Archives for posts with tag: Kiruna

This week in Kiruna, Sweden was my first field trip and first time north of the Arctic Circle. This time of the year there is 24 hour daylight, a stark contrast to the vision I had of Santa Claus’ home – who knew that in Lapland you have to pack sunscreen! It all makes sense if you think about the reason for the field trip, the wetlands, and how as the temperature gets warmer methane is released.

On Monday afternoon I had my first flight, and not only was the science experience great but the view was spectacular!

Wetlands out of the window of my first science flight (Photo: Ines Heimann)

Wetlands out of the window of my first science flight (Photo: Ines Heimann)

We flew two different low East-West legs from Kiruna over the Finnish wetlands (most likely the more brownish areas, see photo). What I did not expect was such a bumpy ride: even with very low winds, 500 ft above ground means lots of little air holes and little bumps! Luckily, one of the science aims was to profile up to higher altitudes, to assess the local atmosphere’s vertical structure.

Inside the aircraft. (Photo: Ines Heimann)

Inside the aircraft. (Photo: Ines Heimann)

Seeing the measurements in real time while flying is definitely a wonderful experience! It took a while to get my first plots working, but afterwards, every little variation I spotted in methane was a highlight. The flight for me was therefore not as “dull” as the Mission Scientist 1 (an old hand at this) called it.

An interesting aspect of the flights was the discussions over the headphones deciding whether to continue the planned flight or to change altitude to get a better idea of concentrations or fluxes.

The flying on Monday was followed by yet another first-time experience: flight planning for Thursday – no mean feat! The office space in a hangar did help to imagine a plane journey!

Inside the hangar, where our office was based. (Photo: Ines Heimann)

Inside the hangar, where our office was based. (Photo: Ines Heimann)

It is only when I helped produce a plan that I realised how much work goes into a successful research flight and a successful measurement campaign. I learned that weather is probably the most important but also variable factor.

Considering the rain, wind and cloud forecast for Thursday, we prepared two different sortie plans, considering timings, distances and the altitudes for the measurements to ensure the fuel would bring us back to Kiruna.

Unfortunately Thursday arrived with a near constant cloud cover making flying at low altitudes impossible due to bad visibility. We tried our luck and found a gap south of Kiruna and managed to fly a quarter of our flight track at the desired altitude of 1000 ft under the clouds. Lucky me, who took an anti-sickness pill before take-off!

A cloudy day for flying over the wetlands. (Photo: Ines Heimann)

A cloudy day for flying over the wetlands. (Photo: Ines Heimann)

The rain arrived soon after the first leg and we ended up profiling up and down the atmosphere searching for different methane layers transported from other regions and sources. Analysis will show whether we got lucky!

In conclusion, this week was full of interesting and fascinating new experiences, and showed me how exciting science can be and how much we depend on our environment!

Ines Heimann (University of Cambridge)

Norwegian's South coast, as seen from Transit flight to Kiruna (Photo credit: Jennifer Muller, University of Manchester.)

Norway’s south coast, as seen from the transit flight to Kiruna (Photo credit: Jennifer Muller, University of Manchester.)

I have been working on the FAAM BAe-146 atmospheric research aircraft as instrument scientist for three years now and I am looking after an instrument that measures two greenhouse gases, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).  Today was our first day of the aircraft MAMM campaign, and this morning (15 August) the aircraft left Cranfield in the UK and flew straight to Kiruna in Sweden. This was my first transit flight, and although the main objective of the flight was to basically get to Kiruna, our base here in North Sweden,  we did sample the air outside and had the instruments running. We saw some small pockets with higher methane levels  (not sure exactly where they were coming from though…) and the real interesting stuff is expected to happen in the science flights over the coming days. Transit flights are a little different from science flights, because in addition to the pilots, the cabin crew, flight manager, mission and instrument scientists, there are also engineers, ground operations managers and technical staff onboard. These guys are normally on the ground, making sure everything goes to plan & keeping the aircraft in top condition, ready to fly.  Having them onboard is like travelling with your kitchen sink — the whole team is with you, and it’s kind of a nice feeling, like nothing can go wrong if you’ve got the aircraft engineer with you…

There are a few things about flying on the 146 that are really special and never cease to amaze or amuse me.  For instance, we get served tea or coffee, and some sandwiches, fruit, chocolate bars — and this is whilst we are working! At what other field site or campaign does that happen? Just awesome.  Another thing, that is just really cool, are the views we get to see from the aircraft. When the aircraft is flying high enough, we are allowed to stand up from our seats and walk around in the cabin (check our instruments of course!) and look out of the windows — so many photo opportunities! Or just to look and marvel at the beautiful landscape below us, or the clouds and colourful sunset on the horizon. There are other little things that are kind of special. During certain sections of the flight, we get to hear what the pilots are saying, so sometimes you can a real insight as to how they are doing things (like negotiating a change in flight plan with the mission scientist, or counting down the altitude levels on a missed approach), and sometimes it’s just a chance to learn what’s the pilot’s favourite hobby.

The aircraft is a special place to do science, it is very much a team effort, but also the pressure can be really on you personally, when you know you only have a few hours to sample a particular area, and you have this one go at it, and sometimes you just pray that the kit works and doesn’t throw an instrument tantrum and says “no”. Because then aircraft work becomes really stressful:  fixing a problem with little time, constricted space and limited options to try things out to fix things is not the best, but as John Pyle said in his MAMM welcome blog post “We can’t guarantee success but we’ll work our socks off to give ourselves the best possible chance.”

So, in that vein, let MAMM begin.

— Dr Jennifer Muller, University of Manchester, @jenniferbmuller

Some of the MAMM team on detachment in July 2012 at the airport in Kiruna, Sweden.

Some of the MAMM team on detachment in July 2012 at the airport in Kiruna, Sweden.

Methane is a key greenhouse gas; the Arctic is a key region for natural emissions of methane; high summer and autumn are key periods when emissions can peak and change rapidly. Understanding the relevant processes is a key to climate prediction. As will be explained in the next blog post, the MAMM project aims to unlock some of the mysteries.

Our second intensive aircraft campaign, a complement to a longer ground-based measurement effort, kicks off on August 15, 2013. It’s an exciting – and slightly scary – period for the scientists involved. Will instruments work? Will the atmosphere cooperate? Will we be in the right place at the right time? We can’t guarantee success but we’ll work our socks off to give ourselves the best possible chance.

Intensive fieldwork is hugely rewarding – the camaraderie provides a real high. And the Arctic is a beautiful place to go. Twenty years ago, I was involved in a series of pan-European campaigns, based in Kiruna in northern Sweden, to understand Arctic stratospheric ozone loss. We were there in the winter, in a snowy landscape where temperatures fall well below zero and there is little daylight. Lakes and bogs are frozen for many months. Now, we hope to measure the methane emissions which emanate from the wetlands when the temperatures rise. Last year, we saw emission hot spots over the Finnish wetlands. This time we hope to characterise their temperature dependence. Last year we also flew to Svalbard; we’ll probably revisit and make new measurements there in September when the Arctic ocean  ice coverage will be at a minimum.

We don’t know exactly what we’ll find. That’s the nature of science. But we expect that unravelling whatever we do find will be challenging – and lots of fun.

Professor John Pyle, Principal Investigator of the MAMM project, University of Cambridge.