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Stéphane and me next to the QCL (quantum cascade laser) instrument on board the Atmospheric Research Aircraft.

Stéphane and me next to the QCL (quantum cascade laser) instrument, which measures methane and nitrous oxide, on board the Atmospheric Research Aircraft. It really is a lab in the sky! Photo by Sue Nelson of Boffin Media.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email, asking if I could take part in recording a Planet Earth podcast, with one of my colleagues (Planet Earth is the Natural Environment Research Council’s magazine). Of course I immediately agreed, as the MAMM team love sharing their work with the world!

So, a few Mondays ago, I went over to Cranfield, where the Atmospheric Research Aircraft is based when it’s not on field campaigns, to meet with Stéphane Bauguitte, one of the MAMM team who runs the fast greenhouse gas analyser and is a flight manager (amongst other things), and Sue Nelson, who was interviewing us and recording the podcast.

It was lucky that the aircraft was not only in the hangar and not out flying, but the instruments we use to measure the methane in the air were still on board. Many other projects don’t need to measure the methane, so the engineers remove the unnecessary kit, and replace it with other instruments to measure different things in the atmosphere.

We had a great time showing Sue the aircraft — I think she was suitably impressed by its size! Listen to the podcast to find out just how noisy it is on board, and to find out about our exploits in the Arctic.

Michelle.

The aircraft at home in the hangar at Cranfield. Photo by Sue Nelson of Boffin Media.

The aircraft at home in the hangar at Cranfield. Photo by Sue Nelson of Boffin Media.

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Friday 20th September, afternoon.

After the thick cloud of the morning flight, and a satellite picture that showed cloud cover over the whole area we wanted to fly in, things were not looking too promising for this afternoon’s flight. This is because we want to fly low over the wetlands (at minimum safe altitude, which is about 500ft), however the pilots need to have sight of the ground in order to descend that low. With this in mind, we were slightly worried that we might not be able to get down to low level at all!  But the only way to know what is out there is to go out and see, so we set off with our fingers crossed.

We were planning to head north out of Kiruna, but somewhere along the line some wires got crossed, and the pilots set a course to the way point to the south. The confusion unfolded thusly (I paraphrase):

Ian (pilot): heading for way point N7.

Keith (mission scientist one): do you mean N1?

Ian: no, way point N7.

Keith: Oh.

So we decided there was no real reason why going to N7 or N1 was any better than the other, so we proceeded. And in the end, we concluded that this was a sound decision and Ian should be more involved in the flight planning in future! This is because after flying for a short while within the cloud layer, we found a break and descended to our favoured low altitude. And the first leg at this level (shown below) was excellent for measuring a methane and carbon dioxide gradient! In the figure below, the methane (black) and carbon dioxide (red) shown is for the west-to-east leg shown in the flight track plot. The first half of the leg shows a gradual decrease in methane, which then levels out. This is consistent with many other flights we’ve done. This could be because there are a lot more pine trees and sandy soil in the eastern end, which are not really methane emitting.

The first part of our flight track, alongside preliminary methane (black) and carbon dioxide (red) measurements.

The first part of our flight track, alongside preliminary methane (black) and carbon dioxide (red) measurements.

So despite the initial confusion, and the potential for a complete wash-out, we got some great measurements which will add to those we already have. And we got home in time for dinner (back to the hotel before 7pm for once) so all in all, a most successful day’s flying!

–Dr Michelle Cain, University of Cambridge

The Barometer Podcast

We’ll have more blog posts tomorrow, but in the mean time, listen to many of the MAMM scientists talk about this project on the Barometer Podcasts. Currently, podcasts include Sam Illingworth and Jennifer Muller as hosts, and John Pyle, Grant Allen and Michelle Cain as guests, and there will be more to come in the next few days…

…will be the blog of the MAMM (methane in the Arctic: measurements and modelling) project. Check out what we did last summer by looking at this interactive map (click on the MAMM check boxes and info buttons) or last year’s blog posts (the link is to the first of several consecutive posts). We shall be back here in July 2013 for this summer’s campaign.

The research aircraft flying over wetlands in Finland in July 2012.

The research aircraft flying over wetlands in Finland in July 2012. (Photo credit: Nicola Warwick, University of Cambridge.)