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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: 05-120

NASA’s ER-2 airplane departs the San Juan Santa Maria airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, on July 6, 2005. On July 20, NASA's ER-2 embarked on a mission over the eastern Pacific Ocean, studying intense tropical thunderstorms west of Costa Rica and performing a satellite underpass that helped validate weather data collected from space. This mission is part of NASA's month-long Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) campaign.

The ER-2 can be considered a virtual satellite. It carries instruments similar to -- or even prototypes of -- remote sensors flying on NASA weather satellites. Whereas satellites provides a relatively wide-angle view of clouds, precipitation systems and the vertical structure of the atmosphere just a few times a day, the ER-2 can be positioned much closer to weather systems of interest and flown over the same region for several hours at a time.

Just after midnight on July 20, the ER-2 underflew the center point of the orbits for "Aqua" and "Aura," part of NASA's Earth-observing system of environment satellites. Aqua continuously maps Earth's water system, studying changing climates and heavy weather patterns. Aura compiles data about trace gases in the atmosphere, supporting observation of global climate change, movement of polluted air and ozone depletion in the stratosphere. The ER-2's instruments and data systems provided critical validation and calibration of measurements collected by these satellites above the near-equatorial tropics, where it is otherwise difficult to obtain routine, high-quality observations.

In addition to the satellite underflights, the ER-2 flew patterns over an intense cluster of tropical thunderstorms just off the southern shore of Costa Rica. While the cluster was fairly typical of intense, nighttime storms that develop over warm tropical waters, the ER-2 was able to fly above a very electrically active part of the storm as it grew rapidly to great heights -- sometimes an indicator of a potentially severe tropical storm. The ER-2 followed this storm system as it went through a multiple-hour cycle of growth, maturity and dissipation.

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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