A High-Altitude Balloon Captures Cloud Images to Improve Climate Models

A High-Altitude Balloon Captures Cloud Images to Improve Climate Models

Bjorn Kjellstrand woke up one July morning in Esrange, Sweden, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle ecstatic to find that finally, he had the highest resolution images of Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs) to date. After multiple all-nighters and several failed balloon launch attempts, he finally had the pictures which held the potential to completely revolutionize the world's current climate models.

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Predicting Heat Waves Using the Ocean

Heat wave illustration (Source: U.S. National Weather Service, http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/global/hi.htm)

Heat waves in the United States have become a problem over the past decade. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2010, more than 600 people on average died annually in the US from heat-related causes. Relief, though, seems to be emerging. New research published this past week suggests that major heat waves in the US may be predictable two months before they hit. Climatologists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research combed through decades of data and connected sea surface temperature patterns in the North Pacific Ocean to subsequent extremely hot days occurring around 50 days later. The physical connection between sea surface temperature and hot days, though, remains unknown. Scientists think one possibility is that the sea temperatures may be affecting the movement of the jet stream, a fast and narrow air flow in the upper atmosphere that planes often hitch a ride on. The jet stream also helps organize the high-pressure air masses that typically cause extreme heating, so it's a likely suspect for connecting sea surface temperatures to future heat. The connection, though, as the researchers stress, is not a guarantee; the sea surface temperature pattern indicates that a heat wave is likely to occur, not that it definitely will. Still, the correlation is strong enough to make this research invaluable for forecasting and protecting those who may be exposed to extreme heat. 

Sean Faulk
Staff Writer, Signal to Noise Magazine
Graduate Student, Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences


McKinnon, K.A., et al. (2016). Long-lead predictions of eastern United States hot days from Pacific sea surface temperatures. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2687

Satellite-based Aerosol Measurements Add to Climate Change Data

Measurements of greenhouse gas concentrations are fundamental towards understanding current climate trends, since higher amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are directly linked to global warming. Such measurements are easy to make using conventional air monitoring sites around the world. However, monitoring concentrations of other atmospheric substances is also needed for a complete picture, because the warming effect from greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide is opposed by the cooling effect of particles such as dust or smoke, also known as aerosols. These particles can make clouds brighter, which reflects sunlight and therefore heat back to space, but they’re devilishly difficult to measure with traditional aircraft and ground-based radar methods. Recently, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a satellite-based method of detecting aerosols in clouds and the speed of clouds as they rise and develop, which is important for determining particle concentration and cloud brightness. Combining these aerosol measurements with greenhouse gas measurements will greatly improve our understanding of the changing climate and will ultimately aid in future policy decisions.

- Sean Faulk
Staff Writer, Signal to Noise Magazine
PhD Candidate, Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences



Rosenfeld, D., Y. Zheng, E. Hashimshoni, M.L. Pöhlker, A. Jefferson, et al. Satellite retrieval of cloud condensation nuclei concentrations by using clouds as CCN chambers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1514044113