Antarctic cloud pattern study helping scientists unravel climate change secrets
Scientists have a new weapon in their arsenal to help with the study of the unique cloud patterns above the Southern Ocean, hopefully leading to better climate predictions.
- Scientists say the clouds over Antarctica are unique and tend to be lower than in Australia
- The continent is so remote that little data had been collected in the area previously
- The researchers hope the data collected will better inform predictions of climate change
Researchers from the University of Melbourne are using a new piece of technology called the AIRBOX to measure aerosol particles in the atmosphere.
The AIRBOX, a modified shipping container on the deck of the Antarctic supply ship Aurora Australis, contains a dozen instruments.
It will send data to the researchers in real time helping them better study the Southern Ocean clouds which are different to anywhere else,
Chief investigator Robyn Schofield said the research would help them better understand climate change.
Research scientists Robyn Schofield and Jared Lewis inside the facility known as the AIRBOX. (ABC News: Scott Ross)
“Those clouds and aerosols over the Southern Ocean really impact our climate here in Australia, so by understanding them better we’re going to get better predictions,” she said.
“So being in the remote background of the earth which is the Southern Ocean, we can get an idea of what these aerosols look like in pre-industrial times.
“Of course pollution has affected the entire planet, but we get a good idea of what the background state of our earth is.”
Dr Scholfield said they will measure aerosols in the atmosphere, which includes dust, gases, sea salt and pollution.
“We’re doing that because aerosols go on to form clouds and clouds are important because they’re the cooling part of the story when our planet is warming,” she said.
“So greenhouse gases are warming our planet and the clouds are cooling.”
Different properties in Antarctic clouds
Australian researchers have also been studying “super-cooled” clouds which form over the icy continent. (Supplied: AAD)
Jared Lewis from the University of Melbourne said clouds over the Southern Ocean are unique.
“You end up with a lot of low cloud and they tend to be a lot lower than they are here,” he said.
“The biggest question that this particular project can help resolve is helping us really narrow down the uncertainty in our climate model predictions over the Southern Ocean. That’s a tremendously important thing.”
Mr Lewis said little data had previously been collected in the Southern Ocean.
“It’s a really remote place and so getting as many measurements down there will help us learn how clouds form which play a huge role in the uncertainty we see in climate change,” he said.
“The AIRBOX is a great way of storing many instruments all in one co-located area that we can move around wherever we can make these measurements.
“So for example we mounted it on Aurora Australis this season but over winter we can move it to another place and make some measurements there and it keeps it all together and makes it much easier to move around.”