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Looking for Answers to Climate-Related Challenges

Sandip Pal and Texas Tech researchers will use a NASA grant to observe West Texas precipitation and other weather events.

Sandip Pal, assistant professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Geosciences at Texas Tech University, has been awarded a $590,000 grant from the Earth Science Division of NASA to observe and measure precipitation and aerosols in the area’s atmosphere.

The five-year project will collect data for comparative purposes with other parts of the world and fill in existing gaps in West Texas. It will give the scientific community a greater understanding of certain weather patterns and to better anticipate extreme weather events such as droughts, extended heat waves, high-wind events, hail, excessive precipitation and tornadoes.

The focus of the research, Pal said, is to quantify and understand precipitation patterns in terms of amount, rate and type as well as aerosol loading types, phases and climate scale variabilities in a semi-arid region such as Lubbock. The project also will help foster engagement of undergraduate and graduate research scholars with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at Texas Tech to NASA’s surface-based measurement networks through classroom education and community outreach.

“This project has tremendous value,” Pal said. “It is collaborative with an extremely knowledgeable team from Texas Tech University. It also includes a strong outreach component via close collaboration with TTU-STEM-Core. Most importantly, though, Texas Tech will become part of the global network for measurements of this type for validating satellite measurements. We got involved within this NASA mission to make an impact.”

The project team, from the College of Arts & Sciences, also includes Eric Bruning, Karin Ardon-Dryer, John Schroeder and Christopher Weiss from the atmospheric sciences division in the Department of Geosciences, and Brian Hirth from Texas Tech’s National Wind Institute. The team will be integrated within science team members inside and outside the U.S. working on the same theme using ground-based and satellite-borne measurements. The instruments deployed at Texas Tech will be an important part of two important networks of NASA – Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) and Precipitation Measurement Validation Network.

The project looks to gain a better understanding of weather and climate features in light of the increasing number of extreme weather-related events. According to statistics, weather and climate disasters between 1980 and 2019 resulted in $1.7 trillion in damage.

Pal said researchers need more data from more thorough observations to better understand variances and better prepare for future extreme events.

NASA found another aspect of Pal’s proposal appealing – outreach to underserved students and plugging them into the research and regular classroom course work.

The team sees the project as an opportunity to educate and train students from underserved populations in atmospheric science related research. The plan calls for in-class education and community outreach initiatives.

“We want to see grad students who do their degree work in this area and do so across eight semesters,” he said. “Eight semesters is a good number and should give us students learning and receiving training on how observations work as far compiling data and making efforts to validate satellite measurements.”

The information gleaned would then have a direct impact on meteorology in terms of more accurate forecasting prior to significant weather events.

“Meteorologists are working to save lives and prevent damage to property,” he said. “You can’t stop a hurricane or a tornado, but you can make better predictions. For better predictions, you need better observations, which will guide you to new knowledge.”


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