Scientists to use plane to explore jet stream and improve weather forecasts

Scientists to use plane to explore jet stream and improve weather forecasts

A scientific aircraft is set to soar over the Atlantic in a mission to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts.

The FAAM (Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements) aircraft will set off from Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England, next month on a trip that will see it explore jet streams to measure factors such as wind speeds and humidity.

Scientists hope this information may help give a clearer picture of weather coming from countries in the west, such as Iceland and North America.

The NAWDEX project has been organised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and will work closely with teams in Germany and France.

Professor Geraint Vaughan, who will be conducting the research on board the BAe 146-301 aircraft, said: "We are working towards solving the long-term problem of our inaccurate weather forecasting.

"When we get it wrong, it can usually be traced back to something happening in the jet stream that we didn't pick up, something coming towards us from upstream. It's to our embarrassment as a community that our forecasts are not capturing this properly."

He hopes that flying into the jet stream at a high level to capture information on factors such as temperatures will pave the way to developing a more accurate model for forecasting the weather.

"If it doesn't help," he said, "then we need to look at other improvements."

But while that result would mean a new line of investigation for the NAWDEX team, the work will not end there for the FAAM, which is set to embark on a five-year project measuring longer term weather patterns across the globe.

The £9m programme, in collaboration with the UK's Met Office, is a world first and will also involve RRS Discovery, a 100m-long research ship that will explore temperatures and atmosphere under the ocean.

Professor Rowan Sutton, director of climate research at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) who will be flying the FAAM, said: "It's very much a new venture. We will be bringing together a whole range of capabilities and technologies in a way that has never been done before."

He said the North Atlantic Climate System Integrated Study (ACSIS) results will bring a range of crucial benefits, such as enabling farmers to plan crop planting and helping water suppliers control supplies.

"What we are looking at directly affects us in the UK," said Prof. Sutton. "There have been a lot of changes in the climate over the last decades and we are specifically trying to address the big problems in the environment.

"We are looking at the climate as a whole and the weather patterns in wind and rain in our corner of the planet to get a picture of how these changes will affect us in the future. We also want to investigate the quality of the air coming in over the Atlantic, which can carry pollution from North America and Africa."

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