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News Release 96-024

Planes, Mobile Radars Analyze Chemistry of Thunderstorms

May 22, 1996

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Airplanes and ground-based vehicles will probe intense Colorado thunderstorms in one of the nation's largest storm related field programs this summer. The National Science Foundation (NSF) supported project is aimed at documenting the interchange between thunderstorms and their environments.

Entitled "Deep Convection and the Composition of the Upper Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere," the field program will take place in northeast Colorado during late June and July. It is one of three parts of STERAO, the Stratosphere- Troposphere Experiments: Radiation, Aerosols, and Ozone. STERAO is a multiyear study of the chemistry and dynamics of the upper troposphere (the atmosphere's lowest 15 kilometers, where our weather is shaped) and the lower stratosphere (the sensitive zone between 15 and 45 kilometers where the earth's protective ozone layer is found).

"Water vapor and nitrogen are of particular interest in STERAO," says Cliff Jacobs, coordinator of NSF's lower atmospheric facilities section. "Thunderstorms bring vast amounts of water vapor from the lower to the upper troposphere, but the exact pathways are uncertain. Lightning is a significant source of active nitrogen, which can lead to the production of ozone, but the process is not yet fully understood."

A high-altitude WB-57F aircraft, recently acquired by the National Science Foundation, will make its research debut during STERAO.

Researchers and technicians from several research centers and universities will collaborate with the NSF- funded National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on this summer's field program. Operations will be based at NCAR's Research Aviation Facility, a few miles from Boulder, Colorado, at Buckley Air Force Base east of Denver, and at an operations center for radar and ground-based teams near Greeley, Colorado.

Among the instruments probing the storms will be:

  • Two mobile Doppler radars that can gather data from within several kilometers of severe storms;

  • A lightning interferometer from France that will make unique three-dimensional observations of lightning;

  • A variety of devices for air sampling and analysis aboard the aircraft to assess the chemical make-up of air in and near the storms at both high and low altitudes.


Media Contacts
Cheryl L. Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Clifford A. Jacobs, NSF, (703) 292-8521, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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