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Arctic Methane: MAMM Lapland air sampling road trip

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


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By Dave Lowry and Nathalie Grassineau

Part 1 – In the beginning – Tuesday Aug 13, 21:00 UT

View across Tornetrask, near Abisko – 12/08/2013 15:16 UTC. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry, RHUL.)

View across Tornetrask, near Abisko – 12/08/2013 15:16 UTC. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry, RHUL.)

Reached Kiruna, Sweden, yesterday (Monday) afternoon having taken the early flight from Heathrow. Spent nearly 4 hours driving up to Boden on the Norwegian coast. Realised that my itinerary was an underestimate of time due to a lot of summer road resurfacing activity and a lorry in the roadside ditch. Collected 3 samples up to the Norwegian border and had some nice views of the lake near Abisko.

Collecting air sample beside Lyngen (69°35.5’N, 20°25.3’E), 13/08/2013 12:31 UTC. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry, RHUL.)

Collecting air sample beside Lyngen (69°35.5’N, 20°25.3’E), 13/08/2013 12:31 UTC. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry, RHUL.)

Very long day today. Set out from Boden just after 9 and didn’t get to the hotel at Skaidi until 8 this evening. Couldn’t keep up with the itinerary again. Probably too many photo stops. Some long stretches through forest and under leaden grey skies up to the Tromso turn off, but started to get a little blue sky as we travelled further NE and some stunning coastal views as the mountains started to appear. Collected 10 more samples on the route and saw a porpoise just off shore at one stop. Wind seemed to be all over the place and less than 2 m/s except at the head of one or two fjords. Refuelled on an excellent reindeer stew and some of the local cloudberries with dessert. Getting colder. Temperature down to 6°C going over one of the passes this afternoon.

Part 2 – Top of the Continent to the Baltic – Saturday Aug 17, 16:00 UT

Dave Lowry collecting a sample at Nordkapp. (Photo credit: Nathalie Grassineau.)

Dave Lowry collecting a sample at Nordkapp. (Photo credit: Nathalie Grassineau.)

Wednesday 14 started in glorious sunshine and a 260 km return detour to visit and sample at Nordkapp, 71°10’N. Definitely worth the effort for the gorgeous coastal scenery, interesting geology and lots of tunnels through the mountains, including the 7km long Nordkapp tunnel under the ocean, with 9% road gradients inside. Passed 100 or more ancient cars and camper vans from Poland in some sort of race to Nordkapp. Would have sampled right at the cape, except for some devious behavior by the Norwegians. Without any advance warning the cape itself is closed off with entry by ticket booths, but the equivalent of £56 for a car and 2 people to park and enter the visitor centre is ridiculous.

March of the clouds, arriving from the SE. End of sun for the day. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

March of the clouds, arriving from the SE. End of sun for the day. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

We only wanted to collect a sample and have a quick look around, so we found the first good alternative spot to sample the south-easterly airflow. The clouds appeared suddenly on the drive back south from the cape, along a very sharp boundary and that was almost it for the sun for the day. The winds remained constant from the SE for the rest of the day at 2-3 m/s, but too many places on the coast were very sheltered as the wind was mostly from the land and good sampling places were difficult to find. Seemed to be reindeer everywhere today, even on the beach in a few places, and hundreds in large enclosures, but none were seen in the areas of white quartzite rock, which formed a barren upland moonscape with very little growing. We pitched up at the Austertana truck stop and motel at 19:30.

Barren quartzite ridge on the Berlevag road. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

Barren quartzite ridge on the Berlevag road. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

Thursday 15 kicked off with a trip over the hills to Berlevag and Kjolnes lighthouse (70°51’N) to restart the UEA greenhouse gas monitoring instruments, which had gone off in a power cut and needed to be reset for auto restart in future. There was also the opportunity to raise the height of the RHUL bag-sampling inlet as it was too close to the ground. Then the bag sampling transect for the day started from Kjolnes down to Kaamanen wetland area in Finland. The weather until 3 in the afternoon was again gorgeous and up to 18°C, matched by more stunning coastal scenery and the shining naked white quartzite mountains.  Saw at quite close quarters a golden eagle yesterday and a sea eagle today as we were driving the coast roads.

Carpet of red berries at Kongsfjord, south of Berlevag. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

Carpet of red berries at Kongsfjord, south of Berlevag. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

Once in Finland there were more mires to sample next to, but  having been travelling due south I had forgotten the 1 hour time difference between Norway and Finland, until I saw a digital clock on a pharmacy after crossing the border. The last leg to our accommodation was a bit of a rush. We managed to start some diurnal sampling in the Kaamanen mire just after 19:30 local time, and as we walked to the bog edge were buzzed by the FAAM aircraft, which was heading straight down the centre of the mire. Next bog sampling was at 22:00 local, accompanied a strip of gorgeous sunset in the far NW.

The border crossing between Norway and Finland. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

The border crossing between Norway and Finland. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

Conditions for diurnal sampling at Kaamanen were not very good. The temperature dropped only from 14°C to 10°C and a gentle breeze was maintained even at 4 am. And when you are trying to catch some sleep between sampling the last thing you need are red squirrels chasing each other across the roof above your room. The Neljan Tuulan Tupa hotel is built entirely out of logs and is a feeding place for multiple species of woodland birds, some quite rare, as well as the squirrels. The wetlands also resounded to the sound of a pair of cranes who decided to circle the site, just before the plane flew over, at the same height.

A Kaamanen sunset. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

A Kaamanen sunset. (Photo credit: Dave Lowry.)

Friday 17th was a long drive down from Kaamanen close to 70°N to the Baltic at Lulea, having finished the diurnal with the 8 am local time sampling. It seemed like an endless cycle of forest, bog, forest, lake, with a few villages thrown in, again under a leaden grey sky. Sampled every hour or so when either bogs or lakes formed the upwind direction with winds predominantly from the NE-SE sector. After escaping from the supposedly moose-protected E4 road and some searching the back roads the last sample of the day was collected beside the Baltic Sea, before finding our way to Lulea. Later there was time for a coffee with Euan Nisbet and Mary Fowler. They had spent the day doing an east-west transect into Finland before heading over to the Sodankyla wetland for the weekend.

Road trip sampling locations in Northern Scandinavia, August 2013.

Road trip sampling locations in Northern Scandinavia, August 2013.

Saturday 18th morning was the final leg of the circuit starting with Baltic coast sampling and continuing with the inland leg to joint the flight team in Kiruna, the last 2 hours through torrential rain. The final sample was collected at the edge of the airport tarmac during a quiet period. Total distance covered in 5 days was close to 2900 km, with 45 road trip and 10 wetland diurnal samples collected (see map).

Once the samples are back at RHUL the CO2 and CH4 concentrations will be analysed by Picarro CRDS and then analysed on the stable isotope mass spectromter to determine the carbon isotope signature, already eloquently described by Euan Nisbet in his earlier ‘ghost’ blog. The data will be used to determine if all of the enhancements at ground level are from wetlands and how the extent and magnitude of the enhancement compares with measurements and sampling from the flights.

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…
Arctic Methane: Transiting to Kiruna
Arctic Methane: First science flight
Arctic Methane: A night in Stordalen wetland, Abisko
Arctic Methane: Flight Friday 16th AM
Arctic Methane: Flight Friday 16th PM
Arctic Methane: Flight Saturday 17th AM
Arctic Methane: Flight Saturday 17th PM
Arctic Methane: Flight Sunday 18th AM
Arctic Methane: Flight Sunday 18th PM
Arctic Methane: Flight Monday 19th AM/PM: Going home…

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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