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Is it a bird? a plane? No, it’s a low flying hippo

NIWA Media Statement 10th November 2009

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a low flying HIPPO!


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Pole-to-pole flights provide a global picture of greenhouse gases: this month a team of international scientists will fly from the Arctic to the Antarctic aboard an exceptional jet.

NIWA, scientists play a vital and integral part in this work on greenhouse gas measurements.

“This is the first time that anyone has systematically tried to map the distribution of carbon dioxide and related gases from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from near sea level to the upper atmosphere," says Vidal Salazar, one of the HIPPO project managers at the USA’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The scientists are on the second of five missions being conducted over three-years.

The research jet is a specially equipped Gulfstream V aircraft, owned by the USA’s National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by USA’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The research jet, known as the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), has a range of about 11,000 kilometres, which allows scientists to traverse large regions of the Pacific Oceῡn without having to refuel.

Scientists will take the jet from an altitude of 300 meters above Earth's surface up into the lower stratosphere, as high as 14 km. The scientists will be making measurements, every second, from take off.

“For the first time we can look at the whole globe all at once. We’re taking a slice of the atmosphere to see what is in it.” says Vidal Salazar. The project itself is called HIPPO, which stands for HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations of Atmospheric Tracers.

The findings will help scientists determine where and when greenhouse gases are entering and leaving the atmosphere. This will lead to improved predictions about greenhouse gases and enable decisions to be made about emissions and future climate.

The research jet will be at Christchurch airport on the 11th November. There will be an outreach event and media day from 2pm-4pm.

Lauder, NIWA’s atmospheric climate research station and HIAPER

The research jet will fly over the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s (NIWA) atmospheric research station at Lauder, in Central Otago, New Zealand, on the 10th November and the 12th November. The Lauder site is part of the global Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON), Measurements from this network of 14 key sites worldwide will aid understanding of the global carbon cycle and will validate new satellite-borne measurements of carbon dioxide and methane from space.

HIAPER will descend from an altitude of 14 km to just 300 meters above the ground when it flies over Lauder, measuring a profile of greenhouse gases from the stratosphere down to the Earth’s surface. At the same time NIWA scientists at Lauder will be measuring the concentration of these gases at the earth’s surface and the “total column" overhead.

“The HIAPER flight over New Zealand provides a unique opportunity to perform an important calibration of new ground based, remote sensing measurements of greenhouse gases,” says Dr Vanessa Sherlock, leader of NIWA’s TCCON research project. “We will then compare these measurements with the aircraft profile to determine the calibratῩon of the ground based measurements to the World Meteorological Organisation scale. In this way surface measurements and total column measurements from the ground and space can be combined in a consistent way to improve our understanding oῦ future greenhouse gas concentration." says Dr Sherlock.

ENDS

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