WT grad student conducts breakthrough research on precipitation in the Panhandle

Local News

Photo via West Texas A&M University website

CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Breakthrough research conducted by a grad student at West Texas A&M. could help understand how hail and rain are formed, according to the office of WT communication and marketing.

Hemanth Sandeep Vepuri, a student from Hyderabad, India, who is pursuing his master of science degree in environmental science, is the author of the research about ice-nucleating particles (INPs) — the microscopic material in the air that water vapor condenses around to form ice crystals that make up clouds, WT said.

According to Vepuri, the research that was published in “Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics,” details a better way to understand precipitation across the Panhandle.

“INPs can fall as snowflakes or hail or even rain, if they melt during the journey from cloud to ground,” Vepuri said. ““The Panhandle receives a wide range of precipitation types in a year. The goal of this research was to examine how the concentration of INPs varies between the types of precipitation systems — hail and thunderstorms, snow, long-lasting rain storms and weak rain showers.”

With the help of WT’s Informational Technology department, around 40 precipitation samples were collected, between June 2018 and July 2019, from Vepuri’s team including, Cheyanne Rodriguez, a senior environmental science major from San Antonio, on the roof of the Natural Science Building on the WT campus, the office said.

According to Vepuri, the research found that there are some variations in INP concentrations among the different precipitation systems and that there is a higher overall INP concentration in general.

“That may mean that something is going on in the Panhandle to cause higher INP concentration,” Vepuri said. “We’re now trying to study cattle feeders around this area. They send a lot of dust into the atmosphere, so our thought is that maybe those particles are acting as INPs.”

Dr. Naruki Hiranuma, assistant professor of environmental science and Vepuri’s research adviser, said “understanding INP propensity and properties is key to shed light on cloud and precipitation formation as well as our future climate. But we definitely need more in-depth process-level understanding in INPs themselves and their interactions with clouds.”

Vepuri’s team including, Dr. Gregory Mayer from Texas Tech University and Dr. Dimitrios Georgakopoulos from the Agricultural University of Athens in Greece, have taken air samples from feedlots at ground level and are comparing those to samples taken in the skies above the region.

“We have found the same kind of microbiomes from the air and ground samples, but we don’t know if they’re acting as INPs or not. We also don’t know how they got into the samples — whether they rose on their own, returned to ground level after forming ice particles in the air or if they’re being captured while the rain is falling to the ground,” Vepuri said.

Vepuri continued, “It’s important to study these INPs in the Panhandle because we know they are varying in these precipitation systems, so that may help us more accurately predict the amount of rain we will get in the future, and if we do find that a relationship between INPs in clouds and those in precipitation, it could revolutionize the way we control clouds.”

This study is based on work supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and a Killgore Graduate Student Research Grant from WT.


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