Lake Evaporation in the Atmosphere Project (LEAP)

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

As the climate continues to warm, better understanding of regional climate dynamics is becoming ever more important, both for improved severe weather forecasting and long-term climate projections. A key limitation in the Midwest region, however,  is our ability to model the Great Lakes system. Because the Great Lakes are so expansive, they are a large source of the moisture and energy that fuels convective storms and lake effect snow. But we don’t know enough about the interconnections between the land, water, and atmosphere to model the system. The Lake Evaporation in the Atmosphere Project (LEAP) is a collaborative effort between the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and the Chemistry departments at Purdue working to better understand these interactions.

Professors Lisa Welp, Paul Shepson, Mike Baldwin, and their research groups have teamed up to make direct measurements of lake influence by analyzing water vapor stable isotopes from instruments on-board Purdue’s Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research. The team flew upwind and downwind of Lake Michigan collecting data on the water content of the air as the wind blows it across the lake. Vertical profiles of water vapor mixing ratios and isotope ratios show that as an air mass crosses over an increasing large area of Lake Michigan, it increases in both water vapor concentration and deuterium isotope values, demonstrating the lake’s influence on atmospheric moisture. Graduate student Ali Meyer is continuing to analyze and explore the isotopic measurements from these initial scouting flights to estimate the relative amount of lake influence on the downwind atmosphere and the extent to which that moisture influences higher levels of the atmosphere. These observations will ultimately be used to improve weather forecasting and regional climate modeling.

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