Waterloo researcher helping pave the way for space-age climate science


A UW professor is part of a Canadian initiative to provide critical data to support extreme weather prediction and climate modelling.

Dr. Chris Fletcher, an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental management, is working with other scientists to develop technology that will help us better understand climate change and predict disasters like wildfires and volcanic eruptions. The University of Waterloo is among the top institutions in the country involved in the High-Altitude Aerosols, Water Vapour and Clouds (HWAC) project. The mission is part of NASA’s Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) and uses satellites to measure tiny particles called aerosols in the atmosphere. This data can then be used to track cloud formation, precipitation, and air quality and predict extreme weather events, including storms, floods, and droughts. 

The information will help those in vulnerable areas, such as the coastal and Northern regions, develop new infrastructure, manage wildlife habitats, and allow scientists to predict climate change trends up to 100 years into the future.

Fletcher is a member of the Waterloo Climate and Water Institute. He specializes in Earth system modelling and uses insights from computer science to create climate models. He underscores the importance of the project by saying, “The scale of the project is huge, and it’s likely not to launch until 2030. The way these missions go, you don’t wait until 2030 to say, ‘okay, this is what data we need.’ You use this time to figure out all those details so when the mission launches, you are ready to make the most of the time you have.” 

The 15-year mission received $200 million from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to fund the new satellite instruments needed to measure changes in the atmosphere.