Aircraft get a lot of the blame for global warming - a disproportionate amount given their share of carbon-dioxide emissions - but they are also useful tools for gathering data to understand the science behind climate change.
A Gulfstream V owned by the US National Science Foundation and operated by the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NACR) this week wraps up a three-year series of research flights from the Arctic to the Antarctic that will help generate the first detailed map of the global distribution of greenhouse gases.
The GV, known as the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), is equipped to sample the atmosphere and under the HIPPO (HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations) project has collected data at different latitudes during various seasons from altitudes of 500ft to 45,000ft.
Five HIPPO missions have been conducted since January 2009, with the last one ending tomorrow, September 9. NCAR says the data will help scientists target both the sources of greenhouse gases and the natural processes that draw the gases back out of the atmosphere.
“Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkeling with a really foggy mask,” scientist Britton Stephens says very quotably in a release from NCAR. HIPPO has produced views of whole slices of the atmosphere and provided a few surprises about the abundance of certain atmospheric components and the locations where they are most common, says the center.