Nasa scientists love to get their heads in Bermuda’s clouds
Students had a chance to learn about a Nasa science mission when it moved its flight operations to Bermuda earlier this month.
With the help of The Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences’ Ocean Academy, students from Saltus Grammar School, Victor Scott Primary School and Warwick Academy learned about the Aerosol Cloud Meteorology Interactions Over the Western Atlantic Experiment.
Known as Activate, it is designed to learn how clouds interact with aerosols, tiny particles which influence cloud activity and may influence climate change.
A statement from Bios said: “Specifically, the Activate team is studying how clouds interact with aerosols. These tiny particles in the atmosphere come from a variety of sources, including pollution, sea salt spray, even dust blown across the ocean from the Sahara Desert, which can eventually make its way to the sky above Bermuda.
“The amount, size, and type of aerosols all play a role in their potential impact on clouds, triggering them to condense into rain, changing the amount of sunlight they reflect back into space, or reducing their time in the atmosphere.”
Armin Sorooshian, atmospheric scientist at the University of Arizona and principal investigator of the Activate mission, said: “Clouds play a major role in climate change models because they both cool and warm the Earth’s surface, but cloud-aerosol interactions remain one of the biggest unknowns in this field of research.
“Activate uses two aircraft outfitted with remote sensing and in-situ instruments that simultaneously collect data from above, within, and below the clouds.
“Using this approach, the goal is to capture enormous amounts of data throughout the air column on repeat flights — 179 in total by the end of the Activate mission.”
Bermuda was the base for the sixth airborne deployment of Activate.
About 40 students from Saltus Grammar School, Victor Scott Primary, and Warwick Academy visited Dr Sorooshian and the Activate team at the Longtail Aviation Facility in St George’s.
Over the course of an hour, students heard about mission goals, boarded one of the aircraft, viewed the research instruments and learned what data each piece is responsible for collecting, and were encouraged to ask questions along the way.
“We were thrilled when Armin offered Ocean Academy students the opportunity to meet with members of Activate mission and tour the planes at the Longtail Aviation hangar,” said Kaitlin Noyes, Bios director of education and community engagement. “The hands-on interaction with the researchers and pilots fueled so many different questions, from engineering to weather to what it’s like to live and breathe on a Nasa field mission.”
Karen Grissette, the US Consul General said: “Bermuda’s environment and strategic location play a key role in climate and ocean research. We were honoured to share Nasa Activate’s mission with Bermudian students so they could see that firsthand. The visit highlighted Nasa’s continued partnership with Bermuda, and Nasa’s commitment to providing access to education outreach opportunities.
“The US government is a leading supporter of Bios, and we are grateful to Bios for connecting us with students to explore Nasa Activate’s airborne research stations.
“Bermudian students had the opportunity to ask questions of leading global climate scientists and engineers. On behalf of the United States research community, we are so proud of the important scientific partnerships we have in Bermuda.”
Saltus Graduate Year 1 student Oscar Harrison, 17, was inspired by seeing the “amazing engineering that went into each electrical, physical, and data-collecting component” of the mission and asked to join the Activate team in their ground control room.
He said: “The team was incredible. I had the pleasure and privilege of talking to the pilots, research team, and mission control. I was able to watch the experiment take place live, saw all the data come back, and even shared some ideas as to what aerosols might be found. Every question I had for them was answered.”
Since 1988, Bios has operated the Tudor Hill Marine Atmospheric Observatory, currently supported by the US National Science Foundation, which collects data year-round on the chemical and physical properties of the atmosphere. In addition to routine sampling activities, such as meteorological data and carbon dioxide concentrations, the Tudor Hill instruments also sample for aerosols. Gas and aerosol data from Tudor Hill were utilised to support two Activate journal publications last year.
“It’s rare to find an island laboratory with such rare, high-quality data that can be used to address some of the most pressing questions in ocean-atmospheric research,” Sorooshian said.