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article imageNASA to investigate link between hurricanes and Saharan dust

By Jordan Howell     Jun 15, 2013 in Science
Do dust and warm, dry air from the Sahara desert affect the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes? NASA’s Hurricane and Severe Storms Sentinel, or HS3, mission aims to find out.
Over the course of the 2013 hurricane season, NASA will use its Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles to investigate the controversial role that the Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, plays in tropical cyclone formation.
The NASA mission will provide the most detailed evidence yet in this contested debate.
Scientists have been unable to reach a consensus because the SAL has properties that could both stifle storms and encourage their formation. As the warm, gritty air moves over the cooler and more humid ocean air, the SAL prevents cloud development, which is thought to suppress the formation of tropical cyclones. On the other hand, the SAL also acts like a weather front that stirs up the oceans beneath, which according to the NASA press release is a precursor to tropical cyclone formation.
According to the HS3 homepage, this is part of a five-year mission designed to “enhance our understanding of the processes that underlie hurricane intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin.”
During the months of August and September, NASA’s two Global Hawks will conduct ten 30-hour flights to monitor the entire Atlantic basin in hopes of providing an unprecedented analysis of nine to twelve hurricanes.
The UAV is an ideal platform for hurricane research as it is capable of flight altitudes greater than 55,000 feet and flight durations up to 30 hours, according to the Global Hawk’s website.
The HS3 mission launched in August of last year and has already logged hundreds of flight hours and surveyed millions of square kilometers, tracking storms in a grid called a “lawnmower pattern” visible in the image below.
NASA s Global Hawk flew five science missions into Tropical Storm/Hurricane Nadine  plus the transit...
NASA's Global Hawk flew five science missions into Tropical Storm/Hurricane Nadine, plus the transit flight circling around the east side of Hurricane Leslie. This is a composite of the ground tracks of the transit flight to NASA Wallops plus the five science flights. TD means Tropical Depression; TS means Tropical Storm.
Credit: NASA
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