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Aerosol Studies

Biomass-burning smoke mixing with mineral dust aerosol, pictured from the FAAM aircraft over West Africa.

We study atmospheric aerosols using measurements from the FAAM BAe146 aircraft and other ground-based and remote-sensing observations.

Aerosol are small particles that have a wide range of important impacts on the atmosphere; they interact with solar and terrestrial radiation to perturb the Earth's energy budget; they play a key role in determining cloud microphysical properties affecting precipitation, cloud thickness and persistence; and in high concentrations they degrade air quality and visibility.
Aerosol particles undergo complex atmospheric life-cycles and exhibit a vast range of properties, making their accurate representation in numerical models used for weather, climate and air quality prediction a significant challenge.

Our goal is to perform high quality aerosol research observations to improve fundamental scientific understanding of aerosol processes and properties in order to test and improve their representation within the Met Office's suite of models. Our primary research platform is the FAAM BAe-146 research aircraft. We operate a range of advanced aerosol instrumentation on the aircraft including aerosol scattering, absorption, extinction and hygroscopicity instruments, optical particle counters, spectral radiometers and an aerosol backscatter LIDAR.

Much of our research is focused on major international experiments aimed at characterizing dominant aerosol species such as mineral dust, biomass burning and aerosol mixtures associated with anthropogenic pollution. These measurement campaigns are often joint ventures with the UK and international academic groups.

Our group consists of the following research staff based at Exeter: Dr Kate Szpek (née Turnbull), Dr Debbie O'Sullivan, Dr Alan Vance, and Dr Justin Langridge (group manager). 

Key Aims

  • To measure the physical and optical properties of atmospheric aerosols.
  • To determine the impact of aerosols on atmospheric radiation, visibility, cloud microphysics and air quality.
  • To support development and testing of aerosol modelling within the Met Office and the UK academic community.
  • To develop state-of-the-art instrumentation for aerosol measurement.

Current and future projects

  • EXSCALABAR (ongoing) - development of a new custom-built aircraft instrument for in situ characterisation of aerosol optical properties using multi-wavelength cavity ringdown and photoacoustic spectroscopies. A key focus of EXSCALABAR is to provide high quality measurements needed to test the representation of absorbing aerosol in Met Office climate models. EXSCALABAR is currently under development with first use planned for 2016.
  • SAMBBA, Brazil, 2012 - analysis of airborne in situ and remote sensing data collected during SAMBBA, a joint NERC Met Office campaign to study biomass burning aerosols in the Amazon region. Current effort in the group is directed towards use of airborne LIDAR observations to characterize the regional extent of Amazonian haze for comparison to NWP model simulations.
  • ICE-D, Cape Verde, 2015 - Saharan dust measurements collected during this campaign will be used to test the Met Office global model's dust forecast and validate aerosol products derived from ground and satellite remote sensing instruments.
  • Monsoon, India, 2016 - as part of this joint NERC-MoES project, aerosol optical property and radiative impact measurements over India will be coupled to model studies to assess the impact of aerosol on propagation of the Indian monsoon.
  • CLARIFY, Namibia, 2016 - as part of this joint NERC project, aerosol optical, physical and radiometric measurements will be used to examine the impact of African biomass burning aerosol on direct radiative forcing over the southern Atlantic.

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