The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) experiment studies Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMC's), the ice crystal clouds that form in the Earth’s mesosphere. AIM helps uncover why these clouds form and why they vary, quantifying the connection between PMC's and the meteorology of the polar mesosphere. The AIM mission seeks to create a foundation for the study of long-term change in the mesosphere and its relationship to global change.
The overall goal of the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) experiment is to resolve why PMC's form and why they vary. By measuring PMC's and the thermal, chemical and dynamical environment in which they form, researchers will quantify the connection between these clouds and the meteorology of the polar mesosphere. In the end, this will provide the basis for study of a long-term variability in the mesospheric climate and its relationship to global change. The results of AIM will be a rigorous validation of predictive models that can reliably use past PMC changes and present trends as indicators of global change. This goal will be achieved by measuring PMC abundances, spatial distribution, particle size distributions, gravity wave activity, dust influx to the atmosphere and precise, vertical profile measurements of temperature H2O, OH, CH4, O3, CO2, NO, and aerosols. These data can only be obtained by a complement of instruments on an orbiting spacecraft.
Over the last 30 years ground based observations from NW Europe of the number of noctilucent clouds (NLC's) show dramatic increases. These clouds, known more recently to satellite observers as PMC's, are believed to respond dramatically to even small changes in their environment. Since cooling of the upper atmosphere (PMC's occur near 85 km) is expected to accompany the possible warming of the lower atmosphere due to an increased greenhouse effect, an increase in mesospheric cloudiness could be one consequence of mesospheric climate change.