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Arctic Methane: Transiting to Kiruna

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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By Dr Jennifer Muller, @jenniferbmuller

I have been working on the FAAM BAe-146 research aircraft as instrument scientist for three years now and I am looking after an instrument that measures two greenhouse gases, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).  Today was our first day of the aircraft MAMM campaign, and this morning (15 August) the aircraft left Cranfield in the UK and flew straight to Kiruna in Sweden. This was my first transit flight, and although the main objective of the flight was to basically get to Kiruna, our base here in North Sweden, we did sample the air outside and had the instruments running.

Norway's south coast, as seen from transit flight to Kiruna (Photo credit: Jennifer Muller.)

Norway's south coast, as seen from transit flight to Kiruna (Photo credit: Jennifer Muller.)

We saw some small pockets with higher methane levels (not sure exactly where they were coming from though…) and the real interesting stuff is expected to happen in the science flights over the coming days. Transit flights are a little different from science flights, because in addition to the pilots, the cabin crew, flight manager, mission and instrument scientists, there are also engineers, ground operations managers and technical staff onboard. These guys are normally on the ground, making sure everything goes to plan & keeping the aircraft in top condition, ready to fly. Having them onboard is like travelling with your kitchen sink — the whole team is with you, and it’s kind of a nice feeling, like nothing can go wrong if you’ve got the aircraft engineer with you…

There are a few things about flying on the 146 that are really special and never cease to amaze or amuse me.  For instance, we get served tea or coffee, and some sandwiches, fruit, chocolate bars — and this is whilst we are working! At what other field site or campaign does that happen? Just awesome.  Another thing, that is just really cool, are the views we get to see from the aircraft. When the aircraft is flying high enough, we are allowed to stand up from our seats and walk around in the cabin (check our instruments of course!) and look out of the windows — so many photo opportunities!

Or just to look and marvel at the beautiful landscape below us, or the clouds and colourful sunset on the horizon. There are other little things that are kind of special. During certain sections of the flight, we get to hear what the pilots are saying, so sometimes you can a real insight as to how they are doing things (like negotiating a change in flight plan with the mission scientist, or counting down the altitude levels on a missed approach), and sometimes it’s just a chance to learn what’s the pilot’s favourite hobby.

The aircraft is a special place to do science, it is very much a team effort, but also the pressure can be really on you personally, when you know you only have a few hours to sample a particular area, and you have this one go at it, and sometimes you just pray that the kit works and doesn’t throw an instrument tantrum and says “no”. Because then aircraft work becomes really stressful: fixing a problem with little time, constricted space and limited options to try things out to fix things is not the best, but as John Pyle said in his MAMM welcome blog post “We can’t guarantee success but we’ll work our socks off to give ourselves the best possible chance.”

So, in that vein, let MAMM begin.

Previously in this series:

Arctic Methane: Hello and welcome to the MAMM blog
Arctic methane: What’s the story?
Methane and Mosquitoes – Blogging Bogs
Arctic Methane: Mr Blue Sky
Arctic Methane: And in the blue corner…

Michelle Cain About the Author: Michelle Cain is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Atmospheric Science in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a Natural Environment Research Council policy placement fellow at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK. She completed her doctorate at the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, where she used both computer models and measurement data to study the transport of pollutants in the atmosphere. She is currently using these techniques to study pollutants in the atmosphere globally, including methane emissions in the Arctic. Posts will come from both Michelle and her colleagues working on the Arctic field work. Follow on Twitter @civiltalker.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. David Cummings 6:56 am 08/19/2013

    “We saw some small pockets with higher methane levels (not sure exactly where they were coming from though…) … ”

    Interesting statement. In general, how can you tell where a pocket of methane comes from?

    Also, how long before a pocket of methane gets dispersed and becomes part of the general methane background of the atmosphere?

    Thanks.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Carlyle 7:01 am 08/19/2013

    Go girl. Great stuff.

    Link to this

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