NASA scientist Stephanie Vay spent last summer chasing bad air. Aboard a DC-8 loaded with instruments, she and other researchers trolled the sky for 10 hours a day, measuring the atmosphere. During six weeks, the plane, based out of Portsmouth's Pease Airport, covered every U.S. state east of the Mississippi.
DURHAM, New Hampshire NASA scientist Stephanie Vay spent last summer chasing bad air.
Aboard a DC-8 loaded with instruments, she and other researchers trolled the sky for 10 hours a day, measuring the atmosphere. During six weeks, the plane, based out of Portsmouth's Pease Airport, covered every U.S. state east of the Mississippi.
"We went all the way down into Florida," said Vay. The plane also took them midway over the Atlantic, where a British research plane took over, tracking air masses to the ocean's other coast. There, a third plane picked up the trail.
Vay's data from those trips showed an unusual pattern -- near the top of the troposphere carbon dioxide existed in varying concentrations. Scientists generally have assumed that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, was mixed evenly at that altitude.
Those results may help climatologists better understand global warming. It may help other scientists fine-tune carbon dioxide measuring devices mounted on satellites.
Vay's are just one set of results from a massive air study conducted last July and August that scientists called the largest effort to map air quality from the ground to 40,000 feet (12,000 meters). It involved 200 scientists from NASA, University of New Hampshire, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Canada, Britain, Germany and elsewhere who pooled their results in a massive database. Scientists from the International Consortium for Atmospheric Research are meeting this week at the University of New Hampshire to present their initial findings.
"People will mine our data for years," said Penn State meteorologist Anne Thompson. "What we're all trying to find out is, where do the pollutants come from, how are they changing and where are they going?"
Thompson launched her weather balloon from the deck of the Ronald H. Brown, a NOAA research ship that circled the Gulf of Maine while scientists on board worked in labs converted from shipping containers. Thompson's balloon measured ozone, and its readings helped NOAA pilots chart routes for its flying researchers. Off the Northeast coast, Thompson's balloon picked up pollution from Houston and Washington, D.C., encountered a plume from an Alaskan forest fire and picked up the traces of a lightning storm.
Other researchers reported finding particles from China off New Hampshire's coast.
Bob Talbot, director of the AIRMAP Cooperative Institute at UNH, said a major research area will be to classify plumes as either natural or man-made, so scientists have a more detailed view of large-scale air pollution.
Researchers also made discoveries concerning chemical reaction involved in creating pollution, said Fred Fehsenfeld, a NOAA senior scientist. He said scientists studying smog production, a process that needs light, were surprised to observe that intermediate compounds going into smog continue to be produced throughout the night.
Source: Associated Press