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NASA'S Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes Mission in Costa Rica
Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

Status Report: 05-110

NASA’s ER-2 airplane departs the San Juan Santa Maria airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, on July 6, 2005. As Hurricane Dennis collapses along the southern shores of the United States, and millions of coastal residents breathe a sigh of relief, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are busy studying data gathered during the early days of the hurricane that threatened much of the southern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

The 28-day field mission, Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP), is sponsored by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The primary goal of the mission is 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.

On July 5, before Tropical Storm Dennis had been upgraded to a hurricane, the NASA ER-2 airplane flew its first joint TCSP science mission with the NOAA P3 aircraft. Both aircraft departed Juan Santa Maria Airport in Costa Rica, the base of operations for the TCSP mission. They undertook the flight to investigate Dennis' genesis -- considered unusual by researchers, given that it formed so rapidly in a region of the Caribbean that rarely sees such dramatic development.

The eight-hour mission demonstrated very successful scientific planning and collaboration between NASA and NOAA's Hurricane Research Division. The ER-2 aircraft flew over the top of the developing storm at 65,000 feet while taking scientific measurements that probed downward through the cloud layers. The NOAA P3 flew an identical, coordinated pattern with the ER-2, but from an altitude of 12,000 feet, probing the storm from the inside.

Together, the aircraft flew survey patterns across Dennis to study airflow and precipitation across all zones of the system, including the center of the circulation. From the data, mission scientists learned the storm's nascent eye was poorly formed, and in fact Dennis was a minimal tropical cyclone. The large circulation contained thunderstorms scattered around all coordinates. The mission will serve as an excellent anchor point for analyzing the subsequent intensification and dissolution of this storm on other missions.

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:

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