Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Confessions of a model monkey on his first reality tour: part 1

Post by Paul Palmer

It was only when the FAAM BAe146 aircraft taxied into Halifax airport at the start of BORTAS I suddenly realised how real this experiment was. What had I got myself into?! Sure, I was reasonably prepared but as a model monkey (cf: lab monkey) I usually get to hang around computers and whiteboards and only use data other people collect from their instruments. Here I was with the responsibility to direct this multi-million pound mobile atmospheric laboratory towards fires that are difficult to predict and their resulting pollutant plumes that are, at best, elusive because of their thin layered structure. No plumes to intercept would have serious implications for a number of PhDs and postdoc careers. No pressure, then.

By the time the plane finally stopped and opened its doors, most of the science team were milling around with their bright yellow hi-visibility vests and their identification badges around their necks eagerly waiting to chat with the team that ran instruments on the transit from the UK to Halifax, and to check on their own instruments. I boarded the plane and asked around to see whether the team had intercepted any plumes as they travelled across the Atlantic. Good news, they had seen plumes broadly where the computer model predicted they would be. So far so good.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Good Views, But Not The Most Exciting Flight

On Sunday we stayed fairly local and flew out over Prince Edward Island and did some spirals around the area. The reason for this flight was that the Aura satellite ( was doing a special overpass of the area. So we flew out over the ocean and since the sky was really clear did a spiral ascent and descent from 25,000 ft to 5,000 ft. From this we should have got some good data to compare with the satellite measurements. There were beautiful views of the island including one showing the clouds confined to the area above the land with totally clear skies over the sea.

We saw traces of a plume but whether it was from biomass burning or some other emissions we are not certain yet; concentrations of the typical tracers, acetonitrile, HCN, were not particularly high. After the flight we had a campaign photo taken, getting everyone together and organised was not an easy job and took a number of people quite some time. But when we got there the guy we asked to take the photo turned out to be a real David Bailey shooting from different directions, angles, even with diferent cameras...still not sure he got a good one...maybe I'll post one later on when I get the files.

Monday was a down day (no flying) with power to the aircraft so there was a small group of us on the aircraft making sure our instuments were working exactly as we wanted. We also had to change some gas cylinders as the plan for today and Wednesday was to fly to Thunder Bay, a double flight (8-10hrs) then stay overnight there and do more flying the next day. This meant that half empty gas cylinders would not last the duration.

Steve and Steph pose in laser goggles while Eleonora and I check the laser aligniment on the LIF

We have a full on sock monkey epidemic (if you don't know what I'm talking about this might help) here at the airport. It all started with the colourful fella in the picture below who has been posing around the aircraft. Then the discovery of a sock monkey shop in Halifax saw another one materialise (any chance of a photo Mike?). Another scientist has requested the ingredients from the aforementioned shop to enable him to create a masterpiece to take home for his girlfriend and a mascot for the aircraft has also been suggested.

Today was an early start with power on the aircraft at 5.30am. Towards the end of the warm up time the arrival of a camera man from the Discovery Channel Canada sparked a flurry of activity mounting a time lapse camera at the back of the aircraft and teaching James Lee to operate a camera for during today's flight. Shalini Punjabi, Guy Gratton and Paul Palmer were also interviewed. More filming will take place on landing tomorrow so keep your eye out for some BORTAS scientists starring on the small screen.

Filming the pre-flight briefing

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Sharks With Lasers

And another update from the ground team, but this time about more social happenings.......

Post written by Keith Tereszchuk

Well I guess card sharks with LIDARS would be more accurate to describe the attendees of the very first event of the DGS Poker Tour.  Last Tuesday night saw some heated Texas Hold'em action at the Duck household as Tom was gracious enough to provide the venue for the inaugural event.  The evening saw yours truly up against some hard-nosed DGS rounders in a high stakes, 5¢/10¢ no-limit cash game with minimum $10 buy-in.  Tom established his table image early with his TAG (tight aggressive) style of play and took advantage of a hot run of cards to quickly become the chip leader at the table.  From there, he continued to bully and intimidate the table by constructing a formidable stack monster.

Tom proudly posing with his stack monster.

It was at this point that the game started to loosen up as 9-year old Thomas returned home from soccer to find that his kitchen table was the sight of an old-fashioned brick and mortar cash game.  Tom tried to dissuade his son from wanting to play by telling him that we were playing for real money, only to have Thomas immediately dash up the stairs to his room; and after a couple minutes of rummaging, returned to the table to present his father a huge handful of coins to pay for his buy-in.  Young Thomas was now set to endure his first trial by fire at the poker table.

