Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's New Way to Track Formaldehyde

10.08.2012
NASA scientist Tom Hanisco is helping to fill a big gap in scientists' understanding of how much urban pollution -- and more precisely formaldehyde -- ultimately winds up in Earth's upper atmosphere where it can wreak havoc on Earth's protective ozone layer.

He and his team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have developed an automated, lightweight, laser-induced fluorescence device that measures the levels of this difficult-to-measure organic compound in the lower troposphere and then again at much higher altitudes. The primary objective is determining how much pollution a storm can transport through convection and then using those insights to improve chemistry-climate models. "It's a major problem in modeling knowing how to treat transport and clouds," Hanisco explained.


University of Maryland graduate student Heather Arkinson is shown here monitoring the In-Situ Formaldehyde Instrument, which she helped to demonstrate on a NASA DC-8. Credit: NASA


This image shows the new air-sampling system that is more efficient at drawing in air and preventing particles from sticking and potentially contaminating formaldehyde measurements. Credit: NASA

In the spring, he flew the In-Situ Airborne Formaldehyde Instrument for the first time on a NASA DC-8 research aircraft, a former passenger airplane that can fly up to 43,000 feet.

Size and Sensitivity

"People like this instrument because it's small, sensitive, and easy to maintain," said Hanisco. The instrument weighs only 60 pounds, and therefore is easily installed inside other research aircraft, including NASA's ER-2, Global Hawk, and WB57, which fly at much higher altitudes. In addition, it's automated and doesn't require anyone onboard to operate it, Hanisco said.

Prior to its development, only one other airborne instrument could measure formaldehyde. That instrument, however, weighed 600 pounds, required an onboard operator, and used a less-sensitive measurement technique -- absorption spectroscopy -- to gather data.

"I've been doing laser-induced fluorescence on other molecules for a while," Hanisco said, explaining why he sought and received Goddard Internal Research and Development funds to apply the measurement technique to a formaldehyde-sensitive instrument. "Formaldehyde isn't measured well at high altitudes. There was a real need for improvement."

With laser-induced fluorescence (LIF), a laser first illuminates the species of interest and "then you watch it fluoresce. It is a single photon-counting instrument," Hanisco said. Consequently, it's faster and more sensitive -- even at concentrations in the parts per trillion, he said.

The DC-8 campaign in Kansas, sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry Project, bore out the wisdom of his pursuit, proving that his instrument offered a factor-of-10 improvement in size, sensitivity, and complexity. During that campaign, a DC-8 flew as low as 500 feet above the ground and sampled air entering a storm. It then spiraled up to 30,000 to 40,000 feet and measured the air coming out at the top of the storm.

'Big Step Forward'

The instrument found that 30 to 40 percent of the formaldehyde produced in the "boundary" layer -- the lowest part of the troposphere closest to Earth's surface -- was transported to the upper troposphere during storms. "That number is a rough guideline, but we didn't have it before. Every storm is different, but knowing how much air gets through is a big step forward."

Hanisco attributes the instrument's success to its greatly simplified design and a new fiber-laser system that is smaller and less expensive than those used in other LIF-type instruments. He also attributes its success to a new air-sampling system, which features a glass- and Teflon-coated tube that draws in and directs air into the instrument's detection cell. Though the polymer-coated sampling system allows air to flow quickly, its surface prevents particles from sticking -- particularly useful because they could corrupt results. "We had to work hard to ensure that the sampling system was every bit as good as the detection," Hanisco said.

Hanisco anticipates many other flight opportunities in the future. "There was a real need for this instrument. There aren't a lot of instruments out there doing this."

Tiffany Blackburn
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Lori Keesey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/formaldehyde-track.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA eyes Pineapple Express soaking California
24.02.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht 'Quartz' crystals at the Earth's core power its magnetic field
23.02.2017 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>