A challenging aspect of conducting airborne in situ observations of the atmosphere is how to optimize flight plans for specific objectives and constraints associated with weather and flight restrictions. For aerosol-cloud interaction research, two recent campaigns utilized a “stairstepping” approach whereby an aircraft conducts level legs at various altitudes while moving forward with each subsequent leg: the 2019 MONterey Aerosol Research Campaign (MONARC) over the northeast Pacific and the 2020–2022 Aerosol Cloud meTeorology Interactions oVer the western ATlantic Experiment (ACTIVATE) over the northwest Atlantic. We examine the homogeneity of several atmospheric variables both vertically and horizontally in the marine boundary layer with a focus on the sub-cloud environment. In well-mixed boundary layers, there was generally good horizontal and vertical homogeneity in potential temperature, winds, water vapor mixing ratio, various trace gases, and many aerosol variables. Selected aerosol variables exhibited the most variability owing to sensitivity to humidity and near-cloud conditions (supermicrometer aerosol concentrations), coastal pollution gradients (e.g., organic aerosol mass), and small spatial scale phenomena such as new particle formation (aerosol number concentration for particles with diameter >3 nm). Illustrative cases are described when stairstepping can pose issues requiring extra caution for data analysis: (i) poor vertical mixing and layers decoupled from those below; (ii) multiple cloud layers; (iii) fluctuating cloud base/top and boundary layer top heights; and (iv) horizontal variability across specific features leading to sharp gradients such as right near coastlines and over the Gulf Stream with strong sea surface temperature changes. Results from this study provide a guide both for future studies aiming to examine these mission datasets and for designing new airborne campaigns.
- airborne sampling
- in situ observations
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
- Atmospheric Science