Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sniffing for soot in the Arctic

Global Adventures: NOAA is using small unmanned aircraft to sniff for black carbon, an agent formed through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel, and biomass, in the Arctic. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are the size of large suitcases and outfitted with sensors to sample the air over the ice in search for the tiny particles, better known as soot.

…“Carbon is dark in color and absorbs solar radiation, much like wearing a black shirt on a sunny day. If you want to be cooler, you would wear a light-colored shirt that would reflect the sun’s warmth,” said Tim Bates, a research chemist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in Seattle and The Dark Side of Carbonco-lead of the U.S. component of the study. “When black carbon covers snow and ice, the radiation is absorbed, much like that black shirt, instead of being reflected back into the atmosphere.”

Observations will be taken aboard a ship, from land-based sites, and from the air using manned and unmanned aircraft and balloons. The study will run through May 15 out of Svalbard, Norway. The NOAA part of the study, called the Soot Transport, Absorption, and Deposition Study (STADS), will be conducted between April 7 and May 6, using NOAA’s two Manta aircraft. Aboard each aircraft will be a package of instruments to measure aerosol size, number, light absorption and chemical composition. For the first time, a PMEL black carbon sensor will also be aboard the Mantas.

“We need to better understand the behavior of black carbon in the Arctic,” said Patricia Quinn, co-lead of the NOAA portion of the project and a research chemist at PMEL. “This coordinated study will give us a snapshot so we can see all of it at once.”

Also participating in the Coordinated Investigation of Climate-Cryosphere Interactions (CICCI) project are scientists from Norway, Russia, Germany, Italy and China. The goal is to coordinate more than a dozen research activities so they are done concurrently providing, for the first time, a vertical profile of black carbon’s movement through the atmosphere, its deposition on snow and ice surfaces, and its affect on warming in the Arctic….

From NASA: Winds from the north pushed sea ice southward and formed cloud streets—parallel rows of clouds—over the Bering Strait in mid-January 2010. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this photo-like image on January 16, 2010. The easternmost reaches of the Russian Federation, blanketed in snow and ice, appear in the upper left corner of this image. East of that, sea ice spans the Bering Strait. Along the southern edge of the sea ice, wavy tendrils—newly formed, thin sea ice—predominate.

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