Remote sensing research may lead to better understanding of atmospheric movement
CSL researcher Gary Swenson’s research has taken him to great heights – literally. Swenson and his research team have been making final preparations for two remote sensing projects using innovative technologies exploring the upper atmosphere.
First, Swenson and members of the Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (RSSS) group recently built the 900-square foot Andes Lidar Observatory at Cerro Pachon within the Chilean Andes mountains. In June, the observatory will begin its first campaign. Researchers will utilize a sodium lidar and cameras in the mesopause region in the upper atmosphere. The lidar will study dynamics (air movement) and chemistry, while the cameras will observe airglows. This area is 80-110 km above earth and among the coldest regions of the upper atmosphere.
This endeavor may help researchers understand atmospheric movement, enabling them to create better composition, circulation and transport models. Swenson said chemistry and dynamics are both necessary in such models, which describe atmospheric processes.
“For example, an active chemical process can take place at high altitudes making nitric oxide from available constituents,” he said. “Once made, transport can move the nitric oxide to lower altitudes where the ozone is present and is destroyed through reactions with nitric oxide. Chemists and dynamicists must work together to solve these complex problems through models.”
Second, Swenson and members of RSSS have embarked on the Helium Lidar Project at Magdelena Ridge Observatory near Socorro, New Mexico. This project will also study the upper atmosphere, but will instead use a highly technological, new laser that resonates with helium atoms.
Swenson aims to observe atmospheric temperatures and winds propagating through the upper atmosphere using the helium laser. He and members of the research group implemented preliminary tests last month at the observatory in preparation for its main test this upcoming fall.
He said the biggest challenge has been improving the laser – currently it generates 10 watts, but he hopes to develop technology capable of 50 and 100 watts later this year.
“This helium experiment is a potential candidate to put on a satellite to study global temperature and winds from the helium population in the 250-700 km altitude region,” Swenson said. “We’ve been talking to people at NASA to understand long term possibilities. Our real interest is in the global response of the atmosphere to waves as well as energy from the sun. This is an emerging tool to contribute to the methods that we currently use to study this atmospheric region.”