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Professor Back to partake in OTREC field campaign

June 19, 2019

There are many meteorological conundrums that science has yet to solve, and the tropical East Pacific is home to more than a few. Rainfall totals are higher over lower sea surface temperatures than in other regions, easterly waves form and intensify close to Central America’s shores, and what determines deep atmospheric convention and its daily variability remains a mystery. Though data supports environmental factors playing a role in controlling atmospheric convection, the specifics have been a notorious problem within the field of meteorology.

This lack of information has wider reaching consequences. Given that a piece of the current puzzle is missing, a data gap ultimately results in less accurate forecasts and weather models across the tropics. As weather is a global phenomenon, model inaccuracies have impacts beyond the tropical region, spilling into the mid-latitude models. Research into better representations of tropical convection in weather and climate models can lead to better weather forecasts and impact assessments, both for the public and decision makers.

The Organization of Tropical East Pacific Convection or “OTREC” project is looking to shed light on all of these long-standing enigmas. Based off data gathered in tropical East Pacific, the Western Atlantic, and the Caribbean Sea, the project will be measuring the influences of certain thermodynamic factors on atmospheric convection.

As a part of this group, Professor Larissa Back and graduate students Miguel Bernandez and Vijit Maithel will be headed to Costa Rica this August and September to take part in a field campaign. While there, they will be using dropsondes and radar to take atmospheric profiles, thermodynamic data, and measure the physical characteristics of clouds.

Professor Back and Miguel will also be working on a National Science Foundation grant as part of this project. Titled “Why Bottom-Heaviness of Vertical Motion Profiles Varies during Organization of Tropical East Pacific Convection (OTREC)” the project aims to study the vertical profiles of clouds. Much of the rain in the East Pacific is consistent with a bottom-heavy vertical profile, where most of the rising motion is concentrated in lower portions of the clouds. However, satellite observations have shown that the majority of precipitation comes from higher portions of clouds, which would indicate a more a top-heavy vertical profile. The group aims to uncover the reasons behind these discrepancies.

The team hopes to use their findings to help develop more accurate forecasts and models for tropical weather phenomenon. In addition, their outreach goals include producing a short documentary film for classroom use and undergrad participation.