By Roy Mabasa
An international team of field researchers, modelers, scientists and remote sensing developers from NASA, the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Manila Observatory in conjunction with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) jointly launched a two-month-long investigation on the impact that smoke from fires and pollution have on clouds, a key factor in improving weather and climate forecasts.
On Sunday, a NASA P-3B science aircraft flew into Philippine skies to begin the Cloud, Aerosol, and Monsoon Processes Philippines Experiment (CAMP2Ex), the most comprehensive field campaign to date in Maritime Southeast Asia to study the relationship between aerosol particles as they interact with surrounding monsoon meteorology, cloud microphysics and the sun’s radiation.
The focus of the CAMP2Ex is the maritime continent comprising Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sulawesi, the Philippines and numerous other islands and surrounding seas, which has been long sought out as an area of scientific inquiry. It seeks to tackle some of the most difficult weather and climate phenomena to understand, monitor and forecast.
Agricultural and deforestation fires from the region along with air pollution from cities provide a ready supply of aerosol particles that influence major weather processes. Besides the torrential monsoons over the Asian archipelago, the region also produces moisture that provides rainfall over the Pacific Ocean and can even influence weather in the continental United States.
NASA Radiation Sciences Program Manager Hal Maring said that while they know that aerosol particles can affect clouds and precipitation, “we don’t yet have a quantitative understanding of those processes.”
“Our goal is to improve satellite products and numerical models to help scientists better predict weather and climate,” Maring said.
NRL research meteorologist Jeffrey Reid explained that CAMP2Ex provides a much-needed crucible for satellite observing systems and model predictions to monitor and understand how atmospheric composition and weather interact.
Colorado State University professor and P-3B flight scientist Susan van den Heever pointed out that feedbacks are important to determine storm severity and the formation of new storms, adding that CAMP2Ex will provide them with unprecedented observations that will allow them to better represent these feedbacks in current research and weather forecasting models.
To observe cloud and aerosol interactions, along with the associated weather systems, CAMP2Ex is leveraging instruments on multiple airborne and ground platforms to record wide-scale meteorology, composition, cloud microphysics, and solar and long-wave radiation.
NASA’s P-3B science aircraft is equipped with remote-sensing instruments to measure a number of variables within and near clouds, including those related to precipitation and cloud droplets as well as aerosol size and composition.
A Stratton Park Engineering Company (SPEC) Inc. Learjet, fitted with a water quality and testing instrument called in situ, will fly in and around the same clouds at nearly the same time as the P-3B aircraft to verify the data.
It will likewise survey the atmospheric conditions above the clouds. Out in the Pacific Ocean, the US Navy research vessel Sally Ride is providing nearly continuous radar and lidar observations as well as measurements of energy fluxes from the ocean surface and profiles of temperature, moisture and pressure from radiosondes.
“The synergy between air and shipborne observations is key,” said research scientist Derek Possel from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Possel said the ship’s radars will tell them how clouds are evolving in time, while the aircraft will give us detailed measurements of the cloud interior and environment.”
Understanding the weather
The world’s most intense super typhoons form just east of the Philippines and are an integral part of the regional weather and climate. “CAMP2Ex is being conducted in the lion’s den of tropical meteorology,” Reid said while noting that the Philippines is still recovering from Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which reached a world record one minute of sustained 195 mile-per-hour (315 kilometer-per-hour) maximum wind speed before making landfall.
The region is of particular interest to weather and climate researchers because many studies have shown it to be highly vulnerable to climate change.
For Philippine collaborators, the data from CAMP2Ex will help to inform some of the biggest weather and climate questions in the Southeast Asia region.
Gemma Narisma, climate scientist and executive director of the Manila Observatory, said rainfall is the most difficult variable to understand in their models, and has an enormous impact on Filipinos, Manila Observatory is a nonprofit Jesuit research institution focused on atmospheric and Earth science in Southeast Asia.
Narisma, who is also an associate professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, noted that recent monsoonal activity in Metro Manila led to cancelled classes, and prior to that, water shortage due to drought.
“Our research is showing that more of these weather extremes, alternating dryness and heavy rainfall, are expected in the future,” she said. “Improving our models for climate projections would allow us to better prepare for these swings in water availability and flooding,” she added.
For his part, James Simpas, an atmospheric scientist and professor of physics at the Ateneo de Manila University said: “The Southeast Asia region is experiencing significant industrial growth. We’re emitting more and more particulates into the atmosphere, which means that a lot of the aerosol interactions we’re studying now will be most likely further enhanced in the region in the future.”
Simpas expressed confidence that the wealth of data from CAMP2Ex will be analyzed for years to come and will shine more light on how our ways of life affect not only us but also the rest of the planet.