Scientists Launch Deep Convective Clouds & Chemistry (DC3) Experiment

Posted on May 3, 2012

Scientists are targeting thunderstorms in Alabama, Colorado and Oklahoma this spring to discover what happens when clouds suck air many miles into the atmosphere from Earth's surface. The Deep Convective Clouds & Chemistry (DC3) Experiment, which begins in mid-May, will explore the influence of thunderstorms on air just beneath the stratosphere. Scientists will use three research aircraft, mobile radars, lightning mapping arrays and other tools to pull together a comprehensive picture.

National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Chris Cantrell, a DC3 principal investigator, says, "We tend to associate thunderstorms with heavy rain and lightning, but they also shake things up at the top of the cloud level. Their effects high in the atmosphere in turn have effects on climate that last long after the storm dissipates."

One of the key goals of DC3 is exploring the role of thunderstorms in forming upper-atmosphere ozone, a greenhouse gas that has a strong warming effect high in the atmosphere. Ozone is difficult to track because, unlike most greenhouse gases, it is not directly emitted by either pollution sources or natural processes. Instead, sunlight triggers interactions between pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and other gases, and those reactions create ozone. These interactions are well understood at the Earth's surface, but have not been measured at the top of the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere just below the stratosphere.

DC3 scientists will fly through these plumes to collect data as a storm is underway. Then they will fly again the next day to find the same air mass, using its distinctive chemical signature to see how it has changed over time.

The scientists leading the project are from NCAR, Penn State University, Colorado State University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with involvement by more than 100 researchers from 26 organizations. Funding for DC3 is from the National Science Foundation (NSF), NOAA and NASA.

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