Studying ice crystals to understand the cloud-climate connection

Dec 14, 2009
Oh, the Secrets Ice Crystals Will Tell!
The SPARTICUS campaign will help answer questions about the extent to which ice crystals in cirrus clouds such as these, absorb and reflect energy in the Earth’s atmosphere.

( -- Beginning in mid-December, scientists will undertake a special mission to squeeze the secrets out of ice crystals in cirrus clouds. The SPARTICUS, or Small Particles in Cirrus, campaign will weave together data from an instrumented airplane and ground-based instruments to gather the most comprehensive set of ice crystal measurements yet. Scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are part of the team that will define the scientific mission and they are leading the project's daily operations.

Ice crystals reflect a portion of the solar energy that reaches the Earth, and absorb energy emitted by the Earth, making cirrus clouds the only cloud type that warms the atmosphere. So accurate information about crystal shape and size will contribute to improving our understanding of the effects of clouds in a warming climate. Past measurements have been inaccurate because the shape of aircraft probes had a shattering effect on ice crystals, resulting in a disproportionate amount of small particles being measured. One of the main objectives of SPARTICUS is to ascertain the abilities of new probes that could minimize the shattering effect.

"Improved characterization of the instruments means we'll have more accurate data on the number of ice crystals in cirrus clouds, and how much solar energy is being absorbed and reflected by these clouds," said Dr. Jennifer Comstock, a PNNL atmospheric scientist who helps direct the science behind the project. "We need to nail down the impacts of clouds and cloud properties to develop better models for helping to understand the and predict the impact of future climates on society."

Research flights start in December 2009 and continue through April 2010. The SPARTICUS aircraft will take samples above the Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Facility's Southern Great Plains site in Oklahoma. Some flights will be timed to correspond with satellite overpasses for additional comparative measurements. Data will be sent to the ARM archive where it will be accessible to scientists.

PNNL scientists Drs. Xiaohong Liu and Jennifer Comstock are part of the team defining the science mission of SPARTICUS. PNNL's Dr. Beat Schmid is technical director for the DOE ARM Aerial Facility (AAF). Jason Tomlinson (PNNL) and Jennifer Comstock are AAF operations leads and will direct the project's daily operations. Dr. Chaomei Lo and Sherman Beus are assisting with software applications and programming to assess data quality. Dr. Jay Mace, from the University of Utah, is leading the SPARTICUS project.

Data from SPARTICUS will allow scientists to move forward with greater confidence in answering questions about how much the smallest contribute to reflecting from cirrus clouds, and types of physical processes that influence the life cycle of cirrus clouds. The information gathered on the SPARTICUS mission will also help scientists improve problem-solving procedures, or algorithms, that allow them to derive cloud properties using ground-based instruments. These improved properties will provide valuable information for evaluating and improving climate models.

More information:

Provided by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (news : web)

Explore further: New detector sniffs out origins of methane

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cloud formation affected by human activity, study says

Sep 12, 2006

University of Toronto researchers and their collaborators have discovered that solid ammonium sulphate aerosol – an airborne particle more prevalent in continental areas - can act as a catalyst to the formation of ice clouds, ...

NASA airborne expedition chases climate, ozone questions

Jun 27, 2007

NASA's Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling (TC4) field campaign will begin this summer in San Jose, Costa Rica, with an investigation into how chemical compounds in the air are transported vertically into the ...

New observations on properties of water

Dec 13, 2006

Experimental studies conducted by Ph.D. Anatoli Bogdan at the University of Helsinki, Finland, have received broad interest in the scientific world, as the results might have applications even in the cryopreservation of cells ...

Recommended for you

Stuck-in-the-mud plankton reveal ancient temperatures

2 hours ago

New research in Nature Communications showing how tiny creatures drifted across the ocean before falling to the seafloor and being fossilised has the potential to improve our understanding of past climat ...

NASA sees Mozambique Channel's new tropical storm

3 hours ago

Tropical Cyclone 15S formed in the Mozambique Channel of the Southern Indian Ocean, and the Global Precipitation Measurement or GPM core satellite gathered data on its rainfall rates.

How rain is dependent on soil moisture

3 hours ago

It rains in summer most frequently when the ground holds a lot of moisture. However, precipitation is most likely to fall in regions where the soil is comparatively dry. This is the conclusion reached by ...

ESA image: Hungarian mosaic

4 hours ago

This image of Hungary, with the political border in white, is a mosaic of 11 scans by Sentinel-1A's radar from October to December 2014.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.