Kevin McMahon, August 4, 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 4, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 44 deg 07.58 N
Lon. 68 deg 01.74 W
Heading 035 deg
Speed 7.6 kts
Barometer 1005.17 mb
Rel Humidity 98.3%
Temp. 15.5 C

Daily Log

0700 hours and we are off Mount Desert Island. The air is cool with a light fog over the water and partly cloudy skies above.

The morning was spent on a heading of 035 degrees as we continue our move to the Northeast. I am told that we will just make it to the boundary area between the U.S. and Canadian border. Then we will reverse our course. It is hoped that by being close to the coastline and with the winds cooperating that the ships scientist will be able to measure some of the organic biogenics being produces by the forests of Maine. The relationship between the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) which are natural in nature, and man made pollutants produced by the combustion of hydrocarbon products is one of the areas that scientist are working to understand.

0930 hours. I have been spending some time on the bridge transferring the Ships Sighting Log to an Excel Spreadsheet File and then putting the file on the ships website so that some of the scientist can compare their pollution data with various ships we have encountered.

I had a brief tour of the LIDAR (Light Radar) operation today. But we needed to cut it short as they were in the middle of a software problem. I plan to return tomorrow when the equipment is functioning more reliably.

1600 hours.

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 44 deg 06.37 N
Lon. 68 deg 12.10 W
Heading 220 deg
Speed 7.4 kts
Barometer 1003.89 mb
Rel Humidity 88.96%
Temp. 15.35 C

We seem to be charting a course to enter one of the many fiords around Mt. Desert Island, ME.

2030 hours. We are in a fjord near Mt. Desert Island off the town of Bass Harbor. Instead of setting the anchor, the ship will hold position with its bow into the wind using its thrusters which are controlled by the GPS system. The plan is for the atmospheric sensors to measure the organic biogenic compounds which are produced by the forests of the surrounding area.

Kevin McMahon, July 29, 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:
July 29, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 42 deg 43.99
Lon. 70deg 02.99
Barometer 1015.71 mb
Rel Humidity 94.6%
Temp. 17.1 C
Radiosond aloft at 0710.

Daily Log

Science meeting at 0800. It has been decided that we will try to rendezvous with the J31 out of Pease at approximately 1130 and if all goes well send another radiosonde aloft.

Since I came onboard the RONALD H. BROWN on the 26th of July I have been completely amazed at how sophisticated life onboard a modern research vessel has become. On the first day waiting in line for lunch I inquired as to how long we can expect to have the fresh fruits and vegetables? Mr. Whitehead, the chief steward answered me that, “we always serve up fresh salads, very little of our produce is frozen.” When I inquired as to how they do it, I was informed that the ships refrigeration system was equipped with a device which filters out the Ethylene, a compound which causes produce to rot. As a result we can expect to have fresh salads on a daily basis.

This little tidbit of information got me to thinking about the possibility of a lesson plan which would incorporate some chemistry and some biology.

Questions

1. Can you draw the molecular structure of Ethylene?

2. What bacteria are involved in the spoilage of food and how does the elimination of ethylene play a part in this process?

Most of my time over the last 3 days has been spent getting to know the ship, the crew, and the scientific staff. It is odd in that I am being drawn more towards the operation of the vessel than I am to the scientific community. But both aspects are keeping me busy.

I have been working with Dan Wolfe, one of the main meteorologists onboard. I had thought that because I teach Earth Science, I knew something about weather forecasting. I have a long way to go. It has been an education. We have been sending aloft four radiosonde balloons per day. One every six hours. Each device is carried aloft by a balloon filled with helium. The radiosonde sends back to the ship its location, direction of travel, velocity, and altitude as a result of the barometric pressure.

Question

Which gas law equation does one use to calculate the relationship between pressure and volume?

1400 hours and I have just been informed that my hands are needed to assist with the preparation and launch of an ozonesonde. 1500 hours and we have been informed that a DC3 out of Pease will rendezvous with us in about 30 minutes. An ozonesonde has many of the characteristics of the radiosonde but also has the capability to measure ozone levels at various altitudes. It also has a longer life span and stays aloft about 2 hours and 45 minutes. The DC3 is really an aerial platform which has equipment onboard to measure ozone. I have been informed that the DC3 is nearing our location so it is time to fill the balloon.

Kirk Beckendorf, July 24, 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 24, 2004

Daily Log

I actually moved off the ship today and got a hotel room. All day there was a big meeting at the University of New Hampshire about 30 minutes from here. Scientists from the BROWN, from the airplanes, the land based measurement systems, those in charge of the satellite data, weather forecasting, and the computer models all gave short presentations. This was a big version of our nightly show and tell that we had on the BROWN. Because NEAQS-ITCT is such a huge research project, this meeting was necessary to help everyone know what has been happening in each part of the project and what should be done the next few weeks. It is kind of like a football team gathering in a huddle between plays.

Kevin will be the new teacher on the ship for the second leg of the research cruise. I showed him around the BROWN and introduced him to a number of the scientist. I also bought a new t-shirt. The BROWN helped re-explore the Titanic a few months ago and the Titanic shirts they ordered were delivered today.

