Vernon Morris

School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences
New College for Interdisciplinart Arts and Sciences
PO Box 37100, MC 1251
School Director & Professor
Faculty w/Admin Appointment
WEST Campus


Dr. Morris joined Arizona State University as Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences and Director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences in July 2020.

Previously, Dr. Morris was a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at Howard University.  He was the Principal Investigator and Founding Director of the NOAA Cooperative Science Center in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology (NCAS-M).  This multidisciplinary research and education organization is a thirteen-member academic research consortium that NCAS-M partners with NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), the National Satellite and Environmental Data Service (NESDIS), and Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) to advance scientific knowledge about the world’s atmosphere and societal responses to weather, climate, and air quality phenomena.   

Dr. Morris also founded the HU Graduate Program in Atmospheric Sciences (HUPAS).  HUPAS is the first PhD-degree granting Atmospheric Sciences program at any minority-serving institution and is a national leader in the production of minority PhDs in its field.  Under his guidance, over 50% of the African American and 30% of the Hispanic American PhDs in Atmospheric Sciences produced from 2006 to 2018 in the United States graduated from this program. 97% of the program’s alumni are working in their respective fields across federal agencies, the private sector, and academia.  

Dr. Morris’ research focuses on the chemical evolution of atmospheric particulate during transport and residence times in the lower troposphere and the implications to aerobiology, climate, and cloud processes.  He has served as Chief Scientist for eleven trans-Atlantic science expeditions (the AERosols and Ocean Science Expeditions – AEROSE) aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) class-1 research vessel, the Ronald H. Brown. Each time he led an international team of scientists in a multidisciplinary study of the influences and life cycle of atmospheric particles emitted from the Saharan Desert on the regional atmosphere and ocean.  The AEROSE data represent the most extensive set of in situ observations of Saharan Air Layer in the Tropical Atlantic. These data have been used for improved satellite retrievals, data assimilation for hurricane and tropical storm forecasts, validation of NOAA, DoD, and European numerical weather prediction models, and improved parameterizations for global forecasts.  

Beginning with an NSF CAREER award in 1997, Dr. Morris has raised over $60M in research funding as principal investigator.  He has contributed to an additional $30M in awards as co-principal investigator, coordinated the establishment of memoranda of understanding with nine academic and research institutions in six different countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, and helped guide the success of multiple federally-funded research centers.

Dr. Morris is passionate about broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). He has guided the research for more than 150 students at the graduate, undergraduate, and high school levels.  His successful hands-on outreach programs and informal science education/exposure projects have reached over 50,000 students worldwide.  Among the most notable are the network of high school weather camps (, that managed camps in Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Jackson, Mississippi, and El Paso, Texas for eighteen years and provided nearly 800 students from underserved populations entre into career opportunities in atmospheric sciences.  

While in Washington, DC, Dr. Morris sponsored a series of “Community Science Fests”. This program is a model for bringing science to communities or subpopulations that are not traditionally exposed to such opportunities. Engaging and immersive hands-on activities designed to show students from elementary school through high school are conducted in a variety of settings. Most often, these events are brought to the community of the students comprising the audience. The events are open but the venues are selected to ensure that underprivileged children have full and direct access to science, that their parents have access to scholarship and program information for their children, and that linkages are provided for return events, open forums, tutoring, and academic reinforcement. He has also conducted these programs in Brazil, Barbados, Uruguay, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Sudan. 

Dr. Morris has won numerous academic and scientific honors and awards including being recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential Blacks in Science and Technology in 2011, inducted as a History Maker in Science in 2012, winning the NOBCChE Henry Cecil McBay Outstanding Teacher Award (2012), becoming a Fulbright Specialist Award (2013), and in 2016 being elected a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.  He has served on a variety of boards and councils and currently serves on the EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, the American Geophysical Unions Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the UCAR Board of Trustees, and the Council of the American Meteorological Society.   

