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For Release: September 8, 1995

Catherine E. Watson
(804) 864-6122

Release No. 95-83

Final Tests Scheduled for New Aircraft-Based Laser Water Vapor Sensor

The NASA Langley Lidar Atmospheric Sensing Experiment (LASE) will undergo final validation tests this month at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. LASE is a lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) system that will be flown aboard the NASA ER-2 aircraft (an advanced U-2). The LASE instrument transmits laser light down into the atmosphere and measures the amount of light reflected back to detect and measure the amount of water vapor present. Water vapor plays an important role in many atmospheric processes related to weather and climate change, the global water cycle, and atmospheric chemistry.

As part of its final validation study, LASE will obtain water vapor data that will help atmospheric scientists better understand several important areas of atmospheric research: How well atmospheric computer models predict the distribution of water vapor, how water vapor enters the atmosphere from the Earth's surface, how water vapor and other small particles in the atmosphere are related to air pollution and the distribution of water vapor around warm and cold fronts, an important variable in weather prediction.

To test LASE, water vapor measurements will be made by several laser systems (two aboard aircraft and one on the ground), as well as instrumented balloons. LASE, along with the other laser systems, will also simultaneously measure the distribution of clouds and small particles in the atmosphere, called aerosols, both of which play a key role in many processes.

The LASE system is nearing completion of its development, having successfully completed a series of engineering flights aboard the ER-2 in May and September 1994 and in June 1995. Upon completion of this final validation experiment, the LASE system will be used for atmospheric investigations involving water vapor, aerosols and clouds, and for developing and testing advanced laser technology and techniques needed for future spaceborne laser water vapor investigations. A spaceborne laser system such as LASE could give scientists a more accurate view of the global distribution of water vapor than is presently available.

Interviews with the LASE science team and photos of the aircraft and their instrumentation are available.

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