Tech

December 12, 2012

New NASA-funded forecast system helps transoceanic flights avoid storms

A new NASA-funded prototype system developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research of Boulder, Colo., now is providing weather forecasts that can help flights avoid major storms as they travel over remote ocean regions.

The eight-hour forecasts of potentially dangerous atmospheric conditions are designed for pilots, air traffic controllers and others involved in transoceanic flights.

The NCAR-based system combines satellite data and computer weather models to produce maps of storms over much of the world’s oceans. The system is based on products that NCAR has developed to alert pilots and air traffic controllers about storms and related hazards, such as turbulence and lightning, over the continental United States. Development of the forecasts was spurred in part by the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, which encountered a complex of thunderstorms over the Atlantic Ocean.

The system was funded by NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, which supports efforts to discover and demonstrate innovative and practical uses of NASA Earth science and satellite observations. NCAR worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the system.

“These new forecasts can help fill an important gap in our aviation system,” said NCAR’s Cathy Kessinger, lead researcher on the project. “Pilots have had limited information about atmospheric conditions as they fly over the ocean, where conditions can be severe. By providing them with a picture of where significant storms will be during an eight-hour period, the system can contribute to both the safety and comfort of passengers on flights.”

The forecasts, which continue to be tested and modified, cover most of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where NCAR has real-time access to geostationary satellite data. The forecasts are updated every three hours.

Pilots of transoceanic flights currently get preflight briefings and, in certain cases involving especially intense storms, in-flight weather updates every four hours. They also have onboard radar, but that information is of limited value for strategic flight planning while en route.

“Turbulence is the leading cause of injuries in commercial aviation,” said John Haynes, Applied Sciences Program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This prototype system is of crucial importance to pilots and is another demonstration of the practical benefit of NASA’s Earth observations.”

Pinpointing turbulence associated with storms over the oceans is far more challenging than it is over land because geostationary satellites, unlike ground-based radar, cannot see within the clouds. Thunderstorms may develop quickly and move rapidly, rendering the briefings and weather updates obsolete. Onboard radars lack the power to see long distances or through dense clouds.

As a result, pilots often must choose between detouring hundreds of miles around potentially stormy areas or flying directly through a region that may or may not contain intense weather. Storms may be associated with hazardous windshear and icing conditions in addition to lightning, hail and potentially severe turbulence.

To create the forecasts, Kessinger and her colleagues first turned to geostationary satellite measurements to identify regions of the atmosphere that met two conditions: particularly high cloud tops and water vapor at high altitudes. These two conditions are a sign of powerful storms and strong updrafts that can buffet an aircraft. The scientists next used fuzzy logic and data fusion techniques to home in on storms of particular concern, and applied object tracking techniques and simulations of wind fields to predict storm locations at hourly intervals out to eight hours.

Researchers verified the forecasts using a variety of data from NASA Earth observations, including the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite.

“These advanced techniques enable us to inform pilots about the potential for violent downdrafts and turbulence, even over the middle of the ocean where we don’t have land-based radar or other tools to observe storms in detail,” Kessinger said.

The forecasts can be viewed at http://go.nasa.gov/W0doRu.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 6, 2015

News Long wait to come to America for Iraqis, Afghans who served U.S. troops Long wait times and a shortage of available visas for a huge backlog of applications remain major issues for the U.S. government’s Special Immigrant Visa program intended to ease entry to the United States for Iraqis and Afghans who served as...
 
 

News Briefs July 6, 2015

Russian MiG fighter crashes in southern Russia, pilot lives The Russian Defense Ministry says a Russian air force fighter jet has crashed in the south but its pilot ejected safely. The MiG-29 fighter jet went down July 3 near the village of Kushchevskaya in the Krasnodar region, 620 miles south of Moscow. The ministry said...
 
 
Army photograph by Doug LaFon

Army researcher’s interest in robotics leads to innovative device

Army photograph by Doug LaFon Dan Baechle, left, from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Multifunctional Materials research team, has created a laboratory prototype of a device he designed to sense and damp out arm tremors for A...
 

 
Air Force photograph by TSgt. Joseph Swafford

Pave Hawk maintainers keep rescue birds flying

Air Force photograph by TSgt. Joseph Swafford Airman Joshua Herron, a 41st Expeditionary Helicopter Maintenance Unit HH-60 Pave Hawk crew chief, completes a 50-hour inspection on a Pave Hawk at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Jun...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Benjamin Raughton

B-52s demonstrate strategic reach

Air Force photograph by SrA. Benjamin Raughton A B-52H Stratofortress is marshalled to a stop at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., after a 44-hour sortie July 2, 2015. Aircrew members and two B-52s from Barksdale AFB’s 96th ...
 
 

Soldier missing from Korean War accounted for

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced July 1 that the remains of a serviceman, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Army Sgt. Joseph M. Snock Jr. of Apollo, Pennsylvania, was buried July 6, in Arlington National Cemetery. In...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>