Google Scholar

Research Interests

My research employs concepts and methodologies from fundamental physical chemistry and molecular physics to better understand and explore the implications of the chemical evolution of atmospheric particulate on the regional air quality, climate, the atmospheric microbiome, and environmental health.   In particular, I am interested in the how gas phase chemistry and atmospheric processes alter the chemical, physical, and microbial make-up on the aerosol surfaces during long-range transport.  Further, I investigate how those changes feed back onto regional air quality, climate, and observable atmospheric properties.  For the past fifteen years, I have been engaged in field experiments to study these processes with a focus on mineral dust aerosols that originate from the Saharan desert and are transported across the tropical Atlantic Ocean.  I have also studied these transformations during continental transport and deposition; in West Africa (Mali) and in East Africa (Northern Ethiopia).  These studies engage the vibrancy of interdisciplinary studies in a multi-scale challenge that involves partnerships that span academia, federal and state governmental agencies, international organizatons, and private sector partners.  The project is rich in its applications so that disciplinary interests ranging from computer sciences, engineering, and oceanography merge and overlap with chemistry, microbiology, atmospheric sciences, and physics to enable a greater understanding for the environment and an integrated system.   


Scientific projects that have been inspired by this work include research on the processing of urban aerosols during their atmospheric lifetime and how these changes may influence public health disparities and outcomes in the urban environment.  The lower atmosphere - especially in densely inhabited regions within the planetary boundary layer - carries a diverse and dynamic pool of bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses as suspended particulate.  Some are suspended as independent entities and others are contained within the bulk volume or on the surfaces of aerosolized particles.  Atmospheric particulate can be transported to high altitudes, interact with clouds and fogs, or across distances of up to thousands of kilometers from their source regions. During their time in the atmosphere, these particles are subject to chemical and physical processing which may strongly influence their viability and metabolic activity.  When they deposit and interact with ecosystems at the surface, there is the potential that the remaining live microbiota can act as colonizers or competitors with established communities.  Despite growing interest in this area, the atmospheric microbiome remains a poorly characterized component of the environment - especially in cities.   A second major thrust of the research program that I bring to ASU will focus on deepening or understanding of the aerobiological exchange between the remote and urban atmosphere.



Ten Most Recent Publications

Accuracy assessment of MERRA-2 and ERA-Interim temperature and humidity profiles over the Atlantic Ocean using AEROSE observations.  Bingkun Luo, Peter J. Minnett, Malgorzata Szczodrak, Nicholas R. Nalli, and Vernon R. Morris Accepted JCLI (2020)

Investigation of the Successive Ozone Episodes in El Paso – Juarez Region in the Summer of 2017Authors: Nakul Karle, Suhail Mahmud, Ricardo Sakai, Rosa Fitzgerald *, Vernon R. Morris, William Stockwell  Accepted in Atmosphere (2020)

A. L. Northcross, S. Hsieh, S. Wilson, E. Roper, R. R. Dickerson, P. Norouzi, and V. Morris Monitoring Neighborhood Concentrations of PM2.5 and Black Carbon: When Using Citywide Averages Underestimates Impacts in a Community with Environmental Justice Issues Authors: Accepted in Environmental Justice (2020)

N. Nalli, A. Gambacorta, Q. Liu. C. Barnet, C. Tan, F. Iturbide-Sanchez, T. Reale, B.  Sun, M. Wilson, L. Borg, and V. Morris Validation of Atmospheric Profile Retrievals from the SNPP NOAA-Unique Combined Atmospheric Processing System. Part 2: Ozone IEEE Transactions of Geoscience and Remote Sensing 56, 1, 598 Jan 2018

N. Nalli, A. Gambacorta, Q. Liu. C. Barnet, C. Tan, F. Iturbide-Sanchez, T. Reale, B.  Sun, M. Wilson, L. Borg, and V. Morris Validation of Atmospheric Profile Retrievals from the SNPP NOAA-Unique Combined Atmospheric Processing System 1. Temperature and Moisture IEEE Transactions of Geoscience and Remote Sensing 56, 1, 180 Jan 2018

V. Morris and T. Washington The Role of Professional Societies in STEM Diversity Journal of the National Technical Association 87 (1) 22-31, 2017

48. N. Nalli, C. D. Barnet, T. Reale, Q. Liu, V. R. Morris, J. R. Spackman, E. Joseph, C. Tan, B. Sun, F. Tilley, L. R. Lueng, and D. Wolfe Tropospheric Moisture Transport Regimes: Saharan Air Layers, Hadley Cells, and Atmospheric Rivers Journal of Hydrometeorology Published online at:, 2017

K. Jones, E. Igbinigun, Y. Liu, R. Malaisamy, and V Morris Graphene Oxide Functionalize Polyethersulfone Membrane to Reduce Organic Fouling J. Membrane Science 514: 518 – 526, 2016 

