The first phase of the MAGPIE weather and climate experiment

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has completed its contribution to the Moisture Gradients and Aerosols/Physics of Reflection Evolution (MAGPIE) program, the first phase of an 18-month mission in Barbados. Its goal is to study the exchanges of heat, moisture, African dust and sea spray between the atmosphere and the ocean over the subtropical Atlantic.

Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and organized by the NRL, MAGPIE was formed in partnership with scientists at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( NASA), and many universities. The goal is to understand how energy and atmospheric components are exchanged between the warm subtropical ocean and the atmosphere through clouds and their subsequent relationships to weather and climate.

“These types of exchanges are what drive weather and climate, and are needed to be understood to allow us to monitor and ultimately predict influential weather phenomena,” said Geoffrey Reed, Ph.D., MAGPIE science lead at NRL.

The MAGPIE experiment was conducted during a crucial period in atmospheric research. On August 31, it completed its first phase of airborne research with 17 flights that coincided with record global ocean temperatures.

“We are in uncharted territory,” noted NOAA Chief Elizabeth Thompson Magpie of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratories in Boulder, Colorado. “Hurricane activity in an El Niño year is typically minimal in the Atlantic. However, it is the record warm oceans that lead to hurricanes and other extreme weather. We need to understand how the ocean-atmosphere system interacts.”

Being about 3,000 miles downwind of Africa and with good scientific infrastructure, Barbados has a long history of international cooperation in basic oceanic and atmospheric research. Combined with the University of Miami Barbados’ Atmospheric Composition Observatory (BACO), the nearby German Max Planck Institute for Meteorology: the Barbados Cloud Observatory (BCO), and the assets of the Barbados Meteorological Service and CIMH, Barbados is a natural laboratory not only for understanding how this happens. Energy is being recycled but to develop new techniques for monitoring the atmosphere.

“We question the basic conceptual models of air movement in marine and island environments as well as common measurement methodologies,” Dr. Reid said. “To achieve much-needed progress in atmospheric forecasting, we have developed an interagency team to develop promising new measurements and data integration techniques.”

Central to MAGPIE is the development of new lidar, radar, and hyperspectral radiometric techniques, combined with advanced satellite remote sensing data provided by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In particular, ground-based and airborne lidar systems from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Colorado allow scientists to see different measures of air movement in unprecedented detail. Context for these measurements is then provided by BACO and MAGPIE research aircraft and a variety of space-based remote sensing data. All of these datasets are combined and used to evaluate and improve models at the meter scale at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Minnesota, even through global scales by the NRL and NOAA.

MAGPIE operations align with the U.S. Navy’s desire to improve our ability to observe, forecast, and operate within the coupled ocean-atmosphere system that drives impactful marine weather such as hurricanes, organized thunderstorms, and tidal flooding. These desires extend beyond operational weather to planning for the future. The Navy will work with Caribbean partners to address the region’s specific needs for early warning, disaster risk reduction, and climate adaptation, and provide access to global climate data, tools, and information. By combining BACO’s capabilities with MAGPIE’s innovative methodologies, we will gain invaluable insights into the atmospheric processes affecting our region.

With the first phase completed, scientists will now evaluate last summer’s data and mission methodologies to refine observing plans for summer 2024. From there, the results will be integrated into operational systems. The increase of MAGPIE to the Ragged Point BACO is expected to continue through 2024. Winter 2024 includes a comprehensive refurbishment of BACO through a US National Science Grant to help ensure continued data recording.

About the US Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a science and engineering command dedicated to research that advances innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seabed to space and into the information domain. The NRL is located in Washington, D.C., and has primary field sites at Stennis Space Center, Mississippi. Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, employs approximately 3,000 civil scientists, engineers and support staff.

For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or

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