of Wyoming’s uniquely-instrumented research aircraft, is working on a first-of-its-kind experiment over the skies of Colorado that could help scientists to better understand the changing climate of the Intermountain West.
The Colorado Airborne Multiphase Cloud Study (CAMPS), led by University of Colorado professor Linnea Avallone, is working in partnership with a five-month, multiple-elevation study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility. Researchers will work to capture a vertical profile of the clouds that are common across mountain slopes.
King Air will fly up to 100 hours through February, collecting data from inside mixed-phase clouds (containing both liquid and ice particles) with its numerous specialized meteorological sensors and data recording equipment.
“The overriding idea is to find out if the models that people use to understand climate really represent what happens in clouds and in these types of winter storms,” says Gannet Hallar, director of Storm Peak Laboratory, a permanent atmospheric research facility atop Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Adds Avallone, “Our climate is changing and people want to know, ‘What’s it going to look like in the winter here 15 years from now? Are these types of clouds going to become more common? Are they going to precipitate more or less?'”
Data from King Air will be combined with results from STORMVEX (Storm Peak Laboratory Cloud Property Validation Experiment) to allow scientists to study how clouds, especially those that produce rain and snow, evolve in mountainous terrain. The data will also be used to verify the accuracy of measurements used in computer models of the Earth’s climate system.
The ground-based STORMVEX campaign, which began in November, will obtain data about liquid and mixed-phase clouds from remote-sensing instruments at four sites at the Steamboat Ski Resort. All instrumentation on the ground will be replicated on King Air, providing what Avallone calls an “amazing opportunity to measure the properties of the clouds.”
The instrumentation aboard King Air will, among other things, measure air temperature, count and measure the size of cloud particles and measure the amount of water contained in the particles.
“Some of the largest uncertainties in climate change models have to do with clouds, and, in particular, these mixed-phase clouds that are part ice and part water. Those clouds are the most difficult to model,” Hallar says. “This is the first time we’ll see (these clouds), from the top to the bottom. We have the entire mountain covered with remote-sensing instruments and we also have above the mountain covered with the aircraft. This is a very unique opportunity.”
The CAMPS project, funded through the National Science Foundation, also represents a unique opportunity for three students.
Undergraduate students Aaron Piña, from Texas A&M University, and Erica Strom, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, are actively involved with data collection and flight forecasting for the project. Both students will spend time aboard King Air during flight.
Piña is being funded through the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science) program; Strom is being funded through Storm Peak Laboratory’s GRASP (Geoscience Research at Storm Peak) program.
“This is such a rare opportunity, especially for an undergraduate,” Strom says. “I just don’t think many undergraduates get to do something like this.”
Another student, Dimauro Edwards, a mechanical engineering graduate student from Stony Brook University in New York, is also working on the project. He is studying instrumentation aboard King Air.
Additionally, Avallone says some UW students will assist with forecasting throughout the project.
CAMPS is the second major research mission for King Air in the past six months. Last fall, King Air returned to international skies for the first time in more than a decade, logging 52 flight hours over Finland for five weeks on a NASA-funded experiment.