Editor's Note: This was cross-posted from the Office of Science's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement division.
When Jian Wang began to assemble the team behind the Aerosol and Cloud Experiments in the Eastern North Atlantic (ACE-ENA) field campaign, he had only one goal in mind: getting the best.
That team made history within the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility. ACE-ENA had one of the largest, if not the largest, groups of women working on an ARM field campaign.
Christine Chiu, an ACE-ENA co-investigator who also worked on the 2005 Marine Stratus Radiation Aerosol and Drizzle (MASRAD) field campaign on the California coast, says ARM sets a unique example for the opportunities it makes available to women.
“I hope ARM becomes a role model in the community for supporting female scientists,” says Chiu.
The ACE-ENA team, which included co-investigators, forecasters, data analysts, instrument mentors, and ARM Aerial Facility (AAF) staff, traveled to the Azores west of Portugal to study low clouds in a remote marine setting during two intensive operational periods: summer 2017 (June and July) and winter 2018 (January and February). ACE-ENA required ground-based measurements from ARM’s Eastern North Atlantic (ENA) atmospheric observatory on Graciosa Island, in addition to airborne data acquired aboard ARM’s Gulfstream-159 (G-1) research aircraft.
Eight women worked on the G-1 during ACE-ENA—the most on an ARM field campaign, says Beat Schmid, AAF manager from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).
“There are a lot of great women scientists and women engineers,” says Wang, ACE-ENA’s principal investigator and an atmospheric scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. “They play a really important role. They made a great contribution or, in some cases, led certain aspects of the campaign as well.”
During the majority of the summer flights, women worked in all three science seats at the back of the G-1, doing everything from operating cutting-edge instruments to determining the flight path for the most scientific impact. It was a welcome surprise for the women on the aircraft.
“That’s definitely the first time that’s ever happened on a field study for me,” says Kaitlyn Suski, a PNNL postdoctorate research assistant who operated the aerosol mass spectrometer (measuring aerosol chemistry) and proton transfer reaction mass spectrometer (trace gases). “Usually I’m the only woman or one of just a couple.”
Among the women participating in ACE-ENA were:
- Tamara Pinterich, Brookhaven National Laboratory
- Christine Chiu and Amy Sullivan, Colorado State University
- Allison Aiken, Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Katia Lamer, Pennsylvania State University
- Susanne Glienke, Michigan Technological University/University of Mainz (Germany)
- Lexie Goldberger, Alyssa Matthews, Fan Mei, Kaitlyn Suski, and Maria Zawadowicz, PNNL
- Jenny Kafka, Rutgers University
- Julie Pullen, Stevens Institute of Technology.
Working in the Field
From the AAF/G-1 group to the science team, women were an integral part of every aspect of the ACE-ENA campaign.
Mei, the AAF’s director of science, began her workdays earlier than most of the team. Based on Terceira Island, where the G-1 was stationed, Mei headed to the hangar and checked the research instruments about three hours before takeoff.
“She was also very proactive and very quick with the early data processing, which allowed us to look at the previous flight’s data and make adjustments to our strategies,” says Wang.
Sometimes even the best-laid plans hit some roadblocks. For instance, dry weather during the first half of the ACE-ENA summer period meant there weren’t as many clouds as the team wanted.
“That’s field work—you can’t force nature,” says Pinterich, who was a postdoctoral research associate at Brookhaven during ACE-ENA.
Pinterich served as an instrument mentor for the fast integrated mobility spectrometer, which looks at aerosol particle and size distribution. She, Glienke, and Sullivan took turns monitoring all three of their instruments in flight and learning about one another’s instruments.
Sullivan was responsible for the particle-into-liquid sampler, which measures water-soluble aerosol chemical composition. When Sullivan ran into instrument trouble at the start of the winter period, Goldberger helped her out. Traveling from the United States, Goldberger brought a spare autosampler as her second piece of carry-on luggage.
“As soon as I got it,” says Sullivan, “a few hours later, I had it installed and up and running.”
Glienke took care of the Holographic Detector for Clouds (HOLODEC), a wing-mounted device that takes detailed 3D pictures of cloud droplets.
“I think I’m the person with the most data from ACE-ENA,” says Glienke, who ended up with under a terabyte of data after each flight. She used a pair of 2-terabyte hard drives per flight, writing the data onto both hard drives so she would have another copy if one failed.
Understandably, processing HOLODEC images is a time-intensive effort. Glienke says one flight should take 20 days to reconstruct. ACE-ENA had 20 flights in the summer and 19 in the winter.
Mei was not on any of the 39 ACE-ENA flights. While she enjoys flying, her stomach doesn’t.
“You’re feeling not as useful, and it really makes you feel guilty,” says Mei of her airsickness. “That’s why I thought, ‘Maybe I don’t concentrate on my desire to fly and concentrate on making the mission better.’ ”
Whether working on the ground or in the air, all agree the rewards of participating in a field campaign are immense.
Lamer, a third-year PhD student, has been studying clouds using ARM data for about five years. She sees the ENA as a “unique site for marine cloud research.” Her current and past advisors, Eugene E. Clothiaux and Pavlos Kollias, both members of the Radar Science Group funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric System Research program, offered her the opportunity to fly to Graciosa Island to provide feedback on the data produced by the recently installed second-generation Ka-Band Scanning ARM Cloud Radar and X-Band Scanning ARM Precipitation Radar.
“It was such a different experience to see clouds not only through the eyes of the sensors, but through my own eyes,” she says.
Seizing the Day
ACE-ENA allowed several of the women to prove themselves in new or more challenging roles than they had held during other field campaigns.
As the AAF’s G-1 payload manager and ARM’s radar science liaison, Matthews usually splits her time between aircraft and radar work. During ACE-ENA, she flew in the G-1 data seat, collecting data and making sure instruments ran well during flight. She also prepared the plane for flight and helped with data download and analysis.
“I didn’t feel super confident at the start,” says Matthews, who was deployed for the 2016 Holistic Interactions of Shallow Clouds, Aerosols, and Land-Ecosystems (HI-SCALE) field campaign at ARM’s Southern Great Plains atmospheric observatory. “But everyone seemed like they had a lot more confidence in me than I had in myself to start with, and then after the first couple of flights, I was like: ‘OK, I do actually know what I’m doing. I can make these decisions. I can redirect the plane to go to the left a little bit and look through those clouds instead because we’re not finding anything here.’ It was just kind of figuring out what I was able to do.”
Schmid says the early career scientists are an asset in terms of their enthusiasm and comfort with new technologies.
“It’s been good for the team to have that mix,” says Schmid. “These young women have really fit in very well, and everyone’s been very accepting of them.”
As in ACE-ENA, women will hold crucial roles in the next G-1 campaign—Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI)—which starts later this year in Argentina. Goldberger, Matthews, Mei, and Suski will work on CACTI, and a woman, Jennifer Armstrong, will pilot the G-1 for the first time.
Chiu, an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, is encouraged to see more women taking on increasingly prominent roles in field campaigns. She also believes women should continue to be more proactive and confident in their career development.
“If I’m given a good opportunity,” says Chiu, “I don’t doubt myself. I take it and do my best.”
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The ARM Climate Research Facility is a DOE Office of Science user facility. The ARM Facility is operated by nine DOE national laboratories.