WT launches climate change study in Alaska, continues to monitor data from Canyon

Local News

CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — West Texas A&M University announced a new climate change study in Alaska that may impact measuring climate change.

According to a press release by WT’s Communication Department, the team, led by Dr. Naruki Hiranuma, associate professor of environmental sciences, took the trip to Alaska near Utqiaġvik to measure “aerosol in ice-containing clouds.” Aerosols, or ice-nucleating particles, according to the team, are the “microscopic material in the air that water vapor condenses around to form ice crystals that makeup clouds.”

Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, is “as Arctic as you can get in the U.S.,” Hiranuma said.

“Eventually, we will be able to tell how many ice crystals these clouds contain and at what altitudes,” said Dr. Elise Wilbourn, a member of Hiranuma’s research team. “As we learn more about how much ice is present versus liquid water, we can tell how much sunlight the cloud is going to reflect or absorb.”

Wilbourn explained that the Arctic and Antarctic are experiencing climate change in a more prominent way than other parts of the earth.

“Before more of that warming happens, we need to get a baseline to see how the Arctic atmosphere absorbs or reflects the sunlight and see how that will change in the future,” Wilbourn said.

The release added that clouds that contain more liquid have a puffier form than ice-containing clouds, which have a “wispier” appearance. WT detailed that the puffier clouds reflect sunlight, while the lighter clouds absorb sunlight and therefore, allow it to pass through and warm the ground.

Dr. Wilbourn added it’s important to research these clouds.

“Water is actually a greenhouse gas, it’s not one that is hugely impacted by anthropogenic activity like carbon dioxide or methane, that we hear about a lot. But water can trap sunlight and heat energy as well, especially if it’s present as ice clouds,” said Wilbourn.

According to the release, Hiranuma worked with scientists in Europe who developed a device known as the Portable Ice Nucleation Experiment (PINE), a remote-controlled atmospheric simulation that studies “cloud formation in their respective environments.”

“WT is the first university in the world to have purchased a PINE and to have deployed it,” Hiranuma said.

“There are not a ton of ice-nucleating particle research positions in the U.S.,” Wilbourn said “I wanted a project that incorporated fieldwork and would take place at a smaller university. There are so many good opportunities here, especially now that we’re able to travel more and get back out into the field.”

The team set up their study on Oct. 20 at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expanded Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory near Utqiaġvik staffed by chief Bryan Thomas and technician Ross Burgener, according to WT.

After the team deployed PINE at the end of October, they can now monitor and track data from Alaska remotely in Canyon.

“We can actually monitor what is happening in the instruments 24/7, which is really, really convenient. If I stay there in Alaska, it cost me like $300 for hotels and like $100 a day for a car. Me controlling the channel from here is like controlling a satellite system from the ground,” said Hiranuma.

He adds this research could help project future climate predictions.

“They can use our data and do crowd simulating modeling to basically predict our future climate, and that will tell us if ice-nucleating particles in the cloud have any sort of climate impact,” added Hiranuma.

WT added that IT and logistics support was provided by Pawel Lech of the Argonne National Lab, NOAA Observatory Field Operations Manager Christine Smith, and Department of Energy team members Jasper Hardesty and Frederick Helsel.

The WT research team consists of Carlos Guerrero, a sophomore biology major from Amarillo, Jacob Hurst, a junior physics major from Canyon, and Sarah Alrimaly, a junior environmental science major from Hart, with Hiranuma and Wilbourn.

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