Tom offering young Thomas some sage advice before playing his first hand.  Luiza looking upon her husband with a “I pray that Family and Children Services doesn't find out about this...” kinda look on here face.

Thomas played quite well for his first time and his father's tutelage shone through.  In fact, it was only after his second or third hand that Thomas picked up some pocket aces and went heads up with James (seen in the red shirt above) and raked in a huge pot such that he could make a stack monster of his own.

Stack monsters abound.

Sadly though, his good fortune did not last very long and it was his own father that felted the lad with an obvious smug grin of delight and satisfaction.  Unfazed and defiant, Thomas assured us that he would return to play with us next week for some more high-stakes action, ...right after he asks his dad for a raise in allowance.

Update from the Guys at DGS

Post written by Kaja Rotermund

Here at the DGS (Dalhousie Ground Station), our daily activities aren’t quite as adventurous as those for the Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) and its flight crew, but we still have some exciting news to share. The most interesting of which is the data we were able to collect over the last few days (July17 – July21).  We were anticipating the arrival of boreal biomass plumes, but IASI Satellite images for the evening of July 20th indicated that it was possible the plumes would bypass us to the north completely. We were therefore pleasantly surprised and excited when the satellite images of the following morning showed a shift in direction of the plume, bringing it over Halifax. We got even more excited when our lidar plots showed high levels of backscatter congruent with dense plumes.  We observed the plume to be below 2km altitude and it stayed overhead for just about a full day. Due to the low altitude, we are very hopeful that the other instruments at DGS were also able to collect data for this event. When looking at the sky from Halifax at this time, a slight haze was definitely visible, which we are convinced must have been the extremely low aerosol plume.

The lidar recorded two sections in the plume. The first plume, which arrived shortly before midnight on the 20th was so dense that water vapor condensed onto the aerosol, forming a cloud. The aerosol is still visible along the outer edges of the cloud though. After a slight break in aerosol density at around 0800UTC, a second plume equally as dense, but with no cloud formation arrived. Unfortunately heavy clouds and fog rolled in after that making it necessary to shut down. Nevertheless, we are still very happy with the measurements we took and are looking forward to comparing our data with those of the other instruments on both the ground station and from the ARA.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Instrument Problems but Another Good Flight

Thursday 21st July, flight B624, and again we were chasing the smoke. This was Axel's last flight as flight manager and so he was aiming for the perfect score for flight quality in the debrief meeting. So far he has been given a 6.5, 7.5 and an 8 out of 10, a bit harsh considering they had a brilliant flight on Wednesday, but maybe it's because they had a power cut at Quebec. So we were aiming for the perfect 10, that elusive perfect flight.

That morning we had a visit from a journalist and a photographer from The Chronicle Herald who chatted to Paul for a while about what we were doing and took some pictures around the aircraft. This was then published on Friday morning on the online site at

Photograph from the piece on The Chronicle Herald website. Mike working hard on the CIMS instrument.

We took off just before 2pm local time a little early to give us more time for science. Pretty soon after take off, about 20 minutes or so it started to become apparent that this wouldn't be a perfect flight for me! The apparent NO2 concentration shot up but without a corresponding rise in the other channels, a clear indicator that something was wrong. I found a work around and carried on measuring but then about an hour and a half in, another channel, measuring the peroxyacyl nitrates (PANs), also went crazy. On inspection of the tubing connecting our heated inlet to the detection cells I discovered that the one to the PAN cell was full of condensation. Not good news! In the end the decision had to be made to disconnect the inlet and try to dry out the cells by flowing cabin air through. So the measurements made by our LIF instrument score about a 2/10 for this flight.

Thankfully other instruments were behaving better with some interesting shapes being seen in the carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone traces. It looked like we were seeing a really clear boundary between in plume measurements and those around the outside with ozone and CO often anti correlated and the high ozone correlated with nitrogen oxides. The step changes up and down as we flew into and out of the plume were quite striking so hopefully some good science there, just a shame we don't have the reactive nitrogen measurements from the LIF to back it up.

