Flying into the night
Precipitation falling from stratocumulus clouds changes their structure and therefore affects how much sunlight they reflect. We call this form of light precipitation drizzle. So even though there is no sunlight falling on the clouds during the night, there is much more precipitation at this time and this eventually changes the clouds that remain at the end of the night when the sun rises.
Early this morning, at 3 o'clock in the morning, the NSF C-130 aircraft took off into the night to study drizzle. My role on the aircraft is 'mission scientist' which means that I am responsible for designing the flight plan and then working with the pilots to fly the mission. But before we can fly, much work needs to be done to prepare the aircraft for its mission. The photograph shows preparations being made before take-off on the runway at Arica. Our flight took us about 1500 kilometers (about half the distance across the United States) from the Chilean coast, into regions where drizzle is commonly located. Look at the map to see just how far offshore we fly. Try comparing this with the size of your own country.
Postcards from the Field: Climate Science from the Southeast Pacific