NASA helps fight global warming

June 23, 2008 7:47:37 PM PDT
For all the concern about global warming and climate change, there are still so many questions about exactly what is happening, and how. So, at NASA Ames in Mountain View, scientists intend to learn more about the process by looking high above California.

In life and in science, success depends on preparation. The work that is taking place at Moffett Field is part of a combined project by NASA and the California Air Resources Board.

"It has to do with the energy budget of the planet, basically. How much energy comes in versus how much energy goes out," says atmospheric scientist Margaret Williams, Ph.D.

Dr. Williams, among others, will examine tiny particles in the atmosphere above and around the state -- everything from aerosols to smoke from forest fires.

"Little particles are everywhere. Clouds make a difference, water vapor makes a difference, greenhouse gasses make a difference," says Dr. Williams.

"We're basically measuring two kinds of things -- stuff in the atmosphere that affects the way sunlight moves through the atmosphere, and then we also measure the sunlight," says Phiilip Russel, Ph.D. with the NASA Ames Research Center.

It's an equation that affects global warming -- a strange mechanism in which some forms of pollution have lowered the plant's temperature, at least for now.

"It's a complicated system with complicated feedbacks, and that's the difficulty in figuring everything out," says atmospheric scientist Anthony Bucholtz, Ph.D.

Next week, NASA's plane will fly as low 200 feet above the surface or as high as 27,000. Some instruments will look through the air, others will sample it. Among them is a quantum cascade laser, which examines carbon monoxide by operating at extremely low temperatures, hence the liquid nitrogen to cool it.

"It's below -350 degrees Fahrenheit," explains a scientist.

It would seem that when fighting the effects of climate change, that's all in the prep, too.


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