We had some problems with the ground power unit on landing at St John's for a refuel but on the fifth try we managed to get a unit that worked. Then after a short break and some refreshments we headed off again for a short flight back to Halifax. We encountered a plume as we flew out of St John's and another just before landing at Halifax. Debrief was done inflight and after some deliberation the flight was awarded a score of 9.5/10, much to the delight of Axel. Only the lack of LIF measurements lowered the score from the 10 we were hoping for, it was decided that since this was out of my control this must be the pilot's or mission scientist's fault for flying through such damp air. As we landed the rain was hammering down and there was a watefall pouring off the roof of the building. A bit of a damp ending but all in all, a good flight and hopefully sone good data.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Highest CO yet and smoke in the cabin!

Post by Andrew Rickard

Today the ARA flew two flights (B622 and B623) with a refuel in Quebec in order to intercept some intense plumes forcast nearer to the fire area of interest. B622 was flown as planned to the west then back into Quebec in excellent flying conditions. There was substantial evidence of biomass burning in discrete layers around 13-15,000 ft. Discrete thin layers of brown haze were clearly observable (picture to follow). We observed CO up to 1 ppmv in one layer, a new record! The Manchester CIMS and UEA PTRMS were also observing high levels of acetonitrile, a fairly unique tracer of biomass burning. At one point a distinct faint smell of woodsmoke was discernible within the cabin!

Between flights, the ground power to the aircraft in Quebec failed, and for a while it looked like we might have to cancel the second leg. However, with all hands to the pump and some quick thinking by the onboard scientists, disaster was avoided and the majority of the instruments were quickly back up and running close to normal, delaying departure by only 30 minutes. B623 original flight plan was altered owing to weather, returning (via US airspace to avoid a line of storm clouds and lightning strikes) to the Halifax area, with profile runs NW of Halifax in order to capture the extent of the biomass burning (BB) plume area. We then recieved some very interesting data from the Dalhousie LIDAR in downtown Halifax of an intense BB plume directly over Halifax itself. We quickly decided this was an opportunity not to be missed and so the quick thinking pilots performed spiral ascents and descents above Halifax up to 25,000ft in conjunction with Dalhousie Lidar (quite interesting for those onboard!). Both flights were highly successful and will deliver a multitude of science. It is credit to the enthusiasm and professionalism of both the full team on board G-LUXE (the code for the aircraft), and of the local Air Traffic Control Services in delivering a very high quality sortie despite substantial adverse factors.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Trip to Quebec

So the aircraft went to Quebec today and actually as I am writing this we are waiting for confirmation that they have refuelled successfully and have taken off again. The aircraft took off from Halifax at 12:00 pm local time and Guy Gratton managed to get a picture of it.

The BAe146 taking off

From Halifax they headed north west and then turned more westerly. They saw some strong indications that they were sampling air from a plume beleived to have originated over the fires in Ontario. Carbon monoxide was even higher than on Monday and other biomass burning tracers were measured. They also saw some short lived reactive compounds at 20,000 ft which is very interesting. After transitioning in and out of the plume for a long time and over quite a large spatial area they landed in Quebec to refuel. 

And we just have news that they are airbourne again, but there are forecasts of lightning so they will have to keep an eye out for that. Tom Duck at Dalhousie University is seeing some aerosol at low altitudes from his lidar (~2 and 4.5 km altitude) which agrees well with Mark's predictions. 

On the far right hand side you can see a light blue/green layer at 2km and a red layer coming in at 4-5km. These are aerosol layers that may indicate that they are seeing a biomass burning plume at Dalhousie. Follow the plot updating at

Latest news says that the route of the aircraft has had to be changed because of the lightning and bad weather so hopefully there won't be any serious delays and they will still see some exciting stuff. Keep track of where we are up to at

Lightning strikes across the area we are flying in.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Chasing Plumes from Fires in North Western Ontario

In order to fit two flights into the day we had to have a fairly early start so power was on at 7am with take off at 11am local time. After take off we set off in a north easterly direction from Halifax, heading for Stevenville at 25,000 ft. Before long we started to see some structure in the carbon monoxide (CO) indicating that we might be seeing some pollution. Dave who operates the proton transfer mass spectrometer (PTR-MS) reported he was starting to see some acetonitrile, a tracer for biomass burning, and the LIF saw increased levels of PAN. The core chemistry operators, Seb and Steph, reported that the methane seemed to show a correlation with the carbon monoxide, as did the HCN trace (another indicator for biomass burning) from the CIMS instrument. This news was very welcome showing that all indicators were suggesting we were in the plume we were hoping for.

