NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
July 4 – 23, 2004
Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 31, 2004
This will be my last day in New England with NEAQS-ITCT. Tomorrow morning I leave my hotel at 3:00 AM to drive to the airport to fly home to Oregon. The past month has been an amazing experience. I have been continually amazed at the complexity, cooperation and coordination involved in this massive air quality study. I have seen that the scientists are an extremely intelligent and hardworking group of men and women. They are truly committed to obtaining a thorough and accurate understanding of our global society’s air pollution problem so that solutions can be obtained.
Today Fred took me onto the WP-3, another of NOAA’s planes being used in NEAQS. Unlike the DC-3 which only has a LIDAR on board, the P3 is packed with many different scientific instruments. To be able to make as many measurements as possible, equipment is also attached underneath the wings, under the fuselage and even sticking out from the tail is a special cloud radar. The windows and body have been modified so that specially designed tubes stick out and suck air from the outside and feed it to the instruments inside the plane. Once we have climbed up the ladder and are inside, we can barely get passed the door.
In a couple of hours the P3 will take off for a night flight, but right now the plane is not only packed with the equipment, it is also packed with scientists making last minute adjustments to their instruments. Because there are so many air quality measurement instruments on board, there is very little room for people during the flight. Therefore the instruments need to be ready to run on their own with very little supervision.
Much of the equipment is similar to that found on the BROWN, but the plane will obviously be taking measurements higher in the atmosphere and over a larger area in a shorter amount of time, than can the BROWN. Also, because the plane is traveling a lot faster than the BROWN, if a measurement is made every 30 seconds and the P3 passes through a narrow plume of pollution the plume may not even be measured. It is therefore important for the measurements to be made very quickly and often.
The flight is intentionally leaving late in the day so that most of the flight will be after sunset. Sunlight is necessary for a lot of the chemical reactions that cause pollutants to change once they are in the air. Tonight’s flight is designed largely around a single instrument measuring the specific chemicals that are more likely to be in the atmosphere at night. During the day the sunlight breaks these chemicals down, yet they are a very important part of the pollution problem.
Since the beginning of July until about the end of August, for almost two months, the men and women involved in NEAQS will be making measurements from airplanes, from the BROWN, from satellites, from the top of Mt. Washington and other spots on land. But when I asked Fred what is the one thing my students should know about this project, he said that they need to realize that the real work starts after everyone is out of the field. The “Ah-ha” moments will occur over the next 8 -12 months as the data is being analyzed, that is when the real learning and understanding will happen.
Finally I would like to thank all of the scientists who were so generous, cooperative and patient with my many questions.