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Barbadian students tour NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
Monica Allen

Barbadian students tour NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

Air & Sea Chronicles

Editor's note: Air & Sea Chronicles is NOAA's blog series documenting the ATOMIC mission in Barbados. This post is by Cindy Sandoval, a communications specialist from NOAA Fisheries who was on detail and assisting NOAA Communications with ATOMIC outreach. 

Over 50 Barbadian or Bajan students toured NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown during the vessel’s short port call in Bridgetown, Barbados. While aboard, students learned about NOAA’s mission, the role the vessel plays in cutting-edge research, and why their island nation is at the center of an unprecedented effort to better understand the interactions of atmosphere and ocean. 

The Ronald H. Brown was in Barbados following its first leg as part of NOAA’s Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Campaign. This campaign, known as ATOMIC, is creating a virtual laboratory on and around Barbados. “The nation of Barbados has been a vital partner for ATOMIC,” said Sandy Lucas, NOAA Climate Program Office Program Manager. “We were excited at the chance to host local students and discuss careers in STEM, oceanic and atmospheric research, and how international collaboration is supporting weather and climate prediction.” 

During the tour students were especially interested in hearing about the weather balloons launched from the deck of the ship while at sea. While holding an inflated balloon, researchers explained that the weather balloons can soar over 15 miles in the air collecting data. Although the large balloon seemed to get most of the glory, students also learned about the importance of the radiosonde attached to the balloon and how it collects data on temperature, air pressure, humidity, and GPS location. In an age of super computers and multimillion-dollar satellites, students were impressed that this seemingly small and simple box is one of the most vital components of weather prediction. 

Why Barbados is perfect place

Why Barbados is perfect place

Alton Daley, an intern at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, explains to Barbadian students why their home is the perfect natural laboratory to study weather and climate. Credit: Cindy Sandoval/ NOAA

In the vessel’s interior lab, students were greeted by Alton Daley. Daley, an intern at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, was part of the first leg of ATOMIC and traveled aboard the Ronald H. Brown for 21 days. After explaining his role and science background, Daley answered questions from the students. The first question was why Barbados was the site selected for the campaign. Daley explained the unique location of Barbados makes it an ideal setting to gather a team of international ocean and atmosphere researchers. “As you know Barbados is the first land that clouds reach when traveling on the Atlantic Tradewinds,” said Daley. “Here we can study how these clouds develop and the influence that the winds have on them.” 

Elizabeth Thompson, a research meteorologist from NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab, pointed to the importance of the ocean eddies in the region. “The Earth’s largest ocean eddies are created by outflow from the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers,” Thompson explained to students. “By studying air-sea exchanges over this region’s eddies, we will learn how the ocean and atmosphere help form shallow clouds over tropical oceans.”

Thompson added: “Shallow clouds are the building blocks of destructive hurricanes and they also control the rate at which the Earth is warming; our ATOMIC investigation in the Caribbean will deepen our understanding of these weather and climate processes around the world.” 

Weather balloons

Weather balloons

NOAA and partner scientists explain how weather balloons help measure changes in the atmosphere. Credit: Cindy Sandoval/ NOAA

The work of Daley, Thompson, and the other researchers on board contributes to NOAA’s objective of improving understanding of energy exchange between the ocean and atmosphere as well as cloud–aerosol interactions. Clouds close to the surface of the ocean, called shallow convective clouds, are found around the world – but are poorly represented in weather and climate models. “It is incredibly difficult to collect high-quality data at such low altitudes, across different cloud patterns, throughout their quick evolution, and in such remote locations.” Thompson added. Shallow convection clouds and their effects on the ocean surface are relevant to a wide range of NOAA applications, including climate sensitivity, hurricane track and intensity, annual movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and midlatitude storm tracks.

“Increasing public awareness of this campaign is important,” added Lucas. “Improved weather forecasting and climate prediction will have far reaching benefits for the United States, Barbados, and many others.” 

After exploring the ship and the ATOMIC science conducted on board, students departed. Some even took a minute to snap selfies with their NOAA Corps officer tour guides and the researchers. By conducting tours and outreach events it is envisioned that these students will gain awareness of NOAA’s role as a global leader in ocean and atmospheric science, and also become empowered to explore their own interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We hope the students will be inspired to become the next generation of scientists and leaders responsible for better understanding weather and climate, and for providing sustainable stewardship of our environment.

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