The original plan had been to drop down to a lower altitude for the next run but since there was a cloud layer below us it was decided that we would stay at 25,000 ft and fly back through part of the plume. Here we saw the highest concentrations that we had seen so far and in fact the carbon monoxide concentrations shot up to the highest value that Steph has ever seen on the aircraft except when we are sampling next to the generator at the airport. Data analysis and investigation post flight will tell us if this is real but it is definitely exciting stuff. As we turned to head NNW we descended to 5000 ft at 1500 ft/min but once we were down there nothing was really happening so after a short run we ascended again to 25,000 ft for our approach to Goose Bay. Unfortunately on this run we saw very little action.

The weather at Goose Bay was not good; it was both wet and windy and there were little rivers on the runway. We did however see a very interesting aircraft. It was a CL215 Snooper which is an amphibious firefighting aircraft. Apparently it scoops up water from the surface of the sea or lakes and then squirts it out over fires. Very cool!

Picture taken at Goose Bay of the CL215 aircraft

We took off from Goose Bay around 16:30 and headed NW. There wasn't much to see where we had expected to find the plume so we tried different headings and altitudes but we just couldn't locate our plume. The guys on the ground, particularly Mark Parrington were brilliant. They sent us satellite images, predicted altitudes of carbon monoxide along our intended track and pretty much anything else we asked for. Towards the end of the flight Dave on the PTR-MS reported that although he wasn't seeing any biomass burning tracers he was seeing high concentrations of some interesting compounds including terpenes. This was confirmed by the GC-MS measurements and also some elevated CO. After this dropped off, on our approach to Halifax we started to see indications that we were getting back into a biomass burning plume. This had not been predicted by the models or indicated by the satellite measurements so again, an interesting find, just unfortunate it happened as we were running out of fuel and crew hours and so couldn't investigate it further. We landed in Halifax just before 10pm, a long day but hopefully some good science will come out of it.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Picture of BAe146 Atmospheric Research Aircraft

Steve Andrews took a brilliant picture of the aircraft the other day. I think it looks really impressive!

Day out in Halifax and Plan for Tomorrow

So yesterday was a 'soft down day' which means there was power to the aircraft for instrument maintainance but no flying. So while some of the scientists spent the day trying to fix their instruments, others of us had a couple of meetings then went out into Halifax. We parked down by the waterfront and wandered down to the jazz festival area. After a look around, some lunch and some brilliant raspberry wheat beer we headed further along the waterfront where we saw an rather intruiging selection of ice cream flavours on offer, shame we had just had lunch. What would Tiger or Bear Paws ice cream taste like? Answers on a post card, or probably easier as comments below.

Next stop was the Citadel, and we were lucky to be there on a special day (Doug was told the centenary of National Parks or something like that) so we were able to get in for free. As we walked up the hill we saw what looked like a large ship behind a grassy bank. We were then stopped out side the gate leading through the grass bank to watch the changing of the guard.

We walked around the inside of the grass banks which afforded a great view of Halifax and of the ceremony going on inside the castle. You would almost believe you were actually in Scotland, with kilts, bagpipes and even a huge union jack.

We then went back down into the town to look around the local bars and eateries. Andrew Rickard found some nachos which looked just too good (and big) not to sample, evidence below.

So onto some science (sort of); the plan for tomorrow is to take off around 11am (meaning power to instruments is at 7am) and head towards Goose Bay, Newfoundland where we will hopefully intercept a plume from the fires currently burning in North West Ontario (see the map produced by Natural Resources Canada). We can then refuel there, allowing us to fly a bit longer, before heading back to Halifax late on in the evening. This will give us about 9 hours flying so we would expect to get some good data. Only things to watch out for is interference from North American pollution, clouds and rain, and the potential for thunderstorms around Halifax later on in the day. Fingers crossed we will see something exciting!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Landing at Horta in the Azores

This video footage was taken by Prof. Ally Lewis on the transit flight when the BAe146 Atmospheric Research Aircraft landed at Horta. Take a look at the runway, it is quite unusual. In discussions it was compared to an aircraft carrier since it is short and has ocean at both ends. As usual though, it was a smooth and uneventful landing from our excellent pilots. The video is also up on our facebook page and is probably better quality there.


