NASA's DC-8 Airborne Research Lab Studies Coastal Eddies

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Besides (theoretically) crashing into nuclear plants, or ferrying corporate honchos and busloads of cranky passengers from A to B, we like to think that now and then somebody finds a real useful mission for an airplane. And we'd like to think that NASA's airborne laboratory, a highly modified DC-8, has some useful goal in its latest mission -- studying coastal eddies in the ocean off southern California. "We expect this research will contribute to an improved understanding of pollution hazards in southern California coastal waters, and provide valuable information for coastal management," the scientists say. OK, so maybe it's not just an excuse to cruise around the Pacific beaches for fun. (more)NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Naval Research Laboratory during April will study the swirling waters off southern California. These coastal eddies can be important in bringing nutrients from deep waters to the surface, where they stimulate ocean plant growth. Eddies can transport pollutants that originated on land, recirculating this material for several days. This may have both good and bad consequences for life in the ocean, says NASA. The specially instrumented airborne-sciences DC-8 jet, based at the Dryden Flight Research Center, in Edwards, Calif., will fly over the Southern California Bight, the area between Point Conception and San Diego, to locate eddies using Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar. Scientists hope the unique combination of the DC-8 flights, ship measurements and satellite ocean sensors provide the best opportunity to understand the characteristics of these small but important coastal features.