DCMEX campaign success: Extensive new in-situ observations of deep convective clouds

Big plans were laid for the DCMEX team as they headed to New Mexico, USA in July. The aim, to collect observational evidence of the role of aerosol and cloud ice formation in deep convective cloud development. There for a month, the team would bring together measurements from aircraft, radar, cameras and ground stations.

The instruments

The FAAM BAe-146 aircraft played a central role. It carried aerosol and cloud measuring instruments from Universities of Manchester and Leeds, as well as its own science instruments.

Many of us were meeting the friendly Oklahoma University radar team for the first time. By providing observations over the course of the flight and beyond, the radar would offer a broader view of the clouds the aircraft was flying through.

Continuous measurement of aerosol and weather also took place on top of the Magdalena mountains, the geographical focal point of the study. With incredible support from New Mexico Tech, both University of Manchester and Leeds set up equipment at the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research.

… during setup, the first hints of the mountain clouds were captured on phone…

First flight

We were ready to get to the skies and try out the flight plans.

We knew from the forecast it would be a clear day, so no cloud passes really, but the perfect opportunity to put the aerosol instruments through their paces.

First cloud flights

Leeds PhD students were getting their first taste of cloud measurement.

And the University of Manchester team bringing together a huge range of measurements on the plane, mountain and surrounds.

Getting stuck in to ice nucleation

We want to know what particles cause the cloud to form ice opposed to water droplets, and how many of these particles there are in the atmosphere around the cloud. Instruments on the plane collect samples of the aerosol, whilst also measuring the cloud.

Then the Leeds INP team analysed the filters back at the hotel to determine at what temperatures they are able to form ice. Warmer temperatures suggest they are likely to influence how the clouds grow.

Meanwhile, the Manchester team have probes taking images of the aerosol and cloud particles.

Capturing some great cases

Cameras were setup to take images of the clouds as they formed. Images were taken every 20 seconds over the 4 or so hours whilst the aircraft took to the skies.

These were a useful supplement to the view from the aircraft.

It wasn’t all plane sailing

Forecasting is a fickle business, and we got caught out one day by some cloud (that we weren’t interested in) preventing the cloud (that we were interested in) forming.

More than once the storms from the mountain moved over the radar at Magdalena airport, which inhibits the radar taking full measurements. It did, however, provide a perfect view of the impacts of the cloud on the ground.

Nevertheless, the radar got hours of valuable data. And it was always exciting to see it pick up the plane (little green blob) flying through a cloud.

A team effort

With the measurements going on for a month, we needed experienced hands to come in as substitutes as others headed back to the UK. They quickly got up to speed.

Though there was some unsurprising difficulty in keeping up with the flight paths!

We quickly put them to work on those repetitive tasks we love in science.

And our final couple of PhD students came out to get experience and contribute across the project activities.

The final flight

Our stalwart PI, Alan Blyth, kept watch over every flight right up to the last – ensuring we avoided lightning which could have put an end to the instruments.

This project a was a culmination of many dedicated years of preparation by Alan, as well as decades of his devoted research in cloud physics. It offered the chance to build on the science flights he undertook in the 1980s over the very same mountains. And it paid dividends, as we were able to observe these clouds like never before, using techniques and instruments that will undoubtedly provide us new insight as the analysis of the data now begins.

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