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NASA scientists fly above Island to test technology

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A team of scientists from the US space agency NASA are using Bermuda as a hub in an effort to advance studies into global climate change.

Researchers have been setting out from the Island in a specially equipped twin-engined NASA plane and flying directly below the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALYPSO) spacecraft to both validate its measurements and test technology that could be included in the next generation of research satellites.

The satellite was launched in 2006 to study the role that clouds and aerosols — particles in the atmosphere — play in regulating Earth's weather, climate and air quality.

“The satellite has a laser shining into the atmosphere and you get backscatter off of clouds and aerosols. Aerosols reflect sunlight back into space and generally have a tendency of cooling the planet. Low clouds generally reflect light back to space, while high clouds actually absorb infra-red radiation, which has a warming effect,” explained Dr Chris Hostetler.

“The satellite is part of an overall NASA strategy to put remote sensors in space to help us get a better understanding of the overall radiative budget of the atmosphere and the factors that influence it so they can build better physics into the models used to predict climate change.

“What we have developed, under [Dr Johnathan Hair's] leadership is a more advanced laser radar than what we have in orbit, so we are using it to validate or prove the accuracy of the satellite, but also to assess what we think is going to be the next generation of laser radars in space.”

Since last Monday, the researchers have set out on six flights with the airborne instruments — the NASA Langley Airbourne High Spectral Resolution Lidar and the NASA GISS Research Scanning Polarimeter.

Dr Hostetler said the new equipment being tested boasts some additional capabilities compared to the equipment on-board CALYPSO, including improved abilities to measure the distribution of phytoplankton below the surface of the ocean.

“With the laser radar, we can view down much deeper into the water and get more information, which is important because the depth at which the phytoplankton exist is a factor in their productivity,” he said. “They require light for photosynthesis. It's something we're assessing for future satellite applications.”

Dr Hair said the team were set to leave the Island later this week but will return for a few days later this summer to continue their work, specifically on the marine elements of the project.

“A boat's going to be coming down from the University of Rhode Island. It's going to do some samples up in the Gulf of Maine and then make a line sort of towards Bermuda. We're going to start in Maine, fly out of there, and when it gets closer to here we're going to be flying down to here.

“The boat will be helping us validate some of our new measurements in the ocean and see exactly what we are measuring in our remote sensing compared to their readings from dropping sensors into the water.

“This part is more about what we do in the next generation satellite systems and less about validating the current generation.”

The team thanked several local groups for their assistance in the project, including the BAS-Serco staff at the Bermuda Weather Service, who provided forecast services for flight planning, Longtail Aviation and the American Consulate General's office.

Space agency: David Harper goes over data collected during a research flight earlier this week aboard the NASA King Air UC-12B aircraft.
Research: Andrew Haynes, Dr Johnathan Hair, Richard Hare, Dr Chris Hostetler, and David Harper, in front of their King Air UC-12B plane, are part of a NASA research team on Island testing new laser radar equipment.
Looking good: Dr Chris Hostetler is reflected in the lens of a powerful telescope mounted under the NASA King Air UC-12B research plane.
Research: Andrew Haynes, Dr Johnathan Hair, Richard Hare, Dr Chris Hostetler, and David Harper, in front of their King Air UC-12B plane, are part of a NASA research team on Island testing new laser radar equipment.

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Published June 21, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated June 21, 2014 at 1:24 am)

NASA scientists fly above Island to test technology

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