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 17, 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 17, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 6:20 PM ET
Latitude- 43 20.33 N
Longitude- 68 18.92 W
Air Temperature 17 degrees C
Water Temperature 14 degrees C
Air Pressure 1009 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Southwest
Wind Speed at surface 7 MPH
Cloud cover and type Clear

Daily Log

How is it possible to tell if we are in pollution when we can’t even see it?

This morning I went through the normal routine of helping launch the ozonesonde at 10:00. Because it was a sunny day Drew Hamilton could make Sunop measurements throughout the afternoon so I helped with that. We specifically timed the Sunops so that we were taking measurements at the same times that three satellites were crossing overhead. The satellites were taking similar measurements looking down, while we were taking them looking up. Later, our measurements will be compared with those of the satellites.

In general, air pollution is a combination of particles and gases. I have discussed the particles in previous logs, but not much about the gases. A large number of the scientists involved in NEAQS-ITCT are studying these gases. I have spent a large amount of time talking with Eric Williams, Brian Lerner, Sallie Whitlow, Paul Goldan, Bill Kuster, Hans Osthoff and Paul Murphy. They have instruments on board which measure many of the different gases related to air pollution. But not all air pollution is the same.

The cause of the pollution determines what gases and particles are in the pollution. Gasoline powered automobiles release one combination of gas and particles. Diesel engines produce another combination. Coal burning power plants release yet a different combination. Natural gas power plants release (Yep, you guessed it) yet a different combination. In a city these get mixed together, so individual cities have there own unique pollution depending on the number of automobiles, power plants and factories. To make things more complicated, once these chemicals are released into the atmosphere and start mixing together, in the presence of sunlight they react with one another making additional gases and destroying others. What eventually happens to these pollutants and where they go, are two of the questions these scientists are seeking to answer. But answering these questions is very difficult, in part because things get extremely complicated very quickly. As Paul Goldan told me, part of the reason we need to make so many different kinds of measurements is because we are not even sure exactly what we are looking for.

Today as we criss-crossed back and forth through two plumes of pollution Eric showed me some of today’s data. As always, his instruments were measuring and recording some of the gases in the air. The quantities and kinds of gases changed as we went back and forth, helping to map where the pollution was located and how it has changed. Nothing looked different outside, but from the measurements he was taking he could tell that one of the plumes was younger than the other.

During the nightly meeting, Paul Goldan and Tim Bates presented completely different kinds of measurements that agreed with what Eric’s data showed. This comparing of daily observations will help confirm the accuracy of the observations and what they actually mean.

Questions of the Day

Where is the electricity in your house produced?

What kind of fuel is used to make your electricity?

What kind of fuel is burnt to make your automobiles run?

Who should be responsible for the pollution produced to make the electricity you use?

Kirk Beckendorf, July 15, 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 15, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 8:00 AM ET
Latitude- 45 53.18 N
Longitude- 70 36.48 W
Air Temperature 14 degrees C
Air Pressure 1000 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Northeast
Wind Speed at surface 3 MPH

Daily Log

Yeah!!! The sun is trying to come out, the rains have stopped and the sea has calmed down. No I didn’t get sea sick, but it is hard to sleep when your bed is swaying back and forth and up and down. The winds have shifted and the scientists are hoping that the winds may be blowing some pollution our way. Seems like a strange thing to hope for, but of course they are here to study pollution and the wind has been blowing it away from us.

Why should anybody care if we add microscopic particles to the air?

Yesterday, I discussed one of the techniques used to study the microscopic particles that are in the atmosphere. But so what, why does anyone care about these tiny specks? Air pollution made by automobiles, power plants, factories and ships all contain both gases and particles. To be able to predict the changes resulting from air pollution, we have to learn all we can about the gases and the particles being released.

When the pollution is released into the atmosphere, the gases and particles start traveling with the air. (Just like pouring a quart of motor oil into a river.) Gradually the gases and particles spread out into the surrounding atmosphere. The gases can recombine and may start changing into other chemicals, but that’s another story I will get to soon.

The particles are not all the same. They come in different sizes and are made of a variety of chemicals. There are two main concerns about these little chunks floating along in the sea of gas; health hazards and climate change. If you take a breath, not only do you inhale the gas, but also all of the particles floating in the gas. Some of these particles may have a negative effect on a person’s health.

The main interest in the particles here on the BROWN is the effect they have on climate change. The Earth is of course warmed by the energy (light) coming from the sun. The more energy (light) the Earth gets and keeps, the warmer our temperatures. The less energy (light) the Earth gets and keeps, the cooler the temperatures. Pretty simple stuff? Not at all.

When sunlight shines down through the atmosphere and hits a particle the sunlight can either bounce off of the particle or be absorbed into the particle. If the light bounces back out of the atmosphere the Earth does not keep the light’s energy and there is a cooling effect. When light is absorbed into the particle, the energy (heat) will now be in the atmosphere and so there is a heating effect. Some particles absorb more light than others, so some have a cooling effect on the Earth’s atmosphere and others have a heating effect. One of the questions being asked is, overall do the particles cool the atmosphere or heat the atmosphere? This is not as simple of a question as it sounds, because there are also a lot of indirect effects that are not yet understood.

