The fizzle effect: are aerosols reducing coastal drizzle processes?

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Date: June 27, 2005
Contact: John Dell'Osso, 415-464-5135

It’s hard to imagine a coastline without mist, especially in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. But try. Things starting to look a little dry? A little cloudier, perhaps?

The connection between "cloudy" and "dry" may seem odd at first, but scientists who study clouds for a living think aerosols may have something to do with it.

Despite their importance to the earth-ocean-atmosphere system, relatively few detailed and comprehensive data sets of marine stratus clouds are available for scientists to draw firm conclusions related to aerosol effects. To obtain more, and better, data, researchers need to go to the source. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program can now do just that.

With its new Mobile Facility – a portable atmospheric laboratory with sophisticated instruments and data systems – researchers can now explore previously under-sampled climate regions. Since the Pt. Reyes field campaign began in March, the ARM Mobile Facility has been stationed about one mile from the beach, collecting data from the clouds as they move onshore.

Point Reyes National Seashore, on the coast north of San Francisco, is an ideal place to gather data about marine cloud and drizzle processes. Because of its temperate climate, it's rich in biological diversity. The park is home to more than 900 plant species, 490 bird species, 28 species of reptiles and amphibians and 77 species of mammals. The Park is host to 27 Federally listed endangered or threatened species.

"It's no secret that fragile coastal ecosystems are highly sensitive to changes in their environment. A mere 3 degree change in temperature for an extended period of time can wipe out an entire segment of marine life," said Don Neubacher, Superintendent. "Anytime we have the opportunity to assist the scientific community in researching issues that affect our biological communities, we will."

Starting in July, activities intensify as two research aircraft —sponsored by DOE’s ASP Program and the U.S. Office of Naval Research—join the campaign. These instrumented aircraft will obtain in situ measurements of cloud properties, suspended particles, and other atmospheric variables needed for analyzing aerosol properties of the marine stratus clouds. The aircraft data will be used to examine the regional characteristics of the marine stratus clouds being sampled at Pt. Reyes and to examine specific links between aerosol chemistry and cloud structure.


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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