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The COnvective Precipitation Experiment - COPE

This summer a group of scientists will by flying right into the heart of rain clouds to make detailed measurements of them. The aim is to improve predictions of flash flooding by understanding everything that happens inside a convective cloud. The scientists from the NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the Met Office and universities in the UK and USA will be making measurements above Cornwall in a project called COPE - the COnvective Precipitation Experiment.

The scientists will be targeting convective clouds which produce heavy rain, the type of rain where the heavens suddenly open resulting in a deluge. If this type of rain happens in one place, or is particularly heavy there's a good chance that it will cause a flash flood, the type of flood that forms quickly over small areas. Flash floods can prove to be devastating, turning roads into rivers and destroying livelihoods.
For the first time in the UK, scientists will study the formation and growth of the particles that lead to rain while also learning about the larger-scale air motions in and around the clouds themselves. By better understanding the processes that control rainfall intensity we can improve the way these processes are represented in our forecast models and thus improve the forecasts.

During COPE the scientists will use the NERC/Met Office Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) aircraft to make measurements in and around the convective clouds that form over Cornwall and the South West of England. The FAAM aircraft is equipped with some of the most sophisticated research instruments in the world, including instruments that can distinguish between liquid and solid particles whilst flying at 200 miles per hour. The University of Wyoming King Air research aircraft, with its unique cloud radar and lidar, will also fly through and above the developing convective clouds.
One goal of the project is to find the first few ice crystals that form in amongst the hundreds of water droplets per cubic centimetre of cloud. These ice crystals are thought to be the trigger that sets the process of heavy rain in motion. Professor Alan Blyth from NCAS explains that "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is important to find these ice particles, as we still don't know exactly how they are produced in the cloud, or how they turn into rain, particularly heavy rain."

When the cloud becomes too dangerous for the aircraft, the new radar from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science will take over. Met Office radars and other instruments run by the Natural Environment Research Council at a Cornish ground base will tell us about the larger-scale development of precipitation, properties of the aerosols in the clouds and the movement, relative humidity and temperature of the air below them.
That is only part of the story, all this information will only help improve predictions if the forecast models are up to the job. COPE will use several different models to help with interpretation of the data from the field campaign. The Met Office will use the information to test and improve their models, which can warn of potentially dangerous weather down to areas of just 1.5km2.

Further information
Dr Felicity Perry
Communications Manager - National Centre for Atmospheric Science
Tel : 0113 3434212
Email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1. The National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) is a world leader in atmospheric science. NCAS carries out research programmes in climate change science, air quality, weather (including hazardous weather) and state-of-the-art technologies for observing and modelling the atmosphere (including a world-leading research aircraft). We have over 100 research scientists, including UK and world experts to work on our research programmes and provide support to the academic community. These programmes are distributed throughout the UK, at 15 UK universities and research institutes. NCAS is a research centre of the Natural Environment Research Council with its headquarters at the University of Leeds.

2. The research aircraft is a modified passenger jet that has been refitted to carry a range of state-of-the-art equipment, measuring the properties of the air in which the plane flies. The BAe146 is managed by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement, a joint operation between NERC's National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and the Met Office.

3. Professor Alan Blyth is director of weather science at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Phil Brown is cloud physics research manager at the UK Met Office; Professor Tom Choularton is head of the Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Manchester; Professor Chris Collier is head of strategic partnerships at NCAS; and Humphrey Lean manages mesoscale modelling research at the Met Office.

4. COPE is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). COPE is a collaboration between NERC, the Met Office, UK universities and international partners.