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Friday, July 04, 2014

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Earth's last frontier: The atmosphere


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Mark Zondlo and his team travel from pole to pole in a superfast research aircraft mapping Earth's atmosphere with a new laser-based sensor that measures water vapor. Read more.


Video Closed Captions

[music]

Mark Zondlo:
My name is Mark Zondlo, and my head is in the clouds.

Mark Zondlo:
I'm measuring water vapor on the vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser hygrometer.

[airplane engines]

Mark Zondlo:
In a 21st-century version of Captain Cook's historic voyage, we are exploring the atmosphere from

Mark Zondlo:
pole to pole in a flying laboratory. We porpoise through the skies, taking readings from 14 kilometers high

Mark Zondlo:
to just above the sea ice.

[music]

Mark Zondlo:
This National Science Foundation project, called Hiaper Pole to Pole Observations, will

Mark Zondlo:
give us the most comprehensive picture yet of greenhouse gases and how they affect climate.

Mark Zondlo:
Our journey includes Alaska, the Arctic, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Antarctica.

[music]

Mark Zondlo:
Why clouds? They can warm the earth, they can cool the earth, but we don't know how they form,

Mark Zondlo:
and water vapor holds the key.

Mark Zondlo:
In discussions about global warming, carbon dioxide and methane get all of the attention,

Mark Zondlo:
but water vapor impacts climate more than any other gas.

Mark Zondlo:
We've invented a laser-based sensor that measures water vapor throughout the atmosphere.

Mark Zondlo:
What's neat about it is that it actually sticks outside the aircraft and allows for real-time,

Mark Zondlo:
precise and pristine measurements, and it's plug-and-play.

[music]

Mark Zondlo:
While we circle the globe, Princeton graduate student Minghui Diao analyzes the data in

Mark Zondlo:
real time. What we are finding is surprising. Large plumes of water vapor exist in areas

Mark Zondlo:
we never expected to find them. Learning how this fits into the puzzle is crucial for predicting

Mark Zondlo:
climate and making smart policy decisions. The atmosphere is perhaps Earth's last frontier.

[music]

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