Climate Scientists' Pole-to-Pole Greenhouse Gas Survey Near Completion

   on September 08 2011 6:57 AM
Toxic Seaweed (1 of 8)
A handful of seaweed is displayed as masses of green seaweed, which at times emits noxious gasses, is seen on Kerlaz beach near Douarnenez in Brittany, western France, August 30, 2011. REUTERS

A three-year-long pole-to-pole series survey to collect data on greenhouse gas will end on Friday, say U.S. scientists.

The survey, is known as HIPPO, comprised several pole-to-pole research flights that successfully collected atmospheric gases in three years and generated the first-ever detailed mapping of gases and particles that affect Earth's climate, they say.

HIPPO Project

The HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations project initiated the investigation of the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases throughout various altitudes of the Western Hemisphere through the annual cycle. With a three-year mission, the project was launched to determine the global distribution of carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases in the Pacific Basin.

HIPPO is supported by the National Science Foundation and its operations are managed by the Earth Observing Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Its base of operations is EOL's Research Aviation Facility at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver. The main goal of this program is to determine the global distribution of carbon dioxide and other trace atmospheric gases by sampling at various altitudes and latitudes in the Pacific Basin, counting the molecules and using the data to test mathematical models' predictions.

In three years, the study has provided the most comprehensive report on atmospheric trace gases, covering the full troposphere in all seasons and multiple years. Scientists continuously monitored 24 instruments to study 80 types of gases along with the atmospheric pressure, temperature, wind speed, aerosols, water vapor and chemical composition and created a snapshot of Earth's atmosphere.

HIPPO, A Success?

Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkeling with a really foggy mask, but with HIPPO, it gave a clear view of what's really out there, says Britton Stephens, a scientist at NCAR.

The successful completion of the survey has provided the scientists with the most comprehensive view of the current state of climate-warming greenhouse gases. The report projects that a great amount of greenhouse gas is accumulating in the atmosphere and is most likely to harm Earth's climate.

HIPPO also should help to understand how the classification and augmentation of northern boreal forests and tropical rain forests affect levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As an outcome of the detailed study, We're going to be in a position to rewrite the books on what we know about the composition of the atmosphere, especially in regard to greenhouse gases, said Ralph Keeling, a Scripps geochemist and an investigator for the study.

To explain the difference between data collected by any other research and HIPPO, the project's chief investigator, Steven Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental science at Harvard University, said It's like looking at an X-ray from the 60s versus a CAT scan today.

HIPPO's Study on Black Carbon?

Black carbon -- a product of diesel engines, industrial processes and fires -- consists of pure carbon in several linked forms. It absorbs heat in the atmosphere and warms the Earth. When black carbon is deposited on ice and snow, it reduces the ability to reflect sunlight.

During the study, Ryan Spackman, an NOAA scientist, revealed that what we didn't anticipate were the very high levels of black carbon we observed in plumes of air sweeping over the central Pacific toward the U.S. West Coast, which of course is alarming for the climate of the Earth. Levels were comparable with those measured in mega-cities such as Houston or Los Angeles. 

Apart from black carbon, over-concentrations of nitrous oxide and methane also concern the scientists as the larger-than-expected concentration of both these gases can contribute to increasing the heat and thinning the ozone layer.

Finally, the data collected by the pole-to-pole study shows that Earth's future is gloomier than previously thought, as far as the greenhouse emission is concerned.

 

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