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Airborne campaign investigates the origin of hurricanes in the eastern Atlantic Ocean


On September 22, 2022, the CPEX campaign encountered and measured one of the largest dust events that NASA has ever sampled. While the DC-8 Airborne Laboratory captured data with its instruments, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite affixed to the Suomi NPP spacecraft captured the event from space as pictured above. Credit: NASA.

As dust moving off the Sahel and Sahara regions of Africa mixes with tropical clouds over the eastern Atlantic Ocean, rainy weather systems known as disturbances emerge. These tropical disturbances are often the seedlings for Atlantic hurricanes. By studying the origins of these disturbances in the eastern north Atlantic Ocean, scientists can better understand how they interact with individual cloud systems, may be dissipated by Saharan air and dust, and ultimately why they may or may not turn into powerful storms in the western Atlantic.

The Convective Processes Experiment - Cabo Verde (CPEX-CV) was a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, in coordination with NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and DoD’s Naval Research Laboratory, to collect detailed measurements in the region using airborne instrumentation. Operating in September 2022, research flights launched daily from Sal Island, Cabo Verde, in the eastern Atlantic Ocean off the coast of western Africa. Observations captured details of how winds, dust, moisture, clouds, and the ocean interact to either build or prevent intensification of tropical disturbances that have the potential to become hurricanes. Data were delivered to operational weather forecasting centers globally, including those in the NWS, and used to aid in hurricane forecasting.  Additionally, this field campaign collected data that are helping researchers examine the roles and significance of small-scale wind and turbulence features as mechanisms to transport dust particles long distances. This information will help improve understanding of the relationship between dust and the ability of tropical disturbances to turn into cyclones, with the aim of better characterizing and modeling how those processes might vary in a future climate state.

This information is feeding back to improve dust transport process representation in the NASA Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS). GEOS is a global weather and climate model, capable of running at resolutions down to single-kilometer scales, that actively incorporates aerosols into its physical and microphysical processes. 

This information will help improve understanding of the relationship between dust and the ability of tropical disturbances to turn into cyclones, with the aim of better characterizing how that relationship might vary in a future climate state and thus influence the formation of tropical cyclones.