Sometimes the math in climate science is pretty easy: MC3E, plus 24 authors, equals one gorgeous cover story for the September issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS).

The MC3E campaign was featured on the cover of September's issue of BAMS.

The Midlatitude Continental Convective Clouds Experiment (MC3E) campaign was featured on the cover of September's issue of BAMS.

MC3E is the Midlatitude Continental Convective Clouds Experiment, a field campaign designed to gather data on the life cycles of severe-storm cloud systems. The experiment covered six weeks in south-central Oklahoma and was jointly led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility and the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

From April 22 to June 6, 2011, instruments on the ground, in the air, and on satellites sampled a variety of cloud and precipitation events. The center of activity for getting data from these three vantage points was ARM’s Southern Great Plains atmospheric observatory, set amidst a landscape of dramatic seasonal storms. In the BAMS paper, authors highlight three deep-convective events, including a fruitful “golden event” on May 20.

Impactful Science

The goal of MC3E was to improve the understanding of convective clouds by gathering data on vertical cloud structure, air motions, precipitation drop sizes, and other critical factors. Such clouds act as a sink of total water in the atmospheric column, contribute to the local energy balance, and impact the formation of subsequent clouds. Convective clouds distribute water, heat, and momentum throughout the lower atmosphere, creating the clashing, mixing dynamics we call weather.

“From an observational perspective,” the authors wrote in the 19-page paper, “it is important to accurately detect, monitor, and estimate convective precipitation over continental-scale domains using satellite- and/or ground-based remote sensing. It is equally important to improve the representation of the physics of convective clouds in numerical models.”

To date, better representing convective systems, the authors added, “remains one of the challenging issues in operational weather and global climate modeling.”

Promised Improvements, Rich Data

During the intensive campaign, climate scientists from DOE national laboratories, NASA, and universities hoped to get a better understanding of convective cloud system life cycles and microphysics. They also aimed for improving the precipitation retrieval algorithms used by NASA’s GPM program, a satellite-based international mission that collects rain and snow data from orbit.

The coordinated effort collected terabytes of novel data—results are so rich, said MC3E lead researcher Michael Jensenin a recent interview, “that at the 10-year mark, there will still be scientists working with that data.”

Everything collected is available through the ARM and NASA data archives. A number of current and ongoing projects are using the MC3E data set; others were recently completed. More than 40 manuscripts using MC3E data have already been published, said Jensen.

Jensen, a Brookhaven National Laboratory meteorologist and cloud physics expert, was lead author of the BAMS paper. He shared the writing and research with 23 other authors representing four national laboratories, four NASA facilities, and eight universities.

The BAMS cover photo was taken during MC3E by co-author Scott Collis, ARM precipitation radar scientist at Argonne National Laboratory.

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The ARM Climate Research Facility is a national scientific user facility funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The ARM Facility is operated by nine Department of Energy national laboratories, including the Brookhaven National Laboratory.