Ashley Corrigan

Deciphering the Impact of Atmospheric Aerosols

By Stacy Kish on August 4, 2010

Fellow: Ashley Lynn Corrigan
Hometown: Foley, Minnesota
Undergrad: University of San Diego (USD)
Graduate school: University of California San Diego (UCSD), Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Keywords: Department of Energy, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Office of Science, Graduate Fellow program, Aerosols, Clouds, Climate

Growing up on a dairy farm in central Minnesota Ashley Corrigan developed a deep respect for nature at an early age. As she grew older she admits “I wanted to know how the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere worked in concert to produce life as we know it today.”

Today Corrigan is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, San Diego (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and a DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellow. Corrigan is studying the impact of organic aerosols on climate.

“Aerosols play an important role in the radiative balance of the atmosphere and remain one of the largest uncertainties in understanding climate feedbacks,” begins Corrigan. Cloud droplets condense onto aerosols that collectively form a cloud. According to Corrigan, clouds produce negative radiative forcing or a cooling effect, because they scatter or reflect the incoming solar radiation. She continues, “The amount of cooling associated with cloud formation is still unclear.”

Organics make up a large fraction of aerosols, on the order of 20-80 percent in North America.  The organic components of aerosols affect how and if a cloud will form. “Scientists have an even more limited knowledge of the different types of organics that are present in aerosols,” she said. Corrigan’s research aims to better understand, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the organic fraction of aerosols.

To accomplish this task, Corrigan is comparing aerosols generated in a lab to aerosols collected in nature. Field work is precisely what Corrigan is doing right now. “Currently I am in a boreal forest in Hyytiala, Finland on a collaborative field campaign with the Max Planck Institute and University of Helsinki,” she said.

Corrigan concludes, “This fellowship has allowed me to stay with my current advisor, despite the current difficulties with the California’s budget crisis. I am truly thankful for the wonderful opportunities the DOE Graduate Fellowship will make available to me.” Corrigan’s graduate fellowship is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Stacy Kish is a Science Writer with the Office of Science.