Particle physics laboratory

10 Ways LASP Is a Leader in Earth and Climate Science

The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) is renowned for being the only academic research institute in the world to explore all of the planets in our solar system (and beyond). But the planet we are studying most closely is actually our home planet! About one-third of LASP’s current $1 billion research portfolio involves studying the Earth’s atmosphere and climate from space.

To celebrate our amazing planet, for Earth Week, we feature ten ways LASP is contributing to crucial earth and climate science research:

ten. Hole in the ozone layer: Using special instruments flying aboard high-altitude balloons, LASP researchers studied nitric oxide and other compounds in Earth’s stratosphere. This research determines the rate of ozone depletion and helps us better understand the processes that control the formation of the hole. When ozone is depleted, the Earth’s surface receives more ultraviolet light, which can cause skin cancer in humans and damage land and water life.

9. Earth’s energy balance (Part I): LASP instruments are responsible for one of the most fundamental records of climate data: the amount of energy the Earth’s atmosphere receives from the Sun. It is the “income” for calculating the Earth’s energy balance and the crucial baseline for accurately determining the extent of human-caused climate change.

8. daily daisies: For centuries, rare nocturnal clouds have formed each summer in the atmosphere above the Earth’s poles. But they have recently been spotted more often and at lower latitudes. LASP scientists are key contributors to NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission to understand why these clouds are forming and how they are linked to climate change. LASP data analysts provide “daily daisy” maps of cloud cover to the global scientific community.

7. Using Earth to study other planets: Does life exist on other planets? LASP researchers study life in Earth’s most extreme environments, such as the flanks of the world’s tallest active volcano, to help guide the search for extant and extinct life on Mars and other planets.

Poás volcano lake in Costa Rica.
The hydrothermal crater lake of the Poás Volcano in Costa Rica. Credit: LASP/CU Boulder

6. TSIS Spectral Irradiance Monitor: The LASP instrument on the International Space Station measures the light energy emitted by the Sun at all wavelengths (from ultraviolet to near infrared). The resulting spectrum has just been declared the new international standard for Earth science research! It is now integrated with powerful models to improve predictions of future climate change.

5. Monsoon in Asia: This summer, LASP researchers will participate in an airborne campaign to investigate the monsoon in Asia. Sensors aboard two planes will measure aerosols to better understand the climate impacts that occur after severe pollution mixes with one of the largest weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

4. Operational climate missions: LASP’s internal Mission Operations Center controls many missions and instruments that provide crucial data for understanding climate change and its effects on Earth. This includes NASA’s AIM mission, which studies Earth’s highest clouds, as well as instruments that measure “incoming” and “outgoing” radiation needed to calculate Earth’s energy budget.

3. nuclear winter: What would happen if a country decided to use its nuclear weapons? Modeling by the LASP researchers shows that smoke from burning cities would enter Earth’s stratosphere, block sunlight and drop temperatures to potential Ice Age conditions – and hopefully deter that. happen. This research influenced the recent United Nations agreement on the global ban on nuclear weapons.

2. STEVE: What causes mysterious streaks of pale purple and green light to dance across the night sky at latitudes too far from the poles to be auroras? LASP researchers studying this newly discovered atmospheric phenomenon – jokingly named STEVE – have learned that these light displays come from the boundary between two of Earth’s atmospheric layers: the magnetosphere and the ionosphere.

Wavy purple and green illumination in the night sky in Manitoba, Canada
STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement) and the Milky Way at Childs Lake, Manitoba, Canada. The image is a composite of 11 stitched images. Image courtesy of Krista Trinder via Flickr

1. Earth’s energy balance (Part II): LASP directs the Libera mission to measure the amount of energy, in the form of reflected sunlight and emitted infrared radiation, coming out of the Earth. This “outgoing” half of the Earth’s energy budget, in combination with the “incoming” measurements from our TSIS instrument (see #9), establishes the basis for quantifying changes in the flow of energy through the Earth system, and attribute these changes to their underlying causes.