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One ARM, Two Columns and a Whole Lot of Aerosols

July 25, 2012 - 5:49pm

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This observatory is part of an air particles research initiative at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, and includes dozens of sophisticated instruments that take continuous ground-based measurements of clouds, aerosols, and other atmospheric properties. | Photo courtesy of the ARM Climate Research Facility.

This observatory is part of an air particles research initiative at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, and includes dozens of sophisticated instruments that take continuous ground-based measurements of clouds, aerosols, and other atmospheric properties. | Photo courtesy of the ARM Climate Research Facility.

Scientists are beginning an air particles research initiative at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts designed to improve model simulations of how air particles impact Earth’s climate system.

Specifically, experiments will use dozens of instruments on the ground and in the air to measure cloud properties and tiny particles in the air, such as dust, soot and sea salt -- referred to as aerosols. Addressing the question of how aerosols interact with clouds and change over time will significantly improve the accuracy of computer models that simulate Earth’s climate system. 

“This research is critically important to better understand the intricacies of how aerosols and clouds evolve and affect the earth’s climate systems,” said Dr. Bill Brinkman, Director of the Office of Science. “The experiment at Cape Cod will provide the data needed to increase confidence in the models that predict the future climate.”

Cape Cod National Seashore was chosen for the $9 million study due to its unique geography -- a long, isolated coastal spit downwind of major metropolitan areas, which makes it an ideal location for studying aerosols in an environment with varying degrees of cloudiness, as well as clean and polluted conditions. The full-year deployment allows researchers to obtain data spanning all four seasons, showing details of how aerosols change as they move from North America out over the Atlantic Ocean.

The year-long experiment features a mobile observatory operating from a coastal bluff called the ARM Mobile Facility. The observatory includes dozens of sophisticated instruments that take continuous ground-based measurements of clouds, aerosols, and other atmospheric properties.   

The ARM Climate Research Facility is one of the Energy Department's user facilities, with heavily instrumented fixed research sites in Oklahoma, Alaska, and the tropical Western Pacific. It also provides two mobile facilities and an aerial facility to support research around the world. The Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory operates the ARM Mobile Facility for this study, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory operates the ARM Aerial Facility.

In addition, two research aircraft based out of Barnstable, Mass., are flying over the site and over the ocean to obtain similar measurements from the air in two “atmospheric columns.”  Research flights, coordinated by the ARM Aerial Facility, conclude at the end of July and resume in February 2013 for several more weeks.

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