Saudades for the Azores

Published: 6 November 2018
Francesca Gallo, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Francesca Gallo, an atmospheric scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, sent in this post.

I first arrived in the Azores on a foggy, wintery January day. I remember only clouds and cows everywhere. “It’s just for six months, not a day more than that,” I thought.

Almost seven years later, when I left the Azores to move to New Mexico to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), I finally understood the meaning of saudades, a Portuguese word that describes nostalgia and melancholy. It is a word for which a translation does not exist, and one learns only by experiencing it.

Located in the remote Eastern North Atlantic Ocean—five hours by plane from Italy, my home country, and five from Boston—the archipelago of the Azores comprises nine islands. The landscape of each is unique, but they all share strikingly green fields and a vibrant blue ocean, where it is not uncommon to see dolphins and whales.

Luckily, the fog and clouds that I disliked so much seven years ago are also very common and are now my new passion and the focus of my research. Fortunately, the ARM user facility agreed that the Azores presented unique opportunities to research cloud formation, and in 2013, ARM established the Eastern North Atlantic atmospheric observatory (ENA), operated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

During the past year, I worked with the LANL team to characterize aerosol properties using the data provided by the Aerosol Observing System at the ENA observatory. The composition of aerosols on the Azores is unique and is particularly fascinating to me.

On Sao Jorge Island in the Azores, Gallo takes in the wind, clouds, and Eastern North Atlantic Ocean.

Despite a pristine marine environment dominated by sea spray aerosols, the region is periodically affected by air masses from North America and Europe. This translates into a large variability in aerosol particles, making our understanding of their interaction with low marine clouds very complex. Indeed, these islands are characterized by some of the world’s strongest and most uncertain aerosol indirect forcing.

I am currently working on a comprehensive, long-term characterization of the ENA aerosol optical and physical properties. This includes seasonal variations and interdependence with meteorological variability. Essentially, my research aims to accurately describe the features of aerosols at ENA, which are needed to improve the knowledge of the process underlying aerosol-cloud interactions. This understanding could help reduce uncertainty and enhance representation in earth system models.

Closely examining data, it has been very interesting to see how aerosol concentrations and compositions vary seasonally, affected by different meteorological conditions, but they show a marked annual trend.

Although I still occasionally feel saudades for the Azores, working at LANL in the mountainous high desert of New Mexico has given me many amazing new opportunities and experiences, including the ability to analyze and interpret ENA data every day and remember my time in the Azores.

I am very excited to participate in an international effort that unites the DOE, ARM, LANL, and scientists worldwide to enhance global earth system models and work towards a sustainable future.