By Dom Galeon
Filipinos have this saying, “Weather weather lang ‘yan,” which denotes how life in general can be as fickle as the weather. Although there really isn’t anything fickle about the weather, if studied properly, there are atmospheric phenomena that have yet to be completely understood.
That is the reason the Department of Science and Technology, together with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services (PAGASA) and the Manila Observatory, has been working with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to conduct the Clouds, Aerosol, and Monsoon Processes-Philippines Experiment or CAMP2Ex.
“With this project, the Manila Observatory (MO) has gone full circle,” says Ateneo de Manila professor Dr. Fabian M. Dayrit, noting how the MO was the first weather observatory in Asia, set up more than 100 years ago by the Jesuits. “With hope, the MO can continue to contribute to the global community in understanding climate change.”
A six-week-long project, CAMP2Ex is an airborne investigation that seeks to understand how natural and manmade aerosols or airborne-particles affect rain production in the Philippines, particularly during the southwest monsoon or habagat season. Manmade aerosols, for example, include particles from biomass burning (i.e. forest fires) and industrial pollutants.
To do this, NASA has been flying two planes since August, each retrofitted with the latest technology on atmospheric research instrumentation for weather observation. One is the P3 (N426NA), a four-engine turboprop aircraft capable of long duration flights, with a 3,000-nm range for eight to 14 hours of endurance. The other is a SPEC LearJet Model 35, which serves as a secondary observation aircraft. Both planes have been doing aerial rounds since August, flying from Clark Airport in Pampanga, where CAMP2Ex has set up shop. Filipino and American scientists have been routinely conducting observations aboard the planes and there have been 11 flights, to date. Data from CAMP2Ex flights are aggregated with data from satellites and other sources.
“It’s a timely endeavor,” says Dr. Leah Buendia, DOST assistant secretary. “The Philippines is a critical area for climate studies. Our weather agency stands to gain from the data CAMP2Ex will gather. Many people are affected by swinging rain patterns and they will rely on us to mitigate the effects of these on their lives. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people.”
How aerosols and clouds exactly affect climate continues to have large uncertainties, explains NASA and CAMP2Ex program scientist Dr. Hal Maring. Data gathering is, therefore, crucial to be able to improve weather and climate prediction. “The data we collect will be available to anyone who has internet access,” Dr. Maring adds. “The Philippines is an incredibly important area, meteorologically speaking, and it remains largely unstudied.”
One particular effect CAMP2Ex is trying to figure out is how aerosols can cause delays in rainfall or suppress precipitation altogether. At the same time, huge concentrations of aerosols seem to contribute to the development of more severe storms. Simply put, aerosols are changing how clouds are formed and how the processes inside these clouds happen.
A project that is 10 years in the making, CAMPEx is part of NASA’s Airborne Science Program, which as an arm of the agency’s Earth Science Division, and CAMP2Ex is its Philippine operation.
“The Philippines is in the frontline of weather fluctuations, so data from this project will be truly valuable,” says US Embassy chargé d’ affairs John Law. “The US couldn’t have done this without Philippine support. We know that science does not happen in a vacuum: It needs government support, it needs institutional support, it needs freedom from government to pursue scientific inquiry.”