Climate toolkit takes ride on NASA plane

A scientific instrument developed by Edinburgh researchers has taken to the skies aboard a NASA research aircraft.

The GHOST instrument (Greenhouse Observations of the Stratosphere and Troposphere) was developed by the STFC Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh and Leicester.

The device, on board NASA’s Global Hawk aircraft, is flying above the equatorial regions of the Pacific Ocean, measuring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane across large regions in fine detail.

High altitude

Having detailed measurements will allow scientists to produce precise maps of where greenhouse gases are being released and taken up at the Earth’s surface - vital information for international climate negotiations.

The aircraft is flying at an altitude of 20km, where the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere, meets the stratosphere above.

Scientists believe this area, known as the tropopause, plays a critical role in Earth’s climate.

Also on board the aircraft is a second instrument, AIITS (the Aerosol Ice Interface Transition Spectrometer), which measures particles such as dust, water droplets, and ice crystals.

Joint study

The transport of particles and pollutants between the troposphere and stratosphere plays a crucial role in the climate system and the health of the ozone layer.

AIITS was jointly developed by the Universities of Hertfordshire and Manchester.

The two instruments, developed as part of the Natural Environment Research Council’s Co-ordinated Airborne Studies in the Tropics (CAST) project, are the first from the UK to take advantage of the Global Hawk’s capabilities.

Pilotless flight

The uninhabited aircraft, based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre, California, can fly at double the altitude of a commercial jet for more than a day at a time, travelling the equivalent of half of Earth’s circumference in a single flight.

The two UK pieces of kit were joined onboard by instruments from NASA’s Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX).