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Anne Thompson - Adventures in the Atmosphere
May 6, 2014

[image-51]PART ONE OF TWO

Name: Anne M. Thompson
Title: Research Physical Scientist
Organization: Code 614, Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory, Ozone Branch, Science Directorate

Anne Thompson describes her career as an adventure in various ozone layers, including meeting Paul Newman at the tropopause.

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I’m part pollution scientist, part climate scientist. I study global pollution using data that NASA collects from satellites, aircraft and ground-based instruments. Some of these are also greenhouse gases. One new dimension of this work is looking at greenhouse gases from rapidly expanding oil and gas exploration, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Fracking releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas. The scientific question is: by moving away from dirty fuels to clean-burning methane, are we trading one problem for a new one that could be worse?

What do you learn from conducting field work in North America and around the world?

NASA has satellites looking down at our planet, but we can’t see all the processes from space. To expand our vision, we do field work. We fly airplanes full of high-tech instruments to measure complex details in the atmosphere. Paul Newman (a Goddard scientist) and I have met at the tropopause. He studies stratospheric ozone moving down to the tropopause while I look at pollution sources moving up from the ground. We also deploy ground-based instruments for satellite validation. Satellite validation means that you compare what you see from space with what you see on the ground.

[image-78]We must have the most accurate set of measurements from space to keep following how the ozone hole is “recovering,” which countries are cleaning up their pollution and which are getting worse. In the case of ozone in the tropics, I put together a network of a dozen stations, the Southern Hemisphere Additional Ozonesondes, which launch ozone sensors every week on weather balloons. We have learned many things about how climate and ozone affect one another while keeping NASA satellites accurate.

What interesting fieldwork have you done at NASA?

My first major fieldwork at NASA was on the Transport and Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment campaign in southern Africa in 1992. We were validating new maps of ozone pollution derived from the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer satellite. This challenge meant flying over the south Atlantic Ocean to measure ozone above and below stratus clouds that were causing problems with our ability to make a good satellite measurement. When we saw how polluted it was above the clouds, and how clean it was below them, I got so excited that our new satellite maps were true!

The second important thing we were doing was testing theories on where the ozone pollution was coming from. We had several theories. We knew that southern African spring is when savannah fires are set by people to clear dead vegetation. We flew over the fires to measure the chemicals that make ozone. On the other hand, since lightning is a natural process that releases nitrogen oxides that go on to make ozone in the atmosphere, we also detected lighting impacts.

Most recently, I flew out of Houston, on NASA’s DC-8 for the Studies of Emissions and Atmosphere Composition Cloud and Climate Coupling from Remote Sensing mission. Here, as over Africa, we measure a host of trace chemicals and track winds, precipitation and convection. Our goal is to figure out the natural variation in the composition of our atmosphere versus what human beings are doing to the atmosphere. Besides fires all over the globe, we’ve studied urban pollution and the effects of commercial aircraft on the atmosphere.

[image-94]What fieldwork are you currently doing?

I am currently working on the Deriving Information on Surface conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality mission, which is a five-year NASA Earth Venture mission. During September 2013, we used the Wallops Flight Facility’s P-3 aircraft to study U.S. pollution in Houston. We plan to go to Colorado this next June.

What is a highlight from some of your other field work?

In 1990, I went on a scientific cruise on a Soviet ship during the last year that the Soviet Union existed. We went from Hawaii to Samoa with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Soviet Union. We took the Wallops Flight Facility’s nitric oxide measuring instrument with us. The Soviet ship was named after the Robert Goddard of the Soviet Union, the man who invented Soviet rocketry, Sergei Korolev. Although the crew only spoke Russian, the scientists spoke English and even gave us Russian lessons. We learned enough Russian to read the daily menus and pass up breakfast when they served tongue.  That cruise defined a new way for scientists to study atmospheric chemistry at sea. After that we started putting ground-truth instruments for NASA satellites on ships.

What is the most exciting part of doing fieldwork?

When you’re the mission scientist on an airplane, the most exciting moments are working with the pilot to change a flight path to achieve the best scientific strategy.

Read Part Two

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Anne Thompson
Anne Thompson
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NASA/W. Hrybyk
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Thompson launching an ozonesonde
Thompson launching an ozonesonde in front of the Penn State Nittany Atmospheric Trailer and Integrated Validation Experiment (NATIVE) in California, Jan. 2013.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of A. Thompson
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Thompson on top of the NATIVE trailer with NASA, Penn State and UMBC remote sensing instruments.
Thompson on top of the NATIVE trailer with NASA, Penn State and UMBC remote sensing instruments.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of A. Thompson
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Page Last Updated: May 13th, 2014
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner