Today is the Independence Day in the U.S.
We had a lot of work in the morning, and we had the right people for it. Our ground support crew who flew all the way from Colorado provided the necessary services to obtain the cryogens for the instruments, shipping and other miscellaneous help that we needed on the day of departure. The Pearl Flight Centre provided transportation and a person constantly available to us in case we needed help; they were great, I would call them any time I needed help in Darwin. Before too long we were ready to go and took off from Darwin, leaving behind the wonderful Northern Territories land and estuaries with salties waiting for their next hapless tourist for a meal.
And then came a disappointment: the Indonesian airspace controller did not allow us to do the profiling required for our sampling. Frustrated, we chugged along (at .8 Mach that is) for more than two hours until we finally were able to start vertical profiling in the U.S. controlled airspace. The purpose of this flight was to see if we can detect the convective effects of the warm pool, and even the few profiles that we completed North of 4ºN will give the scientists some information on that. It would have been so much better if we were able to do the profiling all the way along the track. The air traffic controllers do not exactly see the attentive support of strange requests from airborne research aircraft as an important part of their job, which is a pity.
At one point we flew over some thin dispersed clouds with the sun above and slightly behind us, and a curious effect, which I had seen many times before but never really described, was visible again: the Gulfstream cast a shadow onto the clouds and the diffraction around the airplane caused a rainbow-like halo to appear on the clouds below. Thanks to the fast response of a SLR camera that I grabbed and fired in a split second once it occurred to me that I should not just stare at it in awe with my mouth open but also capture it for you, you can see what that looked like.
The NOAA forecasters promised that we will encounter “convection like you have never seen before” on this flight, and we were waiting by the windows with the cameras warmed up, ready to take the incredible pictures of 60,000 foot thunder towers and hundred mile anvils. Ha ha! The most we have seen were the 20-foot in diameter puffy cumulus clouds that were not reaching any higher than grandmother’s attic (well, they were probably 2,000 feet in diameter and 5,000 feet high on occasion but still nothing like promised). The most exciting clouds on this flight were the featureless overhanging cloud deck all along our track that we got immersed into on the high ascents, with visibility of zero and almost no turbulence, meaning the clouds are just hanging there with nearly no convection going on, and some silly “popcorn cumulus”, the happy-looking maritime convection that builds quickly, bumps you a bit when you fly through it, rains warm rain and reappears in the same places nearly every day. The lack of tall major convection was a bummer for our anticipated photo op. Oh well, on the other hand the pilots didn’t have to worry about finding a safe passage through the thunderclouds to bring us into Saipan.
Saipan was overcast, warm and humid. Did I mention humid? That would be a sauna-like humid, once the cabin door opened everything in the cabin fogged up, including all metal parts, instruments and even my eye glasses. That was right on par with Honiara and I have to admit that Rarotonga mow holds the third place. It is not surprising that we usually start experiencing “tropic-itus” after a few weeks of operations in the tropics: condensation causes slight corrosion inside computers and on other electronic contacts, and instruments start having intermittent failures that are very difficult to localize and repair. All of our clothing that was so welcome in the 65-degree cabin immediately stuck to our bodies once we walked outside, reminding us that people can never be happy: it is either too hot, or too cold, or too humid or too dry. Poor nature just can’t suit the picky people. It is a good thing the nature doesn’t care.
Periodically turning on windshield wipers instead of turn signals (you will know why if you drove on both sides of the road in different countries interchangeably for a while), our caravan of rental cars made it to the Hyatt Regency in the dark and we crashed in our Barbie-doll-pink rooms. Tomorrow we will meet at 7:30 am to go to the airplane to work on the instruments. The arrangements for the next flight are in place, and the next destination is not just interesting, it is unique so we are all very much looking forward to it. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves here. You will know what it is in a couple of days.