NASA Langley highlights new program aimed at studying clouds to improve forecasts


HAMPTON, Va (WAVY) – Scientists with NASA’s Langley Research Center are working for clearer forecasts — thanks to clouds.

It’s part of the first NASA field campaign to collect extensive data on clouds in a single region.

It’s called ACTIVATE, which stands for Aerosol Cloud Meteorology Interactions Over the Western Atlantic Experiment.

For three years, NASA Langley will fly two aircraft simultaneously to collect scientific information to help better understand our atmosphere and weather patterns.

“One of the really important things clouds do is they effect the Earth’s energy balance so they affect the amount of cooling and heating we get,” said principal investigator of the NASA ACTIVATE mission Armin Sorooshian.

Leaders at NASA Langley Research Center gathered their brightest minds to monitor and study how tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect the formation and evolution of clouds.

Sorooshian says an uncertainty comes with how to predict future climate, and it has to do with clouds.

How will the scientists do it?

Researchers expect to gather nearly 1,200 flight hours of data during six flight campaigns over the next three years. Key to the mission are coordinated flights between NASA’s HU-25 Falcon and King Air aircraft. The Falcon will fly under and through the clouds, where instruments will take samples of the surrounding air. The King Air will fly above the clouds and take measurements with remote sensors and dropsondes.

They will be using two air crafts to fly above and below clouds. Each plane has a different set of probes and instruments on the outside to measure. On the inside, the planes ares packed full of equipment and enough energy to power your house.

“Having the aircraft out there gives us data sets that we can work with a lot more detailed set of measurements,” said project scientist Johnathan Hair.

“It’s pretty exciting, and pretty nervous, and full of anxiety. We have a very small window of time that we can make measurements, and so we have to make sure everything is working at the same time and make sure we are putting the plane in the right place so that we are getting the science that we need,” said research scientist Luke Ziemba.

This is a five-year project. The first year was used for planning this program. They’re right in the middle of the three years they’ll be using to fly the planes. In the last year, they’ll analyze all of the data they’ve collected.

For more information on ACTIVATE, visit:

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