Kevin McMahon, August 1, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin McMahon
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 26 – August 7, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
August 1, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 42 deg 56.49 N
Lon. 70 deg 33.31 W
Heading 235 deg
Speed 8.2 kts
Barometer 1015.4 mb
Rel Humidity 90.2%
Temp. 18.2C

0740 hours. We spent most of the past evening in a stationary position very near the Isle of Shoals. A very beautiful moonlit evening. We now are on a heading almost due east of the Isle of Shoals, again looking for the NYC, Boston plume.

It is a continual quest, not quite like Ahab and his search for the white whale but a quest none the less. The scientists aboard the RONALD H. BROWN have embarked upon a continual search. Someone once said that one of the great joys in life is getting nature to give up one of her secrets. Meaning that the fun and excitement in science is learning how things work. Each in his or her way is really trying to gain an understanding of how the world works.

Today I spoke with Hans Osthoff. He is a young man with an intense desire to learn about the chemistry of our atmosphere. Hans works for NOAA at the Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. As a young boy he developed a love for chemistry and stayed with it. He now has advanced degrees in Analytical and Physical Chemistry.

Aboard the ship he runs a piece of equipment which is extremely sophisticated. It is called a Cavity Ringdown Spectrometer. It can measure the diffusion of light as it is passed through a sample of air which is contained in a copper tube. At each end of the copper tube there are parabolic mirrors. As a beam of laser light enters the tube, it bounces back and forth many times before exiting at the other end. The time the beam of light spends in the tube is measured and allows scientists to measure concentrations of:

NO2 NO3 N2O5

Once the concentrations have been found, the scientist can then calculate the reactions rates and the products which will be introduced to our atmosphere.

In the end, we will all gain a better understanding of our atmosphere and hopefully learn how to better maintain our environment.


Can you name the three compounds above?

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