A. Lee, D. Hanlon, R. Sakai, V. Morris, B. Demoz, and S. A. Gadsden Development of an Autonomous Unmanned Aerial System for Atmospheric Data Collection and Research SPIE Proceedings of the Advanced Environmental, Chemical, and Biological Sensing Technologies XIII, 96820A (May 9, 2016)

S. Liu, J. X. L. Wang, X.-Z. Liang, and V. R. Morris, A Hybrid Approach to Improving the Skills of Seasonal Climate Outlook at the Regional Scale, Climate Dynamics 46(1):483-494 2015

A. D. Allen, B. Eribo, M. A. Velez-Quinones, V. R. Morris MALDI-TOF MA and 16SrRNA as Tools of the Evaluation of Bacterial Diversity in Soils from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas Aerobiologia 31:111-126, 2015

Research Activity

Characterizing the chemical evolution of mineral dust and the atmospheric implications during long-range transport

I have served as the Principal Investigator and lead scientist for the trans-Atlantic AERosol and Ocean Science Expeditions (AEROSE).  AEROSE is a project based on a series of intensive field experiments conducted primarily aboard the NOAA Class 1 research vessel Ronald H. Brown  since 2006.  The inaugural cruise was a 27-day mission in 2004.  AEROSE is a comprehensive maritime observational campaign designed to investigate critical aspects of the microphysical and microchemical evolution of air mass outflows from Africa and their downstream impacts on atmospheric chemistry, climate, and environmental health.  Since 2006, the AEROSE team has collaborated in joint efforts with the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) -sponsored PIRATA Northern Extension (PNE) project.  PNE combines a physical oceanography team focused on climate measurements in the tropical Atlantic with a chemical oceanography team that profiles the ocean column along the transect of array of moored oceanographic buoys.  Our PNE/AEROSE cruises retain the interdisciplinary spirit of the initial AEROSE mission with atmospheric scientists and oceanographers working in concert to develop a greater understanding of the earth’s climate system in remote areas that are impacted by both anthropogenic and natural phenomena.  I would seek to continue these cruises and scientific studies associated with the data sets after coming to ASU.  The experience of conducting high-power research aboard a research ship in the remote ocean can be a life-changing one for most students.  I have committed to using this field campaign as a recruiting tool and over 40 undergraduate students have participated in the cruises since 2004.  This would be a unique experience for SMNS students and faculty.

AEROSE seeks to address three central scientific questions: (1) What is the nature of the chemical, physical, and microbial changes on the mineral dust and smoke aerosol distributions as they evolve during trans-Atlantic transport? (2) How do Saharan and sub-Saharan outflows affect the regional atmosphere and ocean during trans-Atlantic transport? and (3) What is the capability of satellite remote sensing and numerical models for resolving and studying the above processes?  Along the way, we have taken advantage of the unique setting to perform a variety of satellite calibration/validation experiments, model verification, and testing of prototype instrumentation.

During each AEROSE cruise, a comprehensive suite of critical measurements are collected that enable the characterization of the chemical and microphysical evolution of aerosols from the African continent as they transit the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern seaboard of the United States and the Caribbean. (See CV publications; Morris et al., 2006; Nalli et al., 2011).  The tropical Atlantic Ocean is unique laboratory because it allows for sampling of background, Saharan dust, urban biomass burning, African industrial emission, and aerosol mixtures without significant land-surface interactions or emissions.  (Sea salt aerosol is largely separable in size and chemistry from mineral dust and biomass aerosols.) A brief description of the cruise measurements and operations are provided below. 

Profile measurements of the atmosphere, rawinsonde launches, are conducted to investigate the linkages between the vertical distributions of tropospheric ozone with dust and biomass burning outflows. Historical data shows a seasonal variation in tropospheric ozone that peaks during June-August - the summer peak in dust outflows. The origins of this peak remain uncertain and may are postulated to be due to a combination of anthropogenic sources (e.g., transport from biomass burning in the Congo Basin) and natural sources (e.g., lightning over West Africa, stratospheric injections).  The AEROSE team observed several stratospheric injections during cruises in 2017 and 2019.  The data sets from these cruises are ripe for investigation of this phenomenon and how coupling of the African easterly jet may enhance the transport.  One of my current PhD students is working on some of the case studies  and the influence on the ozone budget in the tropics.

