As this year’s hurricane season rolls in, a team of researchers
participating in a NASA study is waiting. Armed with airplanes, robotic
aerial vehicles and a fleet of sophisticated instruments, they’re ready to
meet these potentially deadly and destructive storms head-on, gathering data
vital to improve hurricane modeling and prediction.

They’re part of the Convection And Moisture EXperiment (CAMEX) —
the fourth in a series of field research investigations sponsored by the
Earth Science Enterprise at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. The mission
unites researchers from 10 universities, five NASA centers and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Based out of the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Fla., this
year’s mission will run from Aug. 16 through Sept. 24 — traditionally the
most active part of the hurricane season.

During CAMEX, researchers will gather storm data from multiple
sources, including aircraft, unpiloted aerial vehicles, satellite
observations, ground-based radar, and other ground-based sensing
instruments. Unique in this mission is the fact each storm will be monitored
simultaneously from near sea level to 65,000 feet.

Temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, wind speed,
lightning and ice crystal sizes are examples of the kinds of information
that will be collected. These data are expected to provide additional
insight to hurricane researchers and forecasters who continually strive to
improve our understanding of these storms.

“One reason NASA studies hurricanes is to understand the best way to
use information from NASA resources, such as its satellites, to provide
better warnings to the American public and people around the world affected
by hurricanes,” said Robbie Hood, CAMEX mission scientist from NASA’s
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

“During the last CAMEX mission in 1998, we flew over hurricanes and
collected a vast amount of data, sampling the hurricanes’ upper regions at
altitudes of 35,000 feet (10,600 meters) or higher,” said Hood. “This year,
we’re asking ourselves additional questions, such as, ‘How does a hurricane
intensify?’ and ‘What is its rainfall potential after it comes to shore?’
The highest number of hurricane-related deaths are due to inland flooding,
so inland rainfall is something we will be monitoring very closely.”

The CAMEX team plans to fly into the season’s hurricanes aboard two
NASA planes, the ER-2 and DC-8, both from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research
Center, Edwards, Calif. Carrying a series of instruments, these aircraft
will fly over, through, and around selected hurricanes as they approach
landfall in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and along the East Coast of the
United States.

The DC-8, equipped with instruments that will measure the storms’
structure, environment and changes in intensity and tracking, will fly into
storms at 35,000 to 40,000 feet (12,200 meters). At the same time, the
specially equipped ER-2, a high-altitude research plane, will soar above
storms at 65,000 feet (19,800 meters).

NASA also is funding the flight of several unpiloted aerial vehicles
called the Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft, managed in conjunction with the
University of Colorado at Boulder.

Small, robotic aircraft designed for collection of meteorological
data over oceans and remote areas, the Aerosondes will operate over the
North Atlantic Ocean taking observations in the lower atmosphere. In the
first use of unpiloted aircraft in an operation of this type, the Aerosondes
will skim the ocean surface collecting data on atmospheric temperature,
pressure, relative humidity, and winds – data that cannot be obtained by any
other method.

Although investigating hurricanes is the primary objective of
CAMEX-4, separate flights will study thunderstorm structure, precipitation
systems, and atmospheric water vapor profiles.

This portion of CAMEX-4 is known as Keys Area Microphysics Project
(KAMP). The project seeks improved precipitation estimates from passive and
active microwave instruments – equipment that detects precipitation and
surface water by measuring natural microwave emissions from cloud water,
cloud ice, rainfall and surface water. Flights for the microphysics project
will be approximately 300 nautical miles (560 km) from the Key West, Fla.,

The hurricane study is part of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, a
long-term research program dedicated to better understanding the total Earth
system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on our global