in-atmosphere photo of large cloud forming
Convective clouds form when warm humid air rises through cooler surrounding air in the atmosphere. The UAH research for the Department of Energy will focus on examining the influences of aerosol and thermodynamics on these clouds, as well as working to better explain convective cloud evolution.
Courtesy NASA

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that researchers at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) have been awarded two projects designed to investigate the characteristics and evolution of convective clouds through advanced modeling. The projects are aimed at improving the capabilities of Earth system models to predict weather and climate changes.

The total three-year DOE project budget allocated for UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System, is $617,267. These awards will focus on studies of cloud, aerosol and precipitation processes and their interactions.

“America’s leadership in the climate sciences dates back to the earliest general circulation models of the 1950s,” said DOE Acting Associate Director for Biological and Environmental Research Todd Anderson in making the announcement. “Department of Energy investments in the atmospheric sciences have been critical to our nation’s overall leadership in making accurate projections of climate change and impacts on society. These grants will lead to important new insights into the nature of Earth system variability and change in support of the DOE mission.”

Michael Mercier | UAH

Dr. John Mecikalski, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Earth Science at UAH, will be the principle investigator for a project targeted to understand the evolution of convective cumulus clouds through analysis of Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (AMF3) field experiment surface, radar, satellite and high-resolution numerical model simulations datasets. AMF3 is a user facility centered in the Bankhead National Forest and surrounding areas of North Alabama with surface-based instruments that obtain continuous measurements of clouds, aerosols, precipitation, energy and other meteorological variables. Dr. Mecikalski will collaborate with two atmospheric scientists with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center on this project.

“The project’s main goal is to increase understanding on how ground-based observations can augment information provided by geostationary satellites,” Dr. Mecikalski states in his proposal. “Major unknowns remain in understanding of cloud processes leading to the growth of cumulus clouds. Convective clouds are often challenging to simulate accurately in numerical weather prediction models because of their small size relative to model spatial resolution, complex interactions between radiation, surface energy and moisture fluxes, as well as the growth of the planetary boundary layer.”

In addition, Dr. Sean Freeman, a UAH assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Earth Science, will be the principle investigator on a project designed to examine the influences of changing aerosol and thermodynamic conditions on Southeastern-isolated convective clouds using new observations and advanced modeling. This research seeks to address the impacts of atmospheric particles, heat and moisture on clouds in the Southeast.

Both projects were chosen through competitive peer review under the DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement under the Atmospheric System Research Program, sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Department’s Office of Science.

The full list of projects funded and more information on each can be found by visiting the list of awardees.