Students Take Part in Climate-Decoding Mission

Weather balloon used in research.Summer 2007 — After taking CEE Professor Ana Barros’ Focus program course in his freshman year, William Patrick took the initiative to ask if Barros might have anything he could do for the summer. He soon found himself as one of the only undergraduates participating in a massive, multi-aircraft mission aimed at decoding the climate.

“It was interesting to see research actually taking place and to be a part of a team,” Patrick said. “It helped me figure out what I want to major in and what classes I want to concentrate on.”

The Oklahoma mission dubbed CLASIC for Cloud and Land Surface Interaction Campaign will provide a whole host of atmospheric variables with the ultimate aim of improving scientists’ understanding of information captured by remote-sensing satellites. Barros’ team deployed huge, climate-sensing balloons as part of the CLASIC experiment. The blimp-like helium-filled balloons carry sensors that can measure atmospheric characteristics at a given location repeatedly over the course of the day.

A second Duke team led by CEE Professor Roni Avissar piloted Duke's Helicopter Observation Platform bedecked with an atmosphere-sensing nose over the Oklahoma landscape. Helicopters can fly lower than airplanes and can therefore capture information about the dynamic lower atmosphere and its intimate connection to seasonal changes in land cover.

“You can see the difference between prairie grass and corn,” said Heidi Holder, a CEE graduate student and member of Avissar’s team. “If you cut down a field of grass and plant corn, you change where clouds form, which is important for local and regional climate. People had
noticed the links, but they hadn’t taken such a close look before.”