Student Intern Gives Talk at AGU After Sampling and Analyzing High Altitude Water Vapor

Pascale Maloof Poussart ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute
Garnet Abrams
Garnet Abrams monitoring the live feed on the plane during Arctic flight from Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo: Anne Perring)

Garnet Abrams
Abrams placing the vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) into a sealed container for calibrations in the Zondlo Atmospheric Chemistry Lab. (Photo: Carol Peters)

Garnet Abrams
Gulfstream-V research aircraft flying 500 ft above Arctic sea ice near 77N. (Photo: Anne Perring)

Between hands-on water vapor calibrations in the lab at Princeton, flying above melting sea ice near the North Pole, and analyzing real-time global data with a team of international scientists, Siebel Energy Challenge intern Garnet Abrams had plenty of opportunities last summer to deepen her interest in the role of atmospheric water vapor in global climate, a topic she first studied in EQUAD and Guyot Hall classrooms. During this week’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, Abrams will present new insights into the global distribution of relative humidity from data she collected and analyzed over the course of the summer.

From early June to September, Abrams, a geosciences major, joined mentors Mark Zondlo, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and graduate student Minghui Diao to participate in the two deployments of the NSF HIAPER (High-performance Instrumental Airborne Platform for Environmental Research) Pole-to-Pole Observation (HIPPO Global) program. HIPPO Global used a “flying laboratory” to make extremely high-resolution measurements of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere on a global scale. The aircraft continuously porpoised from the surface to the stratosphere while flying from the Arctic, over the tropical Pacific to the Antarctic sea ice.

During her internship, Abrams became the first undergraduate student to fly on the NSF Gulfstream-V research aircraft as part of a scientific flight from Alaska to the North Pole. The flight was also unique in that the Arctic sea ice was approaching a record minimum extent. At a field site in Hawaii, she had the opportunity to visit the Mauna Loa Observatory where continuous measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) since 1958 led to the now famous Keeling curve showing the first significant evidence of rapidly increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

This winter, she will extend her summer research with senior thesis advisor and assistant professor of geosciences Stephan Fueglistaler. Using air mass back trajectories and chemical measurements from the aircraft, Garnet will present new analyses of how tropical thunderstorms moisten the atmosphere. Tropical water vapor plays major roles in the atmospheric radiative balance both directly as a greenhouse gas as well as indirectly through the presence or absence of clouds.

Every summer, the PEI/Grand Challenges (PEI/GC) internship program offers Princeton undergraduates a unique opportunity to complement their academic interests with hands-on, engaging, independent research, and project experiences through the summer months. Students interested in exploring and expanding their knowledge of complex global environmental problems related to energy and climate, sustainable development in Africa, infectious disease and global health, and environmental sustainability can learn more by visiting the internship website where summer 2012 opportunities are posted.