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Studying clouds

Courtesy: Ernie Lewis


The labs on this cargo ship will study clouds and cloud transitions on their way from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

MAGIC: Climate study from a cargo ship

by Srushti Shah
March 07, 2013

The mobile facility inside the ship

Courtesy: Ernie Lewis

MAGIC is part of a larger project that aims to send this mobile facility to different parts of the world to study the climate.

The ship goes from LA to Hawaii

Srushti Shah/MEDILL

The cargo ship, named Spirit, goes from Los Angeles to Honolulu, which now has a mobile facility that can collect data about clouds that layer the ocean.

MAGIC—that’s what they call it, but there’s no magic here, only science.

MAGIC, short for Marine ARM GPCI Investigation of Clouds, is a project that studies clouds from a cargo ship. One of the key players in the research is Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago.

“Roughly three quarters of the Earth is ocean, and until we understand the clouds and cloud transitions over the oceans, we will never understand the climate,” said Ernie Lewis, the chief investigative scientist of MAGIC at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.

Clouds, he said, are important for better climate models (computer programs using quantitative methods to simulate the interactions between oceans atmosphere, land surface and ice). And the clouds that layer the oceans are a challenge to global climate models. But these clouds heavily influence the Earth’s climate through reflection of sunlight and mediating interactions between air and sea, and so it becomes important to study these clouds and their transitions.

A mobile facility, or a moving lab that could go anywhere in the world for climate study and data collection is an answer to this challenge. And this facility, which falls under the project name MAGIC, is currently on a cargo ship traveling from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

“If you have a mobile facility that goes out there in the ocean, stays there and collects data about the aerosols (solid or liquid particles in the clouds) and clouds, the data is going to be very precise and accurate,” said John Krummel, the director of environment science division at Argonne.

This yearlong project is a collaboration between the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program by Climate Research Facility and Horizon Lines, with the involvement of labs such as Argonne and Brookhaven.

The project dubbed MAGIC is a part of this mobile facility program that can gather data and statistics about climate from around the world. MAGIC is the project to deploy the facility on the container ship named Spirit of Horizon Lines.

“The data we are gathering is for long-term climate and climate models,” Lewis said. “And the primary focus of this project is to study clouds… to know the trends and set a baseline for climate study.”

This mobile facility, which is a project run the Argonne National Laboratory has been to Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean to collect data and will go to Finland after MAGIC.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty and vagueness about the atmospheric conditions over the Pacific,” Krummel said. “This project might help to fill in the unknowns.

"With this we can have more confidence about the overall climate around the world, now and in the future with the development of better climate models.”

The project,  the scientists said, could increase understanding of the climate around the world, effects of temperature on clouds, transitions in clouds and can also help to predict storms more effectively.

“In general, a better understanding of atmospheric conditions will improve mankind’s ability to cope with it,” Lewis said.