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
Date:
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.

Question

Can you name the three compounds above?

Kirk Beckendorf, July 31, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
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

Daily Log

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.

Kirk Beckendorf, July 30, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:
July 30, 2004

Daily Log

Besides the BROWN, the satellites, and the Airmap sites, there are thirteen different airplanes being used to collect air quality data for NEAQS. Several of these planes are currently flying out of Pease. Today, while the scientists and pilots were prepping the plane and the science instruments, I went on board the DC-3. The DC-3 is an airplane that is about 50 years old. The inside has been gutted and now there are just three seats, besides the two in the cockpit, and a LIDAR. The LIDAR is like the one that is on the BROWN but this one looks down, not up. It sends out a laser which can be used to determine the amount of ozone in the atmosphere below the plane. A large square hole, about 2 feet by two feet, has been cut through the bottom of the plane for the laser to shine down through and then for the light to bounce back into the instrument. The plane does not have a pressurized cabin so it is limited on how high it can fly. Most of the time during this flight, it will be at about 8000 ft. The DC-3 will also be flying slowly, about 100 miles per hour. This flight will take the crew and plane south and east and then out over the Atlantic, close to the BROWN.

This morning I talked to Fred . After we visited for a bit he recommended that I attend this afternoon’s planning meeting for tomorrow’s WP-3 flight. The meeting started at 5:30 with a brief discussion of the flight planned for tomorrow. Following that, in turn three of the scientists each explained to the rest of those attending the meeting what exactly each is studying and why. Remember the big elephant (from previous logs) that is being observed. Each scientist specializes on one very specific part of the pollution problem. To get a complete understanding of the problem all of these observations must be pieced together to a get a complete picture, which is the point of these science show and tells.

Kirk Beckendorf, July 29, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:
July 29, 2004

Daily Log

How can you map air?

Air moves and so does pollution. Some areas of the country which produce very little pollution may actually record high levels of pollution, because pollution from somewhere else moves there. A program called Airmap is a joint program of NOAA and the University of New Hampshire is seeking to look at some of that pollution. Check out their website at http://www.airmap.unh.edu. The goal of Airmap is to learn as much as they can to try and understand New England’s changing climate and air quality. Airmap has a number of year round monitoring stations, which this summer are also part of NEAQS. Their stations measure the normal weather data as well as a number of pollutants such as ozone.

Today I visited one of those sites in northern New Hampshire, at the top of Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in New England. The mountains are a lot larger than I had expected and are very densely forested. Mt. Washington is known to have some of the worst weather in the world and the monitoring station that I visited recorded the strongest winds ever recorded on Earth, 231 miles per hour. http://www.mountwashington.org/bigwind/. The buildings at the summit are specially designed to keep from them from blowing off of the mountain. One is even chained down. The observatory building is designed to survive winds of 300 mile per hour.The monitoring station at the top of the mountain is manned by a staff of about 8 during the summer and 4-5 during the winter. Every hour the observers go outside and take weather measurements, this takes them about 15 minutes. Most of the observers are college students or recent graduates. One of those who showed me around will be a freshman in college this next year. In addition to the weather data being collected, a bank of Airmap instruments also measure pollution. Some of the instruments are the same as those I saw on the Brown. The instruments are making constant automatic measurements.

I have become well aware that pollution can travel to unpolluted areas but today, here at the top of Mt. Washington, it really struck home. I drove three hours through fairly remote forest to get to the top of this mountain in northern New Hampshire. Looking out from the top, when the fog is not blowing through, one sees very little except for forest. But at this remote spot, several times a year, ozone reaches levels higher than the amount allowed by the EPA. I ask where it comes from, the answer I receive is that a lot of the pollution seems to from the Midwest, (the Chicago and Detroit area) some also comes from Boston and New York. Part of the goal of NEAQS is to learn more about the pollution as it travels from the areas which produce the pollution, to the areas that receive it.

Questions of the Day

How far would the pollution have to travel from Detroit to Mt. Washington?

Where are the rest of the Airmap monitoring sites?