These microscopic chunks also affect clouds and cloud formation, but how much of an effect is not completely understood. The particles may cause clouds to be less likely to rain or at least, not rain as often. These microscopic particles in air pollution could have an effect on where and when it rains. So the scientists, here on the BROWN, are gathering data to help them try and understand the impact that particles will play in changing the Earth’s climate. Part of their task, is to determine where the particles are from, the numbers, sizes, and chemistry of the particles.

If I lost you in all of that, maybe it will help to put it all in a nutshell. These scientists are studying the type and number of particles in air pollution, to try and understand what effect these little chunks may be having on the Earth’s temperature and water cycle.

As Tim Bates said, we are trying to put together a large jigsaw puzzle and we don’t know what picture is on the puzzle. First we have to find all of the pieces. Then we have to put together the puzzle. We are now at the point that we think we have found most of the pieces and now we are trying to put them together. As you can see from the picture I sent in today there is some relaxation time, in the middle of all the data analysis.

Questions of the Day

The smaller particles are measured in nanometers how much of a meter is 1 nanometer?

If the wind is blowing 5 meters/second and we are 50 miles from Boston how long will it take Boston’s pollution to reach us?

Typical unpolluted air will have about 1000 particles in every cubic centimeter of air. What is something that has a volume of about 1 cubic centimeter?

Kirk Beckendorf, July 12, 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 12, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 8:30 AM ET
Latitude- 42 47.28 N
Longitude- 70 42.29 W
Air Temperature 17
Air Pressure 1019 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Southeast

Daily Log

Why are so many methods used to measure air quality, why not just one or two simple tests?

I received an email from Paige who is a student at Obsidian Middle School where I teach. She asked how air samples are taken and how air quality is measured. Those are two very big and good questions, without simple answers. This is one of the reasons that there are several hundred scientists working on NEAQS. I emailed Paige a fairly short answer but will give a more detailed explanation here. In some of the previous logs that I have written here on the BROWN, I explained some of the techniques somewhat in detail but I haven’t given you an overview, so here we go. Great questions Paige!!!

There are many different ways that the air is sampled and measured. In some cases, such as the LIDARs, samples are not taken at all. The LIDARs shoot light through the atmosphere, some of the light bounces back to the LIDAR, and this helps to measure some of what is in the air. The ozonesonde immediately and constantly measures the amount of ozone as the balloon rises through the atmosphere.

In other cases air is sucked into tubes mounted on towers at the front of the ship and the other end of the tube goes to the scientists’ equipment. (See the pictures, the big white upside down funnel and the smaller pink upside down funnel, are two of the inlets shown.) Sometimes samples are actually stored and in others the air quality is measured immediately.

Some of the instruments measure many chemicals such as one designed, built and run by Paul Goldan and Bill Kuster. It pulls in a sample of air every 30 minutes and in 5 minutes automatically measures about 150 different kinds of chemicals. It can measure the chemicals in parts per trillion. If you made some Kool-Aid that was one part per trillion, you would mix 1 drop of Kool-Aid into 999,999,999,999 drops of water. It certainly wouldn’t taste like Kool-Aid.

Other instruments measure one or just a few of the chemicals that are in the air. Today Hans Osthoff showed me a piece of equipment that he uses to measure air quality. He uses it to measure three specific chemicals in the air. One of Eric Williams’ instruments sucks in air and measures the amount of ozone every second, 24 hours a day.

Tim Bates showed me a number of pieces of equipment which suck in air and can used to find, in real time, the size and chemical composition of the particles that are floating in the air. These particles can be so small that it may take 250,000 or more laid side by side to be an inch long. Dave Covert and Derek Coffman showed me their equipment which removes particles from the air. These particles are then collected by Theresa Miller and Kristen Schulz who will analyze them. Some of the samples will be analyzed here on the ship and other samples will be analyzed once they return to Seattle.

So why not just one or two simple tests? Why so many?

Our atmosphere and the pollution in it are extremely complicated. Even though air is about 99% nitrogen and oxygen it also contains hundreds of other chemicals which are very important. Some are natural, some are man-made and some are both. This soup of chemicals is constantly changing and moving. To be able to understand pollution in the atmosphere we have to understand all of the parts. This goes back to the elephant I mentioned a few days ago. The more parts we observe and the more ways we observe the parts the better we will understand our elephant. If you feel the elephant’s leg you learn a little, if you use your nose and smell the elephant’s leg you learn a bit more, if you use your tongue and lick the elephant’s leg you will learn even more about the elephant. Understanding the pollution in our atmosphere is similar. Each type of measurement has advantages and disadvantages but each tells you more about the pollution and the atmosphere. Combined all together they can eventually give us an understanding of the whole elephant.

We had another abandon ship drill today.

Questions of the Day

What is the ozone level today where you live?

What is the level of particles where you live?

What is the maximum limit of ozone as set by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)?

Hint: You can probably find these on the Internet.