Environmental & Climate Sciences Department Seminar

"Desert Dust, Wildfire Smoke, Volcanic Ash, Urban and Industrial Pollution – Grasping the Role Particles Play in Global Climate and Regional Air Quality"

Presented by Ralph Kahn, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Thursday, October 19, 2017, 11:00 am — Conference Room Bldg 815E

Airborne particles are ubiquitous components of our atmosphere, originating from a variety of natural and anthropogenic sources, exhibiting a wide range of physical properties, and contributing in multiple ways to regional air quality as well as regional-to-global-scale climate. Most remain in the atmosphere for a week or less, but can traverse oceans or continents in that time, carrying nutrients or disease vectors in some cases. Bright aerosols reflect sunlight, and can cool the surface; light-absorbing particles can heat the atmosphere, suppressing cloud formation or mediating larger-scale circulations. In most cases, particles are required to collect water vapor as the initial step in cloud formation, so their presence (or absence) and their hygroscopic or hydrophilic properties can affect cloud occurrence, structure, and ability to precipitate.

Grasping the scope and nature of aerosol environmental impacts requires understanding microphysical-to-global scale processes, operating on timescales from minutes to days or longer. Satellites are the primary source of observations on kilometer-to-global scales. Spacecraft observations are complemented by suborbital platforms: aircraft in situ measurements and surface-based instrument networks that operate on smaller spatial scales, some on shorter timescales. Numerical models play a third key role in this work — providing a synthesis of current physical understanding with the aggregate of measurements, and allowing for some predictive capability. This presentation will focus on what we can say about aerosol amount and type from space. Constraining particle "type" is at present the leading challenge for satellite aerosol remote sensing. We will review recent advances and future prospects, including the strengths and limitations of available approaches, and current work toward better integrating measurements with models to create a clearer picture of aerosol environmental impacts, globally.

Hosted by: Steve Schwartz

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