The ghostly faces of the Earth's stratosphere. NASA scientists watch how the planet “grimaces” (photo)

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Ghostly faces of the Earth's stratosphere. NASA scientists watch how the planet

A pair of scientists have a fascinating hobby – in between work they study the planet's atmospheric data to find a new “grimace” of the Earth in them.

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Research is not only about data sets and the development of complex models for them analysis. Sometimes it's also about entertainment. A pair of NASA scientists have a very curious hobby – in between work they study atmospheric data to see in them the “ghostly faces” of the Earth's stratosphere, writes Sci Tech Daily.

By day, Lawrence Coy and Stephen Pawson develop sophisticated models of data assimilation and reanalysis of the Earth's atmosphere at the Goddard Space Flight Center. But when they need a break and a distraction, they indulge in their fascinating hobby – finding grimace in the circulating data.

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Scientists learn visualizations about wind and temperature from reanalysis, which models atmospheric conditions on a global scale by drawing weather information from satellites and some other sources. For about 40 years of observations, a whole collection has accumulated in their “piggy bank of the grimace of the Earth.”

According to Pawson, the best time to search for ghostly faces is winter in the polar hemispheres. The conditions of the polar night contribute to the development of the stratospheric polar vortex or circumpolar vortex, as atmospheric researchers also call it.

Most of the cold season, this vortex rotates high in the stratosphere. However, once a year, sometime in January or February, the circumpolar current breaks, causing the westerly winds to weaken, thereby raising temperatures over the pole. Such disruptions could even cause the wind to change direction and split the vortex into sections, Coy says. It is during these periods or after them that scientists, as a rule, observe how the planet “grimaces”.

The researchers note that all the ghostly faces they observe are essentially caused by the different arrangements of low and high vorticity. In the grimace photo, areas of high potential vorticity are colored orange and circulate counterclockwise, areas of low potential vorticity are colored magenta and move clockwise.

The ghostly faces of the Earth's stratosphere. NASA scientists watch the

The ghostly faces of the Earth's stratosphere. NASA scientists watch how

The first on the left in the photo of three faces was formed as a result of the splitting of a vortex with eyes with a high potential vorticity. However, the more common grimaces that scientists manage to detect are the next two images, in the center and on the right. In both cases, the left eye represents an area with low vorticity, and the right one with high vorticity, the mouth represents the threads connecting them.

The idea to find the grimaces of the planet came to Stephen Pawson. Since then, he and a colleague have agreed to find at least one such ghostly face of the stratosphere every winter.