Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Climate surprises: The first of many, I expect

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In a complex system like global climate, we are bound to have surprises as we discover feedback loops we didn’t consider. Janet Raloff reports for Science News:

A major pollution-mapping program that ends September 9 has turned up startling trends in climate-warming gases and soot. The data it collected over the past five years from a National Science Foundation aircraft show the tropics periodically belch huge plumes of nitrous oxide — a potent greenhouse gas — into the upper atmosphere. Arctic measurements show that the recent record summer retreats of ice cover have allowed seas there to exhale unexpected amounts ofmethane, another potent greenhouse gas.

Then there’s soot. Parts of the supposedly pristine Arctic skies host dense clouds of these black carbon particles. During some flights, “We were immersed in essentially clouds of black carbon that were dense enough that you could barely see the ground,” recalls Stephen Wofsy of Harvard University, a principal investigator in the program. “It was like landing in Los Angeles — except that you were 8 kilometers above the surface of the Arctic Ocean.”

Until a few years ago, scientists interested in mapping global emissions of climate-altering pollutants had to rely on Earth-based sensors or satellites’ eyes on the skies. Neither could identify at what altitude the pollutants tended to congregate. They also missed many highly localized or seasonal plumes of natural pollutants.

That all changed when a federal-university research partnership got access to NSF’s research plane: HIAPER (for High Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research). Throughout a number of periodic runs, this aircraft repeatedly swooped up and down — from 150 meters above Earth’s surface to heights sometimes exceeding 13.7 kilometers (45,000 feet). All along the way, its instruments measured more than 50 greenhouse gases and black carbon.

The unparalleled altitude- and latitude- specific data collected as part of this program — named HIPPO (for HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations) — will soon be made available to researchers generally, notes Wofsy. He expects scientists will mine its data for many years, looking for additional climate trends.

A primary goal of HIPPO was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2011 at 4:39 pm

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