HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 485 :11 November 2009

Testing our air

Atmospheric research scientists are on a mission to find out what’s in our air

Atmospheric research scientists stopped over in Rarotonga last Sunday as part of their mission to take samples of thirty different gases in the atmosphere on their trip from the North Pole to the South Pole.
Project manager, Pavel Romaskin told the Herald the team of scientists are from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research based in Colorado which is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) based in Washington DC.
Their mission is to fly in ‘real time’ as they monitor air samples all along their route from Anchorage and then almost to the North Pole, then flying back over USA down to Kona, Hawaii, flying close to American Samoa and then heading to Rarotonga.
Gas samples are taken at 1000 feet intervals from 3000 feet to 28,000 feet and even as high as 40,000 feet to measure the vertical transport of carbon dioxide. The samples are collected by the special instruments which are fitted to the aircraft which measure the exact content of the atmosphere from 30 different gases and chemicals including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, nitrous oxide, greenhouse gases, ozone gases, CFCs and so on.
Pavel advised that Air Rarotonga takes part in the NCAR tests with twice monthly samples which are sent to the National Science Foundation in the USA.
The aircraft is fitted with two independent monitoring systems, the automated system and the manually calibrated system from data entered by the scientists themselves.
The resultant data from each system is then compared and the results entered into the computer database plus satellite data and this is ‘melded together.’ By this means, the scientists are able to improve their computer modelling for climate change information. The data is very accurate and based on ‘real time’ information gathered on the mission.
During their time in Rarotonga, the team took time to adjust their instruments to ensure they were in tip top condition for the next leg of the journey to Christchurch, then down to Antarctica where they will be hosted by the Office of the Polar Program (OPP) at the McMurdo Base.
From there, they will fly to Wollongong, NSW where they will ‘dive’ over the airport and then continue on to Honiara for a stop over and eventually return to their home base in Colorado. This particular mission is the second of the series of five campaigns (in which there are 10-11 research flights per campaign) that will continue until 2012.
The results will be shared among scientists who will then write papers and discussion papers to be distributed to all who are interested in such information.

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