Aviation News

July 8, 2010

NASA to Send Three Aircraft to Study Hurricanes

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By: BNO News
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A NASA WB-57 like this one will take part in the new wave of hurricane testing later this summer.
A NASA WB-57 like this one will take part in the new wave of hurricane testing later this summer.

A NASA Martin WB-57 like this one will take part in the new wave of hurricane testing later this summer.

NASA announced on Wednesday that three aircraft will begin flights to study tropical cyclones on August 15.

The Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes mission, or GRIP, will study the creation and rapid intensification of hurricanes, becoming NASA’s first major U.S.-based hurricane field campaign since 2001. The NASA fleet would consist of a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a Douglas DC-8, and a Martin WB-57, which is a Vietnam-era aircraft now used for atmospheric testing pertaining to weather and nuclear weapons.

One of the major challenges in tropical cyclone forecasting is knowing when a tropical cyclone is going to form. Scientists will use the data from this six-week field mission to better understand how tropical storms form and develop into major hurricanes. Mission scientists will also be looking at how storms strengthen, weaken, and die.

Three NASA satellites will play a key role in supplying data about tropical cyclones during the field mission. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, or TRMM, managed by both NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will provide rainfall estimates and help pinpoint the locations of “hot towers” or powerhouse thunderstorms in tropical cyclones. The CloudSat spacecraft will provide cloud profiles of storms, which include altitude, temperatures and rainfall intensity.

“This is really going to be a game-changing hurricane experiment,” said Ramesh Kakar, GRIP program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “For the first time, scientists will be able to study these storms and the conditions that produce them for up to 20 hours straight. GRIP will provide a sustained, continuous look at hurricane behavior at critical times during their formation and evolution.”