Scientists Seek Answer To Southern Climate Change Mystery: Could It Be Our Summer Haze?

A WP-3D aircraft sits on the tarmac at Smyrna Airport. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses these aircraft for hurricane research, but climate scientists are using them to investigate summer haze in the South. Image: David Oonk/CIRES

A WP-3D aircraft sits on the tarmac at Smyrna Airport. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses these aircraft for hurricane research, but climate scientists are using them to investigate summer haze in the South. Image: David Oonk/CIRES

Why hasn’t the South warmed up as much as other parts of the country? That’s the question that climate scientists from the federal government and more than dozen universities want to answer. To do that, they’re using Smyrna Airport as a home base.

For the past few weeks, teams of scientists have flown from Smyrna to as far as Texas. They’re using instruments like gas analyzers and spectrometers to study the haze that covers much of the South in the summer.

Haze could be the reason that average temperatures have held steady in much of the region over the last 100 years. They’ve actually dropped in parts of Alabama and Georgia, while the Northeast has seen temps rise nearly four degrees in the last century.

This map from the EPA shows the change in average yearly temperatures from 1901 to 2011. Image: EPA

This map from the EPA shows the change in average yearly temperatures from 1901 to 2011. Image: EPA

University of Colorado physicist Joost de Gouw is the lead scientist on the climate study. While much of the haze is created by human activity, de Gouw says nature is also likely playing a role. He notes much of the region is covered in dense forest “The forest gives off hydrocarbons through the atmosphere. That’s a natural process,” de Gouw says. “And we know that in the atmosphere those hydrocarbons can contribute to the haziness.”

De Gouw hopes his team’s research gives better insight into how natural compounds, like hydrocarbons, affect climate change.

Work on the study wraps up July 15. The findings will help shape the Obama Administration’s new regulations on greenhouse gasses.

In addition to his climate work, Dr. Joost de Gouw researched the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Image: David Oonk/CIRES

In addition to his climate work, Dr. Joost de Gouw researched the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Image: David Oonk/CIRES

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