Researchers are using airplanes equipped with high-tech gear, weather balloons and other equipment to study thunderstorms this spring in northern Alabama, northeast Colorado and central Oklahoma.
The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry Project, or DC3, began this spring and continues through June 30.
The research will measure how thunderstorms transport, produce and process chemicals that form harmful ozone, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The study will explore what happens in air just beneath the stratosphere, a little-explored region that influences the Earth’s climate and weather patterns, NOAA said in a statement.
The three regions in Alabama, Colorado and Oklahoma were chosen partly because of their differences, including types of storms that form over the states and different types of industrial and vehicle pollution, researchers said.
Chemicals from industry and vehicles are sucked high into storms, where they are involved in the production of ozone. Researchers want to compare how the process occurs in all three states, and how pollution is carried by the storms.
“When thunderstorms form, air near the ground has nowhere to go but up,” Mary Barth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in a news release. “Suddenly you have an air mass at high altitude that’s full of chemicals that can produce ozone.”
Lightning sensors in the region will also be used, including one system that includes sensors in northern Alabama supplemented by Georgia Institute of Technology lightning sensors near Atlanta.
More than 100 researchers from NOAA and agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are involved. Scientists from the University of Alabama in Huntsville are also participating in the research.