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Sounds Like Better Weather

Infrasound data from the upper atmosphere forecasts better weather forecasting
April 1, 2014
Sounds Like Better Weather

Current weather models are built with data from the troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere. But Los Alamos’s new infrasound technique also obtains atmospheric data from the next layer up—the stratosphere—because stratospheric airflows are known to affect the troposphere through mixing and other mechanisms.

When there isn’t a nice, sharp sound source to work with, oceanic standing waves, which hum at a frequency 100 times lower than the lowest bass note accessible to human hearing, provide an always-available alternative.

Like most people, Los Alamos geophysicist Stephen Arrowsmith enjoys listening to the sound of the ocean. The difference is, he does it from thousands of miles away and doesn’t use his ears. Instead, he measures the infrasound (sound below the frequency threshold for human hearing) generated by distant, ever-present ocean waves. By comparing the arrival times of distinct wave sounds at different locations, and factoring in some computer modeling, he is able to infer information about the upper-atmospheric conditions through which the sound waves traveled—information that can be used to improve weather forecasts.

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