Apr
22
2006


V. Ramanathan with AUAVs: Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UCSD V. Ramanathan, chief scientist of the Maldives Campaign, accompanied by several autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has successfully sent a fleet of aerial drones through the pollution-filled skies over the Indian Ocean. Researchers hope the data produced by flights will reveal in unprecedented detail how pollution particles cause dimming and contribute to the formation of clouds which amplify the dimming caused by the pollution.

The instrument-bearing autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (AUAVs) completed 18 successful data-gathering missions in the vicinity of the Maldives, an island chain nation south of India, said Scripps scientist V. Ramanathan. Researchers hope the data produced during the flights will reveal in unprecedented detail how pollution particles cause dimming and contribute to the formation of clouds which amplify the dimming caused by the pollution.

Cloud cover cools Earth's surface by reflecting solar radiation back into space. In recent years, researchers have realized that pollution in the atmosphere, and the dimming and cooling it causes, could be leading scientists to underestimate the true magnitude of global-warming trends observed in recent decades.

Flights took place between March 6 and March 31, 2006, taking off from an airport on the island of Hanimaadhoo in the Maldives. Each AUAV tracked a separate component of brown cloud formation. The lowest, flying beneath the cloud, quantified the input of pollution particles and measured quantities of light that penetrated the clouds.

The aircraft flying through the cloud measured the cloud's response to the introduction of particles. The aircraft flying above the cloud measured the amount of sunlight reflected by the clouds into space and the export of particles out of the clouds.

Source: National Science Foundation.

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