Kirk Beckendorf, July 28, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:
July 28, 2004

Daily Log

How do you decide where to fly to find and measure pollution?

I spent today at the NEAQS Operation Center at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth. The Op Center is the temporary “headquarters” for the air quality study. It is located in a college campus. About 15 large classrooms are being used as group offices for the approximately 100 scientists. I arrived just in time for the morning DC-8 briefing. The DC-8 is a NASA research plane which is loaded with equipment similar to what is on the RON BROWN. This morning about 20 scientists are planning tomorrow’s flight.

To begin the meeting several meteorologists showed some current weather movements and their predictions for tomorrow. Then the modelers who predict pollution motion and chemical changes explain what they expect to be happening to some pollution tomorrow. What this group plans to study tomorrow is a large bunch of pollution moving out of the New England and out across the Atlantic Ocean. About half way to Europe the pollution makes a large loop to the south and then loops back north. They want to fly through all of the pollution and see how the chemicals change as the pollution ages. There are three satellites that will be passing overhead at specific times and they want to be under them. So they have to time their flight schedule accordingly. Once everyone is on the same page of the general plan, they start planning the actual flight. The main idea is to fly out over the Atlantic following the looping band of pollution. At several points they want to spiral up and down to take measurements close to the ocean surface all of the way to the top of the pollution.

With a computer image of the NE US and the N. Atlantic being projected onto a screen, one of the scientists begins to type in a flight plan, as he types in latitudes and longitudes the route shows up on the map. As the route is being plotted, there continues to be discussion about where they should go to get the best measurements. Because of the points brought up in the discussion, the route and where they will spiral up and down are changed a number of times. Finally they have a flight plan. However, it is about an hour longer than they should be in the air. So the route is modified and remodified a number of times, until everyone feels that they will be able to make the measurements needed, and still have enough fuel to get back.

Question of the Day

What is your latitude and longitude?

The pollution being sampled by the DC-8 is also being measured in the Azores? Where and what are the Azores?

 

Kirk Beckendorf, July 22, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:
July 22, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 4:50 PM ET
Latitude- 42 49.88 N
Longitude- 70 15.46 W
Air Temperature 20 degrees C
Water Temperature 17 degrees C
Air Pressure 1011 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Southwest
Wind Speed at surface 15 MPH
Cloud cover and type clear but hazy

Daily Log

Last night at sunset we were just out from Boston when we launched the radiosonde. The pollution levels were up and we had to look through a haze to see the downtown skyline. A sea breeze began blowing cleaner air to us from the east. Late last night we headed east to meet up with a couple of the airplanes this morning. The goal was to have us and two of NOAA’s research planes all under a satellite which will be orbiting overhead. Pollution measurements could be made at many different levels of the atmosphere plus instrument comparisons could be made.

Of course it was foggy again. Wayne Angevine, a meteorologist back on shore was looking at live weather satellite images and got word to us that close by was a clear spot in the fog. The flight crew in the airplanes confirmed what Wayne said. When we got to the latitude and longitude they had directed us to, we found clear skies. The plan worked. The planes flew by making their measurements, several satellites passed over head, the ozonesonde was launched, all of the instruments on the Brown were continuing to collect data and Drew and I did Sunops.

Later today the rest of the fog burnt off, but there was still a haze as we slowly made our way back to the west. We need to be in the vicinity of Portsmouth so that we can meet up with the harbor pilot tomorrow morning. The pilot will direct the ship back into Portsmouth at about noon. The timing is actually important because we need to go in at high tide. Tonight the plan is to continue back and forth through the urban pollution. Before we get to port tomorrow, a couple of the crew will be diving under the ship to do some maintenance that should be interesting to watch.

Today is my last full day at sea on the BROWN. This next week I will be visiting some of the land based scientists, facilities and activities involved in NEAQS. We get into port about noon tomorrow.

I asked some of the scientist what is the one thing my students should know about this research project on air pollution. Some of the statements were:

We are studying a very complicated situation with no simple answers.

To study something very complicated takes lots of coordination and cooperation from numerous organizations and a lot of people.

