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Notes from the Field

We are not alone

June 3rd, 2010 by M. Ottaviani

First day on the field. I made it to McClellan airfield (with luggage lost of course). Off-course! So many things to do, trying to get my bearings and making sure I know who is who.

Guess what? I have a fellow blogger! Rahul Zaveri, the principal investigator of the mission, is posting regular updates on the Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory website.

We must mention here that CARES is actually happening simultaneously to CalNex, a big effort involving the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the California Energy Commission (CEC).

Several aircraft and vessels at sea have been deployed since May over California and the Eastern Pacific coastal region, collecting data to study the relation between air quality and climate change. Lots of folks have been working around the clock during the last month. That part of the campaign staged Ontario, CA as a base camp and lots of aerosols were detected and monitored in Southern California.

On another note, I checked out the Biennial at the Whitney Museum in New York City’s Upper East Side last weekend. Huge noise on the second floor, and I followed it. It led me to Ari Marcopoulos‘ installation, a simple home-made video called “Detroit”. It carefully portrayed two kids creating all sort of bzzzzzz–waa-waa-ffoossshhhhh-skrrreeeeek sounds by gently whacking old transistor amps and skillfully acting on the knobs of guitar distortion pedals.

I’ll let you guess until a later post why bzzzzzz–waa-waa-ffoossshhhhh-skrrreeeeek reminded me of CARES. I can just see you sizzling with trepidation already….

Matteo Ottaviani, NASA GISS

Who CARES about aerosols?

June 2nd, 2010 by M. Ottaviani

We — the scientists taking part in the Carbonaceous and Aerosol Radiative Effects Study (CARES), a field campaign to California that’s all about aerosols – do, that’s who.

Walk outside, lift your eyes and look: what do you see?

If you’re lucky, not much more than a beautiful blue sky. More likely, though, you’ll be looking out on a smoggy veil of haze as most of us live in big cities with plenty of air pollution. If you’re on a boat you might see sea spray, or if you just happen to be riding a camel in the Sahara you might spot specks of dust blowing in the wind. They’re all types of aerosols, as we call pretty much any kind of particle suspended in the atmosphere.

How about pollen particles floating around in the air during the spring? Or the dark plume of ash coming out of Eyjafjallajokull?

Yep, aerosols as well. And that ash from Iceland brings about another important point. Aerosols move around for weeks transported by winds: indeed, inhabitants of the Caribbean don’t necessarily need to be riding the aforementioned camel to observe Saharan dust, since winds systematically transport it across the Pond. Wildfire smoke and Asian pollution share similar long-transport fates. The shape and composition of aerosols even change as a consequence of the conditions in the air.

Aerosols have long been of interest because of the health problems they cause and because they apparently have a tendency to ground flights in Europe. Nowadays, they’re also a super hot topic in the science world, because their influence on climate is not well understood or quantified.

Most aerosols reflect incoming sunbeams, sending them off back to space. Cool. Literally (we call that a “cooling effect”). Recently much interest revolves around the fraction of those that actually absorb some light from the Sun, therefore contributing to a local warming of the atmosphere.

What’s the ultimate effect? That’s a big question to answer, a question for anybody who CARES. A team of scientists —including yours truly— is heading off to California to study the evolution of aerosol life. We’ll be blogging regularly from the field, so come along for the ride…

–Matteo Ottaviani, NASA GISS