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Professor’s research provides a clearer understanding of fog

| Friday, November 5, 2021

Notre Dame professor of engineering and geosciences Harindra Fernando spent the month of Sept. 2018 in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Canadian provinces that are two of the foggiest places on Earth. There, Fernando led a $4 million research project called C-FOG with the goal of better understanding the formation and behavior of coastal fog. The project resulted in an article published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and provides data on coastal fog formation that can be incorporated into weather prediction models for more accurate forecasts.

Courtesy of Hirandra Fernando
Sable Island, the site of the FATIMA research project.

The implications of properly understanding fog behavior, which at the time of the C-FOG was approximately 50% predictable, are far-reaching, Fernando said.

“It has implications on safe ship navigation and for low flying aircraft taking off from aircraft carriers and marine rescue operations,” Fernando said. “Another important application is the use of laser-based defense systems, where strong laser beams are used to nullify incoming threats such as swarms of UAVs. Fog reduces the efficiency of such defense systems, and hence prediction of fog is of great importance.”

According to the C-FOG study, a problem with many predictive models of weather patterns involving fog is scale. Fog activity models often predict movement on a scale one billion times that of the actual fog formation. The research Fernando has done provides a better understanding of that microscale upon which a better predictive model of fog activity can be created.

Fernando’s research on fog will continue through 2021, having secured a 5-year, $7.5 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary Research Initiative. The project, called Fog and Turbulence Interactions in the Marine Atmosphere (FATIMA), departs from the coast to study fog in the deeper ocean environment. 

“The project involves measurements from a research ship as well as a remote Atlantic island called Sable Island and working on such different locations, platforms is very appealing,” Fernando said.

Where the C-FOG project focused on measuring aerosols from wave breaks and nearby land, the marine atmosphere project involves aerosols that come from much greater distances, complicating the process. 

Courtesy of Harindra Fernando
Fog and Turbulence Interactions in the Marine Atmosphere (FATIMA) field research will be conducted aboard a ship and on Sable Island in the Atlantic Ocean.

The importance of the FATIMA project runs along the same lines as C-FOG, as a greater understanding of marine fog could improve predictive models of fog patterns beyond the coasts out into the ocean. U.S. aircraft carriers which navigate the oceans and ocean-based defense systems especially have a vested interest in the future of fog prediction models at sea.

Though improving predictability is challenging, Fernando said working with fog is exciting for him.

“Fog encapsulates processes with spatial scales from micrometers to hundreds of kilometers, and bringing these different scales together to improve predictability is a difficult challenge,” Fernando said. ”Working with computer modelers and field observationalists to meld their expertise to learn behavior of atmospheric water vapor and droplets and their roles in fog and visibility is indeed exciting.”

It takes the merging of many fields to begin to understand what Fernando calls, “one of the most complex phenomena that defies reliable predictability,” but it is exactly this challenge and delta of scientific disciplines that motivates Fernando to continue his research.

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About Simon Vogel

Simon is a junior from Manchester, Vermont majoring in finance and political science and living in Keough Hall. When not curled up with a book, he can be found running cross-country with friends. He can be contacted by email: [email protected]

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