Current atmospheric chemistry models are challenged by the need to account for a variety of chemical processes in dense aerosol outflows. Very few in situ measurements have been reported for tropical air masses that are rich in mineral dust aerosols, biomass burning aerosols, West African mega city urban aerosols, and/or mixtures of these aerosol types that characterize the trade wind and SAL outflow regimes.  The AEROSE campaigns contribute a rich record of measurements of trace gase concentrations in these regions that can be used to validate and evaluate model performance under these conditions.  The trace gas measurements include ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide), methane, and aggregate non-methane volatile organic carbon species (VOC).  

A comprehensive suite of aerosol measurements and in situ sampling is performed during each cruise with specific focus on quantification of the microphysical and chemical evolution of the Saharan dust during trans-Atlantic transport.  I plan to enhance the aerosol measurements with a mixed -method approach to sampling in order to characterize aerosol mixing, identify total microbial distributions and microbial load on the aerosols.   Currently, offline microbiological and chemical composition analysis are performed as a function of size and source region. The filter samples collected during the cruises are be frozen following sample collection and processing. Number distributions are measured continuously for Aitken, accumulation mode, and fine aerosols using mobility analyzers and optical particle counters. Mass density and gravimetric aerosol analyses are performed using a suite of tandem quartz crystal cascade impactors, cyclone impactors, and high volume gravimetric sequential samplers.  I will seek to continue the analysis of samples collected during the AEROSE campaigns and to use these analysis in combination with atmospheric models to test and refine our understanding of aerosol chemistry in the maritime tropics.  

As in past cruises, infrared, microwave, visible, and in situ measurements will be collected to support the calibration/validation (cal/val) and improvement of advanced satellite retrievals and data products.  Previous results have been published  (See CV publications: Nalli et al., 2006, 2011), namely the NOAA-20 and SNPP Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) and Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) (Nalli et al., 2013, 2018a,b), Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), as well as the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-16 or GOES-East).  In 2019, the AEROSE team began testing and evaluation of decision support materials from the NOAA Unique Combined Atmospheric Processing System (NUCAPS) suite for scientific field campaigns.  In particular, these satellite data products were used to strategically inform rawinsonde and ozonesonde deployments during the AEROSE 2019 campaign.  I will seek to extend these types of service evaluations for NOAA and potentially the Naval Research Lab (NRL) studies in future campaigns.  


Intersections between atmospheric chemistry and the urban atmospheric microbiome.

This research is designed with the aim of developing a large-scale microbial collection, sequencing and data analysis study of the microbial populations in the atmosphere from selected urban and rural locations.  For the proposed study, both culture dependent techniques that include the characterization of growth, substrate utilization and antibiotic resistance of these species and omic methods will be used to explore the full microbial diversity will be utilized.  I would seek to engage collaborations with the J. Craig Venter Institute, where I spent a semester while on a leave of absence from Howard University.  I have been conducting preliminary studies in Washington, DC but could modify the study to focus on metropolitan and rural regions in the Southwest or focused in Arizona.  

There are four Specific Aims for the proposed research:

  • To develop a baseline of the microbial inhabitants in the atmosphere, and to correlate specific pathogens to aerosol loading using 8 locations distributed across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and West Africa.  This will be accomplished through the establishment of collection sites at the different locations, collection of air filter samples, culturing and sequencing of 16S rDNA sequences from these filters.
  • To screen any potential pathogenic species for characteristics associated with pathogenicity.  This will be accomplished through an initial 16S rDNA screening of all 8,000 isolates, as well as screening for substrate utilization patterns and possible pathogenicity factors.  
  • A detailed and systematic characterization of meteorological and aerosol conditions associated with various infectious diseases and acute respiratory agents that includes back-trajectory analysis.
  • To develop a public database for microbial diversity of airborne aerosols.

This study presents the unique opportunity to generate a baseline of the normal microbial inhabitants in the atmosphere of major urban centers and to compare the species characteristics determined in major cities and non-urban locations that are either linked by air mass flows, similarities in climate, or similarities in aerosol sources.  This will result in the construction of a community database with significant content relating microbial populations in the atmosphere to their potential implications for human health.  The major implications for the study include developing a baseline of normal microbial populations based on both culture-dependent and non-culture based methods.  The bacterial populations that are identified will allow for a better preparation for bio-defense, and may give insight into the relative increase in certain disease conditions inclusive of asthma.


Fall 2020
Course Number Course Title
LSC 499 Individualized Instruction