Newswise — Data from the campaigns will help improve the accuracy of weather and climate models.

Climate projections suggest that rising global temperatures will increase the intensity of extreme weather, such as droughts, hurricanes and heat waves. But when, where or how specifically these events will emerge is still uncertain.

To better predict future changes, scientists need to improve the accuracy of their weather and climate models, and for that they need data. One way they’re obtaining this data is through the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility, a multi-laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility.

“One of the scientific goals of SAIL is to understand, from the top of the Earth’s atmosphere to the bedrock of the Rocky Mountains, how  moisture, rainfall and snowfall make their way through the atmosphere into the layers of rock and soil, and then eventually into the Colorado River.” — Argonne atmospheric scientist Scott Collis

Scientists from DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, and from laboratories and universities across the country, use ARM to obtain data to better represent climate-related processes in global-scale models. Through two new field campaigns — Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) and Tracking Aerosol Convection Interactions ExpeRiment (TRACER) — Argonne researchers will work with multidisciplinary teams to gather data on key climate-related processes such as precipitation, cloud formation and aerosols interactions.

“These insights will serve to enhance our basic understanding of climate and be used to improve the accuracy of climate and weather models and simulations,” said Argonne atmospheric scientist Scott Collis, a co-investigator in both campaigns.

Mountain watersheds provide 60 to 90% of water resources worldwide, but there is still much that scientists don’t know about the physical processes and interactions that affect hydrology in these ecosystems. (Video by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.)

Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL)

SAIL will deploy more than four dozen instruments across the East River Watershed in Crested Butte, Colorado. The region includes portions of the Rocky Mountains and tributaries that drain into the Colorado River, which supports over 40 million people.

Mountainous watersheds, like the one at East River, hold the majority of the world’s water reserves. Scientists need to learn a lot more about how climate change will impact their future water supply to make models more precise. Addressing this gap, the SAIL campaign will focus on analyzing the full life cycle of water within the region.

“One of the scientific goals of SAIL is to understand, from the top of the Earth’s atmosphere to the bedrock of the Rocky Mountains, how moisture, rainfall and snowfall make their way through the atmosphere into the layers of rock and soil, and then eventually into the Colorado River,” Collis said. In order to accomplish this goal, SAIL will collocate ARM atmospheric observations with the ongoing surface and subsurface hydrologic observations from the DOE Watershed Function Science Focus Area (SFA) managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

During the two-year campaign, scientists will analyze atmospheric processes and land-atmosphere interactions that impact water delivery. These include things like cloud formation, precipitation, snowfall or rainfall interactions with plants and roots, and the mechanics of underground water transport.

“The fact that the campaign will integrate atmospheric, land surface and subsurface hydrology all together is what makes it unique,” said Argonne atmospheric scientist Ryan Sullivan, a co-investigator in SAIL.

Tracking Aerosol Convection Interactions ExpeRiment (TRACER)

Clouds play an important role in Earth’s climate system. Through the TRACER campaign, scientists will have a chance to look at how aerosols impact their life cycle. Aerosols are liquid and solid particles tiny enough to be suspended in air. The condensation of moisture on these particles contributes to the formation of clouds.

“The science of aerosols is still fairly new. We have a lot to learn about the temperatures and physical conditions that make aerosols effective at influencing the formation of clouds,” said Collis.

Aerosols can occur naturally or be generated by human activity, like the burning of oil and petroleum products. Knowing this, scientists chose to conduct their campaign over the city of Houston, where industrial activities yield relatively high amounts of aerosols.

“We’re going to compare how clouds evolve as they move inland,” said Argonne assistant atmospheric scientist Bobby Jackson, a co-investigator in the TRACER campaign. “What we’ll do in Houston is watch the clouds that form over the Gulf of Mexico. As they move into the Houston area, they will move from a cleaner airmass to a more polluted airmass.”

To gather data, scientists will deploy two ARM mobile facilities — which are equipped with instruments for measuring cloud, precipitation, aerosols and atmospheric states —  around the city of Houston. The information they gather will, among other things, improve the way aerosols are represented in weather and climate models.

“Improving climate models through ARM observations will ultimately give decision makers more useful and accurate information about our current and future climate, which they can use to prepare for the future,” Collis said.