Ally also took some great pictures around the Pico Mountain Observatory (although you can't actually see it) as they flew by for the intercomparison (see post from 21st April 2011).

Friday, 15 July 2011

First Science Flight Out of Halifax

So the flight today was not particularly successful. With the exception of a few bumps in the CO concentration, the odd fluctuation in the amount of peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN), a little acetonitrile and a trace of black carbon there really wasn't a lot of evidence of the plume we were hoping to see. Part of the problem was that we couldn't get permission to fly as low as we wanted to so we had to stay above 13,000 ft. Out the window we saw lots of trees, some hills and a white water river sparking comments from the pilots comparing Nova Scotia to the original Scotland. Probably the most exciting bit was some slight turbulence as we flew through the top of the cloud. There were some indications that there was uplift through the cloud from the boundary layer below; the PTR-MS saw some isoprene, a compound most commonly emitted by vegitation, and MVK, a product of the breakdown of isoprene. It looked like the level of PAN also went down then which would support this suggestion since PAN is a reservoir compound for nitrogen oxides which degrades at the higher temperatures found lower in the atmosphere.

Despite the lack of scientific excitement Axel Wellpot, the flight manager, was still very busy as can be seen by the number of windows he has open on his three screens! He has to keep a record of changes in flight level, control a number of core instruments, print predictions of pollution for the mission scientist and weather for the
pilots, he produces beautiful Google Earth plots for data visualisation and does numerous other things I don't even know about.

The scientists were showing less dedication to the cause as evidenced by the pictures below, but then there wasn't much else to do except watch your instrument flatline for 4hrs. Maybe in post processing we can see something of more use in the finer detail of the measurements but none of the massive elevations in concentration we were hoping for.

There are still a couple of instrument issues; the GC-MS pump continues to leak so the GC-MS now has to share the pump that is used to fill the whole air sampling (WAS) bottles, the NOx analyser has flow rate problems at high altitude (above about 20000 ft) and it looks as though the instrument that measures CO2
and methane was sucking a small amount of air in from the cabin. Stephane Bauguitte, the core chemistry operator, thinks that is now fixed but ideally he would put in a new, dedicated inlet for that instrument to ensure that sufficient flow is maintained and so it will not suck in any cabin air. Watch this space to find out if we can fix any of these problems or if we will just have to find a way to work around them.

Steph and Seb try and fix the problem with the CO2 instrument while Piero talks to Axel.

In other news we saw a rather interesting looking aircraft outside the hanger we are working at yesterday. Looks to me like the propellers are on backwards but the engineers, after a little joking around, assured me that it makes no difference and that it is just the way the Japanese decided to build that particular model.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Update on Progress and Sources of Information

So the BAe146 ARA took off from Cranfield, UK yesterday and travelled down to Horta in the Azores where it stayed overnight. This morning it took off again to fly first to St John's and after a quick refuel, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Early reports sent from Professor Ally Lewis who is mission scientist for the transit flight suggest that all instruments being operated on the transit are working well with a few minor issues at high altitude. Inflight data seemed to follow the predictions made by Mark Parrington's GEOS-5 CO forecasts remarkably well. The aircraft is due to land in Halifax around 1800Z or 1500 local time.

Andrew Elford uploaded a picture of the first ozonesonde launch for the BORTAS-B campaign to the BORTAS facebook group yesterday and it is also shown below. Hopefully we will have some other updates from the ground team soon as they have been working hard for the last few weeks getting everything running and collecting data in the run up to the aircraft campaign.

The first ozonesonde launch of the BORTAS-B campaign which took place at Egbert yesterday.

If you are interested in the data that is being collected there are a few online resources you might be interested in. Information about and data from the ozonesonde launches can be found at On this site there is a table containing the dates of launches and under each location links to a data file (labelled D) and a graph (labelled G) so that you can see what the vertical profile of temperature and ozone concentration look like. The Atmospheric Optics Laboratory at the University of Dalhousie has a webpage which links data from the Dalhousie ground station and has recent plots from the lidar, this can be found at They also have a page that will display live plots from the lidar at Dalhousie and that is located at If you want to see where the aircraft is when it is airborne this webpage shows its current position and also the track it has taken during that particular flight. The GEOS-5 CO forecasts are updated daily at and the number of forest fires is displayed by the University of Maryland's web fire mapper at Of course you can also follow updates on twitter or facebook and keep visiting the blog for news, pictures and more information.