Air pollution is a global problem not a local problem. Even people in areas, like Redmond, OR, with little pollution should be concerned. Air pollution doesn’t stay where it is made. North America gets pollution from Asia, Europe gets pollution from N. America, Asia gets pollution from Europe.

Each one of us needs to realize that we are part of the problem.

Question of the Day

How can you be part of the solution not just part of the air pollution problem?

Kirk Beckendorf, July 19, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:
July 19, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time Noon ET
Latitude- 44 8.76 N
Longitude- 66 42.03 W
Air Temperature 12 degrees C
Water Temperature 9 degrees C
Air Pressure 1007 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface South
Wind Speed at surface 11 MPH
Cloud cover and type FOG!!!

Daily Log

Ozone can be a major pollutant but we don’t release it into the atmosphere, so where does it come from?

More fog!!! We are all getting tired of the fog. I wonder what the Nova Scotia coast looks like. We have been along the coast for awhile, but I only got a glimpse through the fog for a few minutes.

We followed the Boston pollution up here but now we are in clean air. It has been very interesting, for both the scientists and myself, to see how the kinds and amounts of the gases has changed as the pollution gets older. Leave a glass of milk in the sun on the kitchen counter for a few days and it will change. Air pollution floating in the air and cooking in the sun also changes.

Paul Goldan points out some of today’s data which shows that the air is coming from a pine forest. Every thirty minutes Paul’s equipment samples the air and measures the concentration of 150 different VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). Some VOC’s can be man made and others are natural. This morning’s data shows very low levels of human pollution but there are spikes in the graph for two chemicals that are released into the atmosphere by pine trees (the pine scent). We look at the wind profiler and see that the wind is blowing from Nova Scotia.

Avery Bell emailed and asked which pollutant is most potent. As I have mentioned, the two parts of air pollution are the gasses and the particles. According to several of the scientist on board, ozone and the very tiny particles are the two of most concern from a health standpoint. Small particles and ozone can both damage your lungs. For people who already have breathing problems (such as asthma or emphysema), it can make matters even worse. Ozone also damages plants, both wild and agricultural crops, reducing crop yields. The cost of agricultural losses was one of the first reasons that ozone became a concern.

Every day I spend time talking with some of the scientists who are here from NOAA’s Aeronomy Lab. They are studying ozone and many other gases in the atmosphere. To decrease ozone pollution is much more complicated than just saying let’s reduce the amount of ozone we release. We don’t release ozone into the atmosphere as a pollutant!!! It is made in the atmosphere when other gases combine in the presence of light.

Imagine you live in the desert and you plant a tree in your back yard. It of course needs water, air, nutrients from the soil and light to survive and grow. In your backyard it gets all of the light, air and nutrients that it needs; but imagine that you never water the tree. The tree survives because it gets a little rain, but it doesn’t grow much. Water is limiting its growth. If you water it a lot, the tree grows a lot.

High ozone levels occur in a similar way. For ozone to form, certain gases and sunlight have to be present. If there is only a small amount of those gases, only a small amount of ozone can form. But if there are a lot of those gases, a lot of ozone will form. In the unpolluted atmosphere, there are low amounts of the gases that are needed to make ozone. Guess what happens when we burn fuels to run our vehicles, to make electricity, to heat and cool our homes, and to make the products that we use every day. You guessed it; we release a lot of the gases that are needed to make ozone. Ozone can then reach the high levels necessary to become a health risk. It does not take that much ozone to be at a dangerous level. A level of 80 PPB (parts per billion) for 8 hours is considered too high.

It is very difficult to try and understand what 80 parts per billion really means but I’ll try to help. It takes about 31.7 years to have 1 billion seconds. Imagine how much air you would have if you took a breath every second for 31.7 years and blew all of the air into one balloon. Now imagine that 80 of those 1 billion breaths were ozone. The concentration of ozone in the balloon would be 80 PPB.

Questions of the Day

What are three activities that you do everyday that can add to the atmosphere the gases that help form ozone?

What can you do to reduce the amount of those gases that you are responsible for producing?

Based on the example in the last paragraph how many breaths of ozone could you have in the balloon if there was 1 PPB?