NOAA Supports NASA's HS3 Global Hawk Hurricane MissionsNASA's Global Hawk departs for its mission out of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility near Chincoteague, Va. (Photo credit: NASA)
NOAA hurricane scientists are expanding their observations this summer, working with NASA’s Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission and its innovative Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to push the boundaries of hurricane operations. NASA looked to NOAA’s hurricane experts to augment its HS3 science team, supporting their five-year mission to investigate the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin.
The Hurricane Research Division at AOML has a long history of using NOAA’s P-3 Orion and G-IV high altitude jet hurricane hunter aircraft to observe the inner core and environment of these storms, studying the dynamics of structure and intensity change. While the P-3’s fly right through the eye of the hurricane to collect observations, the G-IV samples the fringes of the storm more than 8 miles above the ocean surface. Both aircraft deploy small parachuted instruments called GPS dropsondes that collect temperature, moisture, and pressure data and measure wind-speed as they descend through the atmopshere. AOML pioneered the use of these instruments in hurricanes and are world experts in the requisite data processing and real-time transfer of data to operational modeling centers and NOAA's National Hurricane Center.
NASA worked with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and its engineering partners at the National Center for Atmospheric Research to re-design and implement as autonomous GPS dropsonde system for the Global Hawk platform. Hurricane researchers at AOML process data obtained from the GPS dropsonde system in real-time and with 26 hours of flight time per mission that can mean up to 89 drops per flight.
Each HS3 Global Hawk flight averages three times the length of a traditional hurricane hunter flight, allowing the aircraft to fly further and much higher than the flight path of the NOAA P-3’s and G-IV jet. This expanded flight track allows the Global Hawks to directly sample regions of the Atlantic typically only observed via satellites. One type of large-scale feature that is of particular interest are Saharan dust storms.
These dust storms, also known as the Saharan Air Layer, regularly bring massive outbreaks of very dry air and 25-50 mile per hour winds out over the Atlantic Ocean. Scientists believe that this injection of extremely dry air and strong winds into the hurricane Main Development Region of the Atlantic can inhibit storm development. Large SAL outbreaks the size of the continental U.S. have been overspreading the eastern Atlantic since July and continue to interact with nascent tropical waves, seedlings for hurricanes that periodically roll off of Africa.
This summer NOAA and NASA scientists will coordinate Global Hawk flights along with NOAA’s hurricane hunter aircraft to observe the convection that drives intensification within the core of hurricanes, as well as the broader environment that may influence track as well as intensity.
Follow the NOAA and NASA field missions on Twitter: