Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft & Satellites

The Arctic is a critical region in understanding climate change. The responses of the Arctic to environmental perturbations such as warming, pollution, and emissions from forest fires in boreal Eurasia and North America include key processes such as the melting of ice sheets and permafrost, a decrease in snow albedo, and the deposition of halogen radical chemistry from sea salt aerosols to ice. Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites (ARCTAS) was a field campaign that explored environmental processes related to the high degree of climate sensitivity in the Arctic. ARCTAS was part of NASA’s contribution to the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC) Polar Study using Aircraft, Remote Sensing, Surface Measurements, and Models of Climate, Chemistry, Aerosols, and Transport (POLARCAT) Experiment for the International Polar Year 2007-2008.

ARCTAS had four primary objectives. The first was to understand long-range transport of pollution to the Arctic. Pollution brought to the Arctic from northern mid-latitude continents has environmental consequences, such as modifying regional and global climate and affecting the ozone budget. Prior to ARCTAS, these pathways remained largely uncertain. The second objective was to understand the atmospheric composition and climate implications of boreal forest fires; the smoke emissions from which act as an atmospheric perturbation to the Arctic by impacting the radiation budget and cloud processes and contributing to the production of tropospheric ozone. The third objective was to understand aerosol radiative forcing from climate perturbations, as the Arctic is an important place for understanding radiative forcing due to the rapid pace of climate change in the region and its unique radiative environment. The fourth objective of ARCTAS was to understand chemical processes with a focus on ozone, aerosols, mercury, and halogens. Additionally, ARCTAS sought to develop capabilities for incorporating data from aircraft and satellites related to pollution and related environmental perturbations in the Arctic into earth science models, expanding the potential for those models to predict future environmental change.

ARCTAS consisted of two, three-week aircraft deployments conducted in April and July 2008. The spring deployment sought to explore arctic haze, stratosphere-troposphere exchange, and sunrise photochemistry. April was chosen for the deployment phase due to historically being the peak in the seasonal accumulation of pollution from northern mid-latitude continents in the Arctic. The summer deployment sought to understand boreal forest fires at their most active seasonal phase in addition to stratosphere-troposphere exchange and summertime photochemistry.

During ARCTAS, three NASA aircrafts, the DC-8, P-3B, and BE-200, conducted measurements and were equipped with suites of in-situ and remote sensing instrumentation. Airborne data was used in conjunction with satellite observations from AURA, AQUA, CloudSat, PARASOL, CALIPSO, and MISR.

The ASDC houses ARCTAS aircraft data, along with data related to MISR, a satellite instrument aboard the Terra satellite which provides measurements that provide information about the Earth’s environment and climate.

Disciplines:   Field Campaigns