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?

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.

Kirk Beckendorf, July 7, 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 7, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude- 42 30.79 N
Longitude- 70 33.32 W
Air Pressure 1011.28 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface NW
Wind Speed at surface <10 MPH
Wind Direction at 1 Kilometer- WNW
Wind Speed at 1 Kilometer <10 MPH
Wind Direction at 2 Kilometers W
Wind Speed at 2 Kilometer 10 MPH
Cloud cover and type Clear

Science and Technology Log

We hear a lot about the hole in the ozone layer and that the ozone layer is being destroyed, however, in a lot of areas we also hear that the ozone levels are often too high. How can we have too little and too much at the same time?

A number of the scientists on board are studying ozone. I spent a large part of today with one of them, Anne Thompson. Anne is a chemist who works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. While on the BROWN she plans to launch an ozonesonde once a day. Like the radiosondes they are carried high into the atmosphere by a helium balloon. However, the balloon has to be a lot larger because it lifts a bigger package. Anne has a radiosonde and a GPS riding piggy back on the ozonesonde. All three instruments will be packaged and duct taped together. Preparing the sonde is a tedious and time consuming task. Many steps must be performed to insure that the device runs correctly and measures accurately. It will need to detect the amount of ozone in parts per billion. The steps must be completed on a set time table; some must occur a few days and others a few hours before release. Filling and launching the balloon is the fun and easy part (it also makes the best pictures) but it must be done correctly to protect the balloon and to make sure that the balloon is filled enough, but not too much.

Today’s launch, ascent and data collection went flawlessly. The ozonesonde was released at 10:05 AM ET. It was really cool because the computer was immediately receiving signals from the sonde. In real time we watched as the ozone levels were instantly graphed by the computer as the balloon ascended. It rose at a rate of 4-5 meters/second. At first the amount of ozone was at an acceptable level but once the balloon reach about 3 kms, ozone levels increased and but then dropped. This was a layer of ozone pollution. Another layer of pollution was detected at about 6 kms. Once the instruments reached about 17 km, the graph showed a major increase in the amount of ozone. This was the good ozone layer. About 2.5 hours after launch when it was 38.6 kms (about 23 miles) high, the balloon popped and everything fell back to Earth still collecting data.

As part of this study five other sondes were released on land. The data from all 6 launches have already been used by the computer modelers. They have made their predictions of where the ozone polluted layers of air will be three days from now.

So how can there be both too much and not enough ozone? The simple answer is: when the ozone is way above the Earth’s surface, like that measured at 17 +kms, by today’s ozonesonde, the ozone will block some of the sun’s UV rays which can be harmful to life on Earth. If there is not enough ozone in that layer, too much of the harmful UV rays get to the Earth’s surface.

However, too much ozone can be harmful for people to breathe, especially for those people who have asthma or other breathing problems. If there is too much ozone close to the Earth’s surface, like the layers measured at 3 and 6 kilometers today, the ozone gas can threaten people’s health.

Questions of the Day

What is the speed of the ozonesonde in miles per hour?

At what altitude do airliners generally fly?

In which layer of the atmosphere is the “good” ozone?

In which layer is the “bad” ozone?

Kirk Beckendorf, July 4, 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 4, 2004

Science and Technology Log

Imagine a chunk of polluted air over a city or an individual power plant. How could you find that same air in 2, 3 or 4 days?

This morning in Portsmouth, I ate breakfast with Wayne Angevine who works at NOAA’s Aeronomy Lab in Boulder, Colorado. It will be his job during this air quality study to predict where that polluted air will be in the next few days. He and the other meteorologist working with him, will not only be predicting how far and in which direction the air has gone, but also how high it is.

These predictions can then be used to direct the airplanes and the ship being used in the NEAQS study to that “chunk” of air so it can be sampled and measured to determine how the pollutants have changed from day to day.

Although 31 scientists and I will be on NOAA’s RONALD H. BROWN, the ship is just one part of NEAQS. Wayne and dozens of other modelers and scientist will be coordinating the project from Pease International Trade Center in New Hampshire. Approximately one dozen aircraft from Europe to the Midwestern US will be collecting data. A number of land based sites will also be collecting weather and air quality data. All of this information will help the project managers determine their next move on a daily basis and what happens to New England’s pollution once it has been released it into the atmosphere.

Personal Log

This afternoon at my hotel I loaded my duffel bag of clothes, my laptop and cameras into a cab and set off for the BROWN. When I arrived, the gate in the chain link fence surrounding the port area was locked and I didn’t know the combination. I unloaded all my bags on the ground, paid the cab and waited. Eventually, someone leaving the ship came through the gate and I was able to get in. A Lieutenant on board took me to my stateroom and gave me another quick tour of the ship. The rest of the afternoon I spent visiting with some of the scientists. I will give a more detail explanation of what they do once we get under way but Bill Kuster showed me his two instruments which measure specific kinds of molecules in the atmosphere. One measures in real time and the other takes samples every 30 minutes. The samples are later analyzed. I then visited with Anne Thompson who studies ozone and will be launching ozonesondes once a day.

Question of the Day

What is an ozonesonde?