With more than 20 years of experience, Campbell’s professional life is brimming with all things concerning climate, atmosphere, weather -- and clouds. Clouds have been Campbell’s objects of attention most recently – cirrus clouds, specifically.
These aren’t the big, cotton ball-looking formations that can be amazing on clear, summer afternoons. Cirrus clouds -- formed from freezing, super-cooled water droplets -- are thinner. They float 16,000 to 45,000 feet above the earth -- wispy looking and translucent, resembling tufts of smoke.
Campbell and his team are in the first year of a three-year endeavor of researching and observing cirrus clouds, the “forgotten” clouds, as Campbell calls them, via a project termed Radiative Effects of Thin Cirrus. REThinC is an in-depth project NRL meteorologists are undertaking, with assistance from NASA and their research aircraft.
“We’ve all looked up at the sky on a beautiful sunny day and [have seen] ice crystal streaks across the sky,” Campbell began. “Optical displays in the sky caused by cirrus clouds, like ice halos, have captivated ground observers since the beginnings of civilization.
“REThinC is about engaging the atmospheric sciences community and drawing attention back toward basic physical questions about ice that, unlike liquid water clouds, have yet to be really addressed.”
For instance, “over the last 20 years, we’ve learned that cirrus clouds are twice as common as we had thought, as far back as the late 1990s,” Campbell explained.
“We recognize now that we were missing what we now call “thin” cirrus clouds.”
Typical weather satellite sensors, like the ones used by meteorologists on the evening news, struggle “seeing” thin cirrus because of the translucency, according to Campbell, because objects on the ground or other clouds below them overwhelm their appearance.