17th August 2013 – morning flight

Reading the last blog entry, which was written whilst we were in the air on the morning flight of Saturday 17th August, it was definitely advisable for Michelle to have taken a pre-emptive Kwells before take-off! The turbulence at the low levels, coupled with the lack of sleep for some of the scientists because of drunken Swedes out celebrating the end of the working week, meant that there were certainly a few queasy tummies on board today. I had also decided to indulge in a pre-emptive Kwells, which given my breakfast of waffles and half a pound of full-fat cream definitely proved to be the wise decision!

During the flight we were able to get below the cloud layer of an approaching front, meaning that we could take a lot of low level readings over some of the target the Arctic wetlands in Northern Sweden and Finland, and whilst we didn’t see any methane enhancements indicative of high wetland emissions, we sampled a rather large amount of methane in an air mass that we believed to have come from north west Russia. Again, without full validation and calibration of the measurements it is difficult to say for certain, but the simultaneous enhancement of carbon monoxide and aerosol (both products of incomplete combustion processes) would seem to indicate the transport of a polluted air mass, with initial back-trajectory models also confirming this.

On the way back to Kiruna we also managed to sample an elevated methane layer at around 8, 000 ft, which from the meteorological data that we had available to us seemed to be the result of us sampling a polluted European air mass, lifted up ahead of the front. All in all, a very scientifically interesting flight for the blue, or should I say slightly green team.

–Dr Sam Illingworth, University of Manchester

What it's like mid-flight on the Atmospheric Research Aircraft. (Photo credit: Michelle Cain.)

What it’s like mid-flight on the Atmospheric Research Aircraft. (Photo credit: Michelle Cain.)

17th August 2013 – afternoon flight

In this afternoon’s flight, we started off flying similar E-W transects to the latter part of this morning’s flight, to see what had changed in the intervening few hours. I think we saw some similar patterns to the blue team (aka the green team) this morning, although we have had less sickness on the flight. We should maybe rename ourselves the iron (or ferrum) team, in honour of both our iron stomachs and as a tribute to Kiruna (which only really exists because of a huge iron mine in the vicinity).

In any case, we saw more methane today than we saw yesterday, again with a nice gradient E-W. We also saw some high-methane levels aloft over the ocean. This means we might have seen methane from several different sources, but we’ll have to wait for the isotope analysis and back trajectory calculations to confirm that. Sam’s suggestion of Russian and European anthropogenic emissions is consistent with some of the forecast modelling we did, so I’ll go with that as a working hypothesis.

Aside from the excitement of the methane during the flight, we continued to get a running commentary from the pilots about the few caravans and cars they see in the wilds of northern Norway, the occasional Sami tent, whether the cows are small or far away, and various illusions that the terrain can play on pilot’s eyes to confuse them. Not the most reassuring topic of in-flight conversation. We also heard about “mission 1 finger”, which afflicts mission scientist one (in this case Keith), as they have to keep their finger on a switch to speak on the intercom. Possibly this is a clue that Keith should do less talking…

–Dr Michelle Cain, University of Cambridge

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