German hi-tech aircraft measures Arctic greenhouse gases | Polarjournal
HALO does not stand for a computer game, but for High Altitude and LOng range Airplane. The modified Gulfstream 500 can fly at altitudes of up to 14 km and has a range of around 10,000 kilometers. This allows it to be in the air for up to 10 hours (here over the Alps) and take measurements. Image: DLR

The fact that the Arctic has warmed much more than previously thought recently went through the media world like wildfire. A major contribution to this is made by greenhouse gases, which retain solar radiation in the atmosphere like a glass lid. To obtain more information about these gases at such high altitudes, an international research consortium has sent one of the most advanced research aircraft to Arctic Canada and Alaska to take important measurements in the atmosphere: the HALO aircraft.

Under the leadership of the German Aerospace Center DLR, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and the Universities of Bremen and Munich, scientists are currently travelling in the (sub)Arctic part of Canada to measure carbon dioxide and methane at altitudes of several kilometers. However, meteorological, physical and chemical data from the atmosphere are also measured to discover possible interactions with greenhouse gases. The research teams focus on the forest and tundra areas and there especially on the wetlands. This is because they are very important as natural sources of greenhouse gas emissions. “Wetland vegetation absorbs and stores carbon, and its decomposition releases carbon dioxide and methane,” according to the project website. “These processes make global wetlands one of the most important, if least understood, sources and sinks in the global methane and CO2 budget.”

The video shows the interior of the HALO aircraft during a measurement flight over the Athabasca region in Alberta. The aircraft is crammed with measuring devices and probes that register all kinds of factors. The researchers on board control the data and equipment. Video: CoMet 2.0 Arctic

Called CoMet 2.0 Arctic, the research teams have been flying from Edmonton, Alberta, since early August to the various regions, including the Arctic regions in the Northwest Territories and the sub-Arctic regions in northern Alberta. On board the modified Gulfstream 500 are ten in-situ and also remote sensing instruments weighing a total of about 3 tons to provide a detailed overview of the amounts of carbon dioxide and methane between the Earth’s surface and the flight altitude. In addition, drop probes are lowered from the aircraft and measure meteorological data such as temperature, pressure and wind profiles on the way down. Other instruments measure land surface properties, clouds and aerosols, and water vapor. Indeed, all these factors influence the greenhouse gas concentrations in the different layers. Scientists on board monitor the measurements and data during the flight.

Meanwhile, the HALO aircraft has made five survey flights in the Athabasca freshwater delta area and the Northwest Territories. Additional flights are also planned in Alaska and Nunavut. The distances are no problem for the aircraft, which is based in Edmonton during the mission. Because thanks to its modifications, it can fly up to 10,000 kilometers and be in the air non-stop for over 10 hours. The aircraft is being developed and operated by the German Aerospace Center in collaboration with the Max Planck Society, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research and various DLR departments. The CoMet 2.0 Arctic project is collaborating with NASA and its Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment, which is studying the socioecological impacts of environmental change on forested areas in Alaska and western Canada. The Canadian and European space agencies are also involved. The data, the researchers hope, will allow climate models to be created closer to reality, on the one hand, and thus help determine how much of the greenhouse gas emissions are actually caused by human activity. This would also make it easier for policymakers at various levels to take decisions that could effectively address climate change.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to the project website CoMet 2.0 Arctic for more information

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