Sea for Himself
Vernon Morris sits by equipment aboard the ship

Vernon Morris made direct research observations aboard the Ronald H. Brown. Image Credit: Vernon Morris

Understanding of a situation can often benefit from looking at it from a different perspective.

Vernon Morris, a former NASA research fellow, recently had the opportunity to do just that.

Morris is the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Howard University. He recently participated in his fourth voyage on the NOAA research vessel Ronald H. Brown.

On these trans-Atlantic voyages, scientists study tiny aerosol particles that originated in the Saharan and sub-Saharan regions of Africa. The research is conducted as part of an ongoing project named AEROSE, or trans-Atlantic Aerosol and Ocean Science Expeditions. Morris serves as principal investigator for this project.

Generated from dust storms and biomass fires, aerosol particles are transported away from Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, and into the Caribbean and eastern United States. During the research cruises, scientists measure the quantity and size of the aerosol particles and study their chemical and biological content. Researchers also study physical and chemical changes the aerosols induce in the ocean and changes the atmosphere undergoes as aerosols travel. With this data, scientists hope to better understand how these aerosols affect the weather, the climate and the environment. Morris explained there are also implications of the AEROSE campaigns to hurricanes, but previous expeditions have not taken place at optimal times to study this. The 2009 voyage, however, will take place during the early hurricane season.

Through his participation in these voyages, Morris is continuing research he conducted with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as a member of the NASA Administrator's Fellowship Project. NAFP is designed to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education at minority institutions. NAFP supports NASA's goal of strengthening NASA's and the nation's future workforce.

NAFP has two parts. Fellowships for faculty members at minority institutions involve faculty members in NASA-related research and facilities. That involvement allows the participants to build relationships and gain valuable experience. NAFP also offers fellowships for NASA employees to teach or conduct research at minority institutions. The NASA employee gains experience, and the institution benefits from the employee's knowledge.

Morris was selected in 1998 for NAFP as a faculty member at Howard University, where he continues to serve as an associate professor of chemistry and atmospheric science, and recently as the interim chair for the Department of Chemistry. During his two years as an NAFP fellow, he worked in the Laboratory for Atmospheres at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Vernon Morris

Morris continues to be involved with NASA through the NASA University Research Center project. Image Credit: Vernon Morris

During his time at Goddard, Morris also participated in studies of trans-Pacific movement of Asian dust. Unlike his NOAA work, data for the Goddard research was collected using aircraft flying across the ocean and western United States. Obtaining similar data but using combined satellite, surface, and maritime data collected on the Ronald H. Brown provides a more complete picture.

Morris also conducts surface sampling in Puerto Rico, Mali (in West Africa) and periodically in the Canary Islands during the cruises. "The combined atmospheric and oceanic sampling also constitutes a unique aspect of the mission that will enable an unparalleled view of the thermodynamic influence of these African aerosols in the Atlantic marine environment," Morris said. (Both the air- and sea-based studies are further supplemented by satellite observations.)

Morris said that the research conducted on the voyages is unique in that it's the first to study the impact of aerosol evolution on the various atmospheric and oceanographic systems. Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are partners in the research project.

Morris also continues his involvement with NASA today as a co-principal investigator on the recently awarded NASA University Research Center grant to Howard University. The new URC collaborates with Goddard's Laboratory for Atmospheres and is an interdisciplinary center that sponsors research in atmospheric sciences and related fields. The primary scientific goal of the URC is to engage in atmospheric-observation research that will improve weather, climate and air-quality prediction. The center also works to train science and academic leaders in atmospheric processes, inspire and engage K-12 and undergraduate students, and collaborate with other climate research program to contribute to a better understanding of climate change.

Related Resources
NASA Administrator's Fellowship Project
Goddard Space Flight Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration   →
NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences   →
NASA Education Web Site

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services