University team joins nationwide effort to study Asian monsoons


Rosenstiel School Emeritus Professor Elliot Atlas and six other researchers are spending August in South Korea to collect air samples that could reveal the chemical elements the Asian summer monsoon system is bringing into the air. ‘atmosphere.

The air pollution was first evident from satellite images, hovering over the Asian continent during the monsoon season each summer. The satellites observed high levels of carbon monoxide and a few other chemicals, suggesting the presence of many pollutants.

However, satellite images could not unravel the complex mix present. Today, a team of more than 80 researchers is working to understand what other elements can reach Earth’s upper atmosphere because of the annual summer storm system and associated weather patterns.

Among them are seven University of Miami researchers, including team leader Elliot Atlas, professor emeritus at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science. The team is stationed in South Korea this month alongside other scientists, who are using two specially equipped aircraft, as well as instrumented balloons, to capture air samples and make measurements of chemical particles and aerosols from the earth’s surface to over 60,000 feet above the western Pacific Ocean. This is all part of an effort led by the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Administration of Space and Aeronautics(NASA) to better understand the potential impacts of the massive summer monsoon system.

“We are particularly interested in the Asian monsoon because this circulation occurs over an area that is highly polluted by human activities,” said Atlas, an atmospheric chemist. “This pollution gets sucked into the upper atmospheric circulation and eventually spreads out into the global atmosphere, and the content of what rises and what spills out is largely unknown.”

According to NASA, the Asian monsoon is the northern hemisphere’s largest weather pattern during summer. While the rains begin in late June, the monsoon brings the heaviest storms from mid-July to early September. And as polluted air escapes from the storms, the team spends August at a makeshift lab at Osan Air Base near Seoul collecting samples from the eastern end of the system.

“Until now, there has been very little ability to place sensors inside this circulation to measure the chemical and aerosol composition of the air,” Atlas pointed out.

Since the first satellite observations of a large polluting dome over the Asian continent, there has been considerable international interest in studying the impact of the Asian monsoon on atmospheric chemistry and climate. However, the atmospheric phenomenon was difficult for scientists to study due to its location over Asia with significant logistical issues and political sensitivities.

This project marks the culmination of efforts by scientists in the United States who had to postpone the project due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to Atlas. Understanding the composition of air pollution, as well as the chemical changes caused by the monsoon and their interaction with the atmosphere, could help explain the influence of certain emissions on our atmosphere. It could also help scientists predict how certain human-made activities might impact temperatures on earth. “This will help clarify how human activity continues to affect the climate,” Atlas said.

Currently, the team of Atlas postdoctoral researchers, Katie Smith and Victoria Treadaway; researcher Sue Schauffler; and engineers Roger Hendershot, Stephen Donnelly and Rich Lueb work from a lab area inside an aircraft hangar to prepare containers that will collect air samples from both planes and to plan their deployment strategy. sampling.

The first plane, a Gulfstream V owned by the National Science Foundation, carries a limited number of scientists who can monitor the instruments and make adjustments based on observations during the flight. Instruments on board the plane can also perform real-time measurements during the flight, sending data to scientists on the ground, Atlas noted.

The second aircraft, a WB-57F, is a NASA-owned high-altitude aircraft that focuses on altitudes above the Gulfstream, which includes parts of the lower stratosphere. This plane can only carry a pilot and an engineer who must wear pressure suits and helmets, and all the plane’s instruments work automatically. The Atlas team uses remote communication with the Gulfstream V and WB-57F to monitor and optimize air sampling locations.

As one of six scientists planning the Asian Summer Monsoon Chemical and Climate Impact Project, Atlas helped shape the project’s overall research plans before leaving the United States. His team’s experiments will also contribute to publications in scientific journals that will share their findings in the years to come. He hopes they can shed some light on some of the chemical reactions that occur in the upper troposphere (up to 10 miles above earth) and the lower stratosphere (12 to 20 miles above earth) due to the monsoon system.

“We want to be able to predict in the future how the planet reacts to the input of chemicals from this region and also to better understand the mechanisms, chemistry and physics of what happens when these chemicals are released into the atmosphere,” Atlas said. . “Based on what we learn, we may be able to predict whether future activities change the usefulness or harmfulness [those elements] will be on earth.


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