Meteorology Associate Professor Awarded Fulbright to Study Pollution in Italian Alps
May 26, 2021
Lerach will travel to Italy in the spring and summer of 2022 to work with the University of Trento through the Department of Civil Environmental and Mechanical Engineering in the program of Environmental Meteorology. There, he will study how pollution in the northern Italian Alps may impact precipitation patterns across the region, specifically how much precipitation falls, where it falls and whether it’s being shifted between different watersheds.
Lerach, who is an expert on thunderstorms and cloud physics, studies how small aerosol particles in the air help create cloud drops and ice crystals in developing thunderstorms. He plans to investigate how aerosols originating from pollution sources are altering these microscale processes over the Alps, which can impact how strong storms become, how long they last and how much precipitation falls. His work will make use of available aerosol observational datasets collected across northern Italy and high-resolution computer modeling.
“Looking at this impact over mountainous terrain is really complex. But if we use observations to find some potential cases where we think pollution may have had impacts on thunderstorms and precipitation distribution versus other cases where pollution influences were unlikely, then we can simulate that using computer models and better quantify the magnitude and significance of these aerosol effects, which are likely important because they can affect the water budget over different locations,” he said.
Pollution aerosol impacts on weather and climate is a global issue, and Lerach’s findings from this research could potentially have implications across the world in other mountainous regions. If you change where and how much precipitation falls over mountainous terrain, then some of that precipitation could wind up in different watersheds and significantly impact water-resource management efforts. Such an occurrence might not be uncommon in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains where research is constantly being done on snowpack, runoff and more.
“There’s a carryover of studying this in the Alps versus similar applications here in the U.S.,” Lerach said.
On top of his research and travels being funded by the Fulbright Scholar Award, Lerach has made a connection with Dino Zardi, Ph.D., the deputy dean of the Centre Agriculture Food Environment and coordinator for the Master of Science program in Environmental Meteorology at the University of Trento in Italy. Zardi and the university have arranged for Lerach to stay past his Fulbright-funded research timeline through the late spring and summer of 2022 for this research project.
Lerach plans to help teach at least one graduate-level course during the spring 2022 semester in Trento. He also hopes to collaborate on future grant proposals for additional funding with Trento in order to continue this research. Additionally, he wants to establish connections between Trento graduate students and UNC Earth and Atmospheric Sciences undergraduate students through the creation of a virtual mentoring program with the goal of providing UNC students opportunities to gain international perspectives on the societal relevance of the atmospheric sciences and the overall importance of pursuing careers in STEM.
Led by the U.S. Department of State in partnership with 49 binational commissions and 160 countries worldwide, Fulbright offers unique educational and cultural exchange programs for passionate and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers and professionals of all backgrounds. Fulbright Scholars enrich their education, advance their careers and make meaningful contributions abroad and at home.
—Written by Katie Corder