At that time, the airship will undertake a number of flight missions, each lasting several weeks, coordinated by Jülich researchers. These missions aim to study the atmosphere over the Netherlands, Italy, the Mediterranean Sea, and finally Finland in 2013. The campaign is part of the EU’s PEGASOS project, in which 26 partners from 15 European nations are studying the relationships between atmospheric chemistry and climate change.
The researchers in Friedrichshafen will fit three different sets of measuring instruments into the interior of the airship and test their function during flights. Beginning in May, these instruments are then intended to gather data on the atmosphere’s ability to clean itself, among other aspects of interest. In this regard, special attention will be paid to the atmosphere’s “detergent”, known chemically as the hydroxyl (OH) radical. This radical initiates the breakdown of most pollutants and thus serves as a measure of the atmosphere’s cleaning capacity. In its turn, it is also recycled in a natural loop. However, regarding this recycling theory, Jülich researchers have discovered several anomalies in the last few years. The airship flights are intended to explain these anomalies, since they are at precisely the altitudes where such processes take place. Other questions relate to the phenomenon of suspended particles: What are their origins? How to they agglomerate to form larger particles? What chemical and physical effects do they have on climate and air quality? And what part do they play in recycling the natural detergent?
The Zeppelin NT will be accompanied on its mission by an international team of 15 scientists and technicians. Its first flight in 2012 will take it to Cabauw in the Netherlands for two weeks, followed in June by at least five weeks in Italy, where measurements will be taken over the Po Valley and the Adriatic Sea in cooperation with Italian scientists. Then in April 2013, the atmosphere researchers will set off on a two-month expedition to northern Europe; their final destination being Hyytiälä in Finland. Both the flight paths and the measuring locations are coordinated with existing ground measuring stations. This will enable the researchers to compare data from the flight directly with measurements from fixed locations.
The unique flight characteristics of the Zeppelin NT mean that is ideally suited to complement aircraft and fixed ground stations. It can float slowly, hover, climb and descend vertically, fly for up to 24 hours, all while carrying measuring instrumentation weighing more than a tonne. This will enable the Jülich team to conduct a precise examination of the distribution of trace gases in a region up to an altitude of 1000 metres, known as the planetary boundary layer. Until now, little research has been carried out in this region, which is chemically highly reactive and where the fate of most pollutants emitted from the Earth’s surface is decided. It is therefore essential to collect information in order to gain a detailed understanding of atmospheric processes and to test conceptual models.
The EU’s PEGASOS project (Pan-European-Gas-AeroSOl-Climate Interaction Study) is funded by the European Commission under the auspices of the Seventh Framework Programme. The purpose of the campaign is to measure the effect of atmospheric chemistry on climate change and to identify the critical processes. The results would then provide the scientific bases for determining EU-wide climate protection measures, thus improving air quality taking into account effects on climate change. The research will also be available for global climate policy, since most of the project partners are also involved in the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Annette Stettien | Forschungszentrum Jülich
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