Scientists head to one of the most obscure places on Earth to study the mysterious phenomenon

A major scientific field study of sea fog off the east coast of Canada is about to begin.

The study was funded by the US Department of Defense and hopes to better predict one of the most unpredictable weather events: fog.

Fog can quickly destroy visibility anywhere from ports to highways to airports and can disrupt weapons systems. But how it was created is not thoroughly understood, which is one of the reasons why the fog can be predicted only a few hours in advance, if it can be predicted at all.

“Estimates are crucial because approximately 50 to 60 people die each year in Canada due to the appearance of fog problems,” said Ismail Gultepe, a Canadian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change researcher who is involved in the project.

Ismail Gultepe is a researcher at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in Canada. (David Laughlin / CBC)

Researchers have chosen to explore the larger area of ​​the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic, as it is one of the most foggy places in the summer, along with the Yellow Sea off China. In 2023, the study will move to the Yellow Sea.

“I would say this is the largest fog project ever undertaken,” said Joe Fernando of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who is leading the study.

He was speaking from inside a hangar at Halifax Stanfield Airport, where more than four tonnes of atmospheric measuring equipment were being transported to Sable Island, 300 kilometers southeast of Halifax.

The tools will also be deployed by the Irving-owned offshore supply ship Atlantic Condor, which was hired for a one-month mission in July. The ship will travel from Sable Island to the Grand Banks.

“The overall goal of the project is to improve the predictability of sea fog as much as possible. It is very difficult to predict one of the least predictable in marine meteorology,” Fernando said.

Joe Fernando of the University of Notre Dame led the study. (David Laughlin / CBC)

The mystery of the fog

Fog is created when water droplets form around particles, but the interaction of all participating atmospheric processes is not well understood.

“The fog is changing fast and that’s the difficulty. She is coming fast, she is leaving quickly and we don’t know how long she will stay, “Fernando said.

The U.S. Naval Research Service has ordered a $ 7.5 million study. The data collected are not classified.

Fernando said an important element of the study involved “targeted propagation of the laser beam through the atmosphere so that the targets that enter can be canceled by the laser beam.”

Canadian participation

Dozens of scientists are involved, including Canadian researchers from the Department of Environment and Climate Change in Canada, York University, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Marine Monitoring, Forecasting and Response Network and Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The Atlantic Condor will carry instruments from Rachel Chang’s lab.

The Dalhousie aerosol scientist will measure the size and number of particles in the atmosphere and how they affect the visibility and duration of fog.

Rachel Chang is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences at Dalhousie University. (David Laughlin / CBC)

It also studies droplets that form around salt particles and those that form around industrial emissions blown in the area.

“That’s actually the heart of what I’m really interested in, whether the source of the particles – whether they come from the ocean or they come from emissions – and whether it really affects visibility or not.”

Climate change

Ismail Gultepe of Canada’s Department of the Environment and Climate Change is also examining the impact of climate change on the creation and disappearance of fog. The more water vapor is created in the open ocean, the more fog, he said.

“That’s why we like to understand how fog survives and changes in climatic conditions,” Gultepte said, adding that an important result will be improved modeling for fog forecasting.

A hangar at Halifax Airport is on display. Atmospheric equipment is being prepared for a flight to Sable Island, where it will be installed as part of the field study. (David Laughlin / CBC)

The project is known as FATIMA, for the interactions of fog and turbulence in the marine atmosphere.

The study will measure wind turbulence, microphysics and fog chemistry, cloud height, water vapor and other conditions. It will use weather balloons, radar and lidar.

Atlantic Condor will also deploy a remotely piloted small spacecraft and glider that will take measurements in the upper ocean and lower atmosphere.


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