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New U.S. Research Sites' Data Will Improve Climate Change Models

Published on 28 October 2013

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by Office of the Spokesperson


Washington, D.C.

Graciosa Island Ariport Terminal
Graciosa Island Ariport Terminal

The Energy Department’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility is collecting data at two new sites, one in Oliktok, Alaska, and the other in the Azores islands.

ARM is the world’s premier ground-based observations facility advancing climate change research. The facility is designed to study the effects that clouds and aerosols — tiny particles like soot and dust — have on weather and climate. Scientists hope the data will help reduce the major uncertainties of climate models. The facility does so through several fixed and mobile sites, which are filled with dozens of sophisticated instruments.

ARM’s three mobile facilities can be deployed practically anywhere on the globe, the Energy Department said October 25, for typical tours of six months to two years. Its newest mobile facility was set up in Oliktok Point, Alaska, and it officially began taking data on October 1, for an extended deployment of up to five years.

Located on the Arctic Ocean about 322 kilometers to the southeast of Barrow, Alaska, Oliktok Point seems an unlikely, or at least an unseasonable, spot for studying climate. Barrow is the farthest North American city, with average October temperatures ranging from highs of 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5.56 Celsius) to lows of around 13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10.56 Celsius), and Oliktok Point isn’t any warmer, the department said.

That isolation also means that ARM scientists can run many operations and make many observations. In addition to gathering data from the point from about two dozen instruments, ARM operators will also fly manned and unmanned aircraft over the sea ice, drop instrument probes and send up tethered balloons. Scientists hope that combination of observations will give them a better sense of why the Artic sea ice has been fluctuating in fairly dramatic fashion over recent years.

More temperate conditions are expected at the new ARM fixed site in the Azores, which also started taking data on October 1. But that site also offers a combination of conditions suited for wringing out uncertainties in climate projections, the Energy Department said.

Specifically, the Azores are located in an ocean region that sees a significant number of low-lying, marine stratocumulus clouds. Those clouds are located at the marine boundary layer, the department said, which in a sense is where the ocean meets the sky, where heat and evaporating water rising off the ocean run into the air flowing freely through the atmosphere. It’s a place where things change, and, as a consequence, where uncertainties abound.

One great uncertainty is how marine stratocumulus clouds respond to aerosols and changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. So data from the new ARM site in the Azores will help scientists reduce those uncertainties, and therefore improve global climate models, according to the Energy Department.

The United States has made research into climate change a priority and works and shares data with scientists worldwide.



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Posted 2013-10-28 18:37:00