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NASA sending unmanned drones to monitor hurricanes

To get an insight into the puzzling mechanisms that turn some hurricanes into monsters while others just fizzle out, NASA is planning to set up a range of advanced instruments on the Hawk aircraft.

In order to help forecasters investigate the complexities of hurricane formation and the intensity changes, federal and university partners have joined hands with many NASA centers for an airborne mission, US space officials said.

Beginning this summer, NASA is preparing to send unmanned Global Hawk aircraft dubbed "severe storm sentinels" (HS3), above stormy skies along the Atlantic Ocean basin for several years.

Given that the Global Hawk has the tendency to over-fly hurricanes at a height of over 60,000 feet with flight durations of up to 28 hours it is most suitable for tracking hurricanes.

This on the other hand is impossible for piloted aircrafts to achieve.

Scott Braun, HS3 mission principal investigator and research meteorologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md stated, "Hurricane intensity can be very hard to predict because of an insufficient understanding of how clouds and wind patterns within a storm interact with the storm's environment.

HS3 seeks to improve our understanding of these processes by taking advantage of the surveillance capabilities of the Global Hawk along with measurements from a suite of advanced instruments.”

The airborne mission
On 24 May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had forecast a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin.

According to them there is a "70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms (with top winds of 39 mph or higher), of which four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane (with top winds of 74 mph or higher) and of those one to three will become major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or higher)" in the hurricane season which starts from 1 June.

According to official sources the HS3 will fly from a base of operations at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia this summer. It will use two Global Hawk aircraft and six different instruments to extract the much needed information.

The focus of the study is to analyze the role of the hot, dry, and dusty Saharan Air Layer in tropical storm formation and its intensity. Additionally it will also examine the environmental impact in the inner-core region of storms.

"HS3 marks the first time that NASA's Global Hawks will deploy away from Dryden for a mission, potentially marking the beginning of an era in which they are operated regularly from Wallops," said Paul Newman, atmospheric scientist at NASA Goddard and deputy principal investigator on the HS3 mission.

Range of advanced instruments
To get an insight into the puzzling mechanisms that turn some hurricanes into monsters while others just fizzle out, NASA is planning to set up a range of advanced instruments on the Hawk aircraft.

These include the scanning High-resolution Interferometer Sounder (S-HIS), the Advanced Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS) also known as dropsondes, and the Cloud Physics Lidar (CPL).

The Tropospheric Wind Lidar Technology Experiment (TWiLiTE) Doppler wind lidar will most probably fly in 2013. 



Other instruments include the High-Altitude Imaging Wind and Rain Airborne Profiler (HIWRAP) conically scanning Doppler radar, the Hurricane Imaging Radiometer (HIRAD) multi-frequency interferometric radiometer and the High-Altitude Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit Sounding Radiometer (HAMSR) microwave sounder.