Scientists to examine Pacific’s “global chimney”

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2014-01 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 7, 2014

Scientists to examine Pacific’s “global chimney”


David Hosansky, NCAR/UCAR Media Relations



Heather Dewar, University of Maryland Media Relations



BOULDER – Even though few people live in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, these remote waters affect billions of people by shaping climate and air chemistry worldwide. Next week, leading scientists will head to the region to better understand its influence on the atmosphere—including how that may change in coming decades if storms over the Pacific become more powerful with rising global temperatures.

With the warmest ocean waters on Earth, the western tropical Pacific fuels a sort of chimney whose output has global reach. The region feeds heat and moisture into huge clusters of thunderstorms that loft gases and particles into the stratosphere, where they spread out over the entire planet and influence the climate.

“To figure out the future of the air above our heads, we need to go to the western Pacific,” said Laura Pan, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and one of the principal investigators on the field project. “This region has been called the holy grail for understanding global air transport, because so much surface air gets lifted by the storms and then spreads globally.”

The field project is called CONTRAST (Convective Transport of Active Species in the Tropics). It is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which sponsors NCAR. More than 40 scientists are taking part from NCAR, the University of Maryland, the University of Miami, other universities across the country, and NASA.

CONTRAST, which will be based in Guam, is being coordinated with two other field projects in order to give researchers an especially detailed view of the air masses over the Pacific with a vertical range spanning tens of thousands of feet.

One of these projects, NASA’s Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX), will use a Global Hawk, a robotic aerial vehicle, to study upper-atmospheric water vapor, which influences global climate. The other, CAST (Coordinated Airborne Studies in the Tropics) is funded by Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council facility and will deploy a BAe146 research aircraft that will focus on air near the ocean surface.

Together, the sensor-laden research flights will provide a comprehensive view of the atmosphere from the ocean surface, where gases produced by marine organisms enter the air to the stratosphere, more than 60,000 feet above.

“It’s a huge region, and that means we have to use multiple aircraft,”

said the University of Maryland’s Ross Salawitch, a CONTRAST principal investigator. “We will attempt to stage these three airplanes in harmony to measure the atmospheric composition over the western Pacific when both ocean biology and atmospheric storms are raging.”


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