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Lasers over New Zealand - Atmospheric researchers examine gravity waves

11 July 2014

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Atmospheric gravity waves influence the weather and long-term, climate-related atmospheric processes. For a number of nights between 29 June and 23 July 2014, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Falcon research aircraft will be flying over the New Zealand Alps (Southern Alps) to investigate how these waves propagate from Earth's surface up to an altitude of around 100 kilometres using modern laser metrology and other instruments. The results will help to improve climate and weather prediction models.

The international aircraft measurement campaign is being carried out in cooperation with United States partners such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the Naval Research Laboratory, Yale University and the University of Utah. It is being supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The research aircraft being used by the US scientists is a Gulfstream V. In addition, the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) is involved in the research mission, along with other partners from the region.

In the past, scientists studied gravity waves either in the lower atmosphere, known as the troposphere, or in the higher altitudes of the overlying middle atmosphere. Until now, it had not been possible to measure the complete life cycle of the waves from their excitation at ground level to their dissipation at the edge of space at an altitude of around 100 kilometres. "In New Zealand, we have launched the first international research campaign, which is analysing atmospheric gravity waves continuously from the ground up to the middle atmosphere," says the Director of the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Markus Rapp. "For climate research, understanding gravity waves is an important element in gaining a better understanding of global circulation patterns and being able to provide more accurate predictions," Rapp continues. Developments in laser metrology, the use of these instruments on research aircraft and international cooperation are the cornerstones of the research mission DEEPWAVE (Deep Propagating Gravity Wave Experiment), which will now deliver a more comprehensive picture of gravity wave propagation in the atmosphere.

Source: German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Image credit: DLR - DLR LIDAR at NIWA's Lauder Atmospheric Research Station