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NASA's Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes Mission in Costa Rica
Status Report: 05-107

The NASA ER-2 airplane flew its first science mission as part of the Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) program on the morning of July 2. The flight originated from TCSP's base-of-operations at Juan Santa Maria Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The 28-day field mission, sponsored by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, primarily is intended to document "cyclogenesis" in action - the interaction of temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind and air pressure that creates ideal birthing conditions for tropical storms, hurricanes and related phenomena.

The successful four-hour mission collected data that will reveal the structure of rainfall, clouds and lightning in a cluster of intense thunderstorms east of Nicaragua. The ER-2 overflew the tropical thunderstorms at an altitude of 65,000 feet. The flight also gave mission scientists and TCSP investigators the opportunity to test the performance of the scientific instruments on board the ER-2 aircraft, in anticipation of longer and more demanding flights in the days to come.

An early look at the data showed that storms contained air currents rising to 50,000 feet. Because these thunderstorms are the building blocks of larger tropical cyclones, the data will provide insights into complex meteorological processes that operate on small time- and space-scales, over normally inaccessible tropical oceans.

With the arrival of the NOAA Hurricane Research Division (HRD) P3 Orion aircraft on Sunday, July 3, the TCSP project is planning more elaborate missions into tropical weather disturbances that contain both thunderstorms and early signs of rotation -- precursors to the development of hurricanes.

TCSP participants include NOAA-HRD, five NASA centers, 10 American universities and partner agencies in Costa Rica. For more information about TCSP on the Web, visit: