UA SRP Trainee Alexander MacDonald Studies Smoky Air

Last summer, University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UASRP) trainee Alexander MacDonald had the unique opportunity to participate in an airborne atmospheric research campaign. The scientific objective of this campaign was to study fog and clouds located off the coast of California. MacDonald, a second-year Ph.D. student in Dr. Armin Sorooshian’s research group, sampled particles in the air during the one-month-long campaign based out of the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Studies (CIRPAS), located in Marina, California.

The research campaign took an unexpected turn when the Soberanes Fire broke out and the wind veered towards CIRPAS. This created a scientifically valuable chance to study smoke-cloud interactions. Fortunately, the University of Arizona research group had a Micro-Orifice Uniform Deposition Impactor, an instrument that separates particles according to their size, which permitted them to sample the smoky air. MacDonald also provided ground-based support as the team flew on the Twin Otter aircraft collecting cloud water that would later be analyzed for chemical species that are emitted by forest fires.

“It was a great experience,” MacDonald says. He adds, “I got to learn firsthand about instruments that study aerosols and clouds. Plus, it’s great to work with such a friendly hard-working team.” MacDonald hopes to continue studying aerosol effects on Earth’s climate, public health, and the water cycle. His studies are supported by a scholarship from the Mexican Council of Science and Technology (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología).