Monday, 28 November 2011

Audio Diary Now Online

During the BORTAS aircraft campaign we made some audio recordings to illustrate what we get up to on fieldwork. I sent these off to the brilliant guys who run the NERC Planet Earth podcast (Sue Nelson and Richard Hollingham) and they have edited them together to create our audio diary. It features in the latest podcast which can be accessed from the Planet Earth Online website at The audio diary comes at the end after a feature about the ozone hole and one about starlings. The audio diary contains interviews with Professor Alastair Lewis from the University of York and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and Jonny Taylor from the University of Manchester.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

BORTAS paper published in ACPD today!

The first paper from the BORTAS-A measurement campaign was published today in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions. Here is a link to the abstract and a nice colourful figure from the paper.

Well done to everyone involved in the paper; keep up the good work. I look forward to reading many more BORTAS publications!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Flying is the hard work begins!

As you may have gathered from the last post, all the flight team are now safely back in the UK and the aircraft is getting ready for its next deployment. First impressoins suggest that it was a very successful campaign. We were very lucky with the weather and positioning of the forest fires which meant that we were able to sample ageing plumes on several occassions. It would also seem that we managed to make measurements of plumes at different ages from relatively fresh to several days old. We managed to perform a spiral profile during a satellite overpass, a profile around the time of an ozonesonde launch and two fly-bys of the Pico Mountain Observatory which should allow comparisons with these measurement platforms.

Clockwise from top left: Aura satellite (from, Pico Mountain Observatory, BAe 146 Atmospheric Research Aircraft, ozonesonde launch.

We also got some good publicity and various articles that are available on the net if you want to have a look. It was all kicked off by The Canadian Smoke Newsletter in autumn 2009 which has a section about BORTAS at the end of the autumn 2009 issue (when the aircraft campaign was intended to be in July 2010). Press releases came out just before the start of the campaign in July 2011 from NERC ( and BAe systems ( along with an article in The Herald Scotland. BORTAS also featured in the print versions of the Edinburgh Metro and The Press and Journal - the voice of the North but we couldn't find online versions of those articles. During the campaign in Halifax we had a visit from The Chronicle Herald, a Canadian Newspaper, but I can't seem to get access to the article anymore (headline: Researchers tracking effect of forest fire smoke around the globe), we did make the front page though! Some of our scientists starred on the Global Maritimes evening news, see them at, and filming took place during one of our flights by the Discovery Channel Canada so we will see what comes from that. The University of York eventually caught up and featured the BORTAS campaign on their news pages on 3rd August. All in all it's good to see that people are interested, now we just have to wait and see what the data shows up!

So now the hard work of analysing, quality assuring and correlating data begins. Updates to the blog will be less frequent but I will keep you up to date with any progress, meetings and (fingers crossed) publication of lots of hard hitting scientific papers.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Thunder Bay, Goose Bay, Halifax - a little road trip for the flight crew

So I had to leave the guys in Halifax on 27th but the aircraft didn't leave until 2nd August. The day before I left the aircraft and a slimline crew of scientists (to give as much fuel and space for an engineer) set off to Thunder Bay to try and get some measurements close to the source of the plumes, the fires in Ontario. Since Thunder Bay is a long way from Halifax it was necessary to have an overnight stop there. Plan was to fly straight there, refuel and then fly around the region that had been reported to contain many forest fires. Unfortunately for us there had been a significant amount of rain the day before and many of the fires had been extinguished. I was imagining that there would be amazing pictures of huge fires with black smoke billowing out (probably unlikely they would have got close enough for decent pictures had they still been burning, don't want to dirty all the sensitive instruments), however Steve Andrews did manage to get a picture of some small fires still burning.

The levels of carbon monoxide seen were also less than some of us were expecting so close to the burning source, but we did see our highest levels of methane so far. After a very long day flying the flight crew retired to their hotel, which I have heard was 'less than luxurious', for what in some cases was a disrupted night's sleep. The next day all woke up expecting to be heading back towards Halifax but the weather had other plans. Forecasts for fog and bad weather in Halifax and the surrounding areas meant that the requirements for divert airports could not be met and the aircraft would have to find an alternative place to fly to. Since the plan for the next day was to fly to Goose Bay it was decided to head there for the night and fly out from there in the morning. Let's hope they all took a sufficient supply of clean underwear for their little road/air trip. Despite the bad weather forecast for further east, it was a beautiful morning in Thunder Bay and the aircraft took off and headed to Goose Bay.

Morning at Thunder Bay airport

After an overnight in Goose Bay another long day was planned with a 4 hr instrument warm up then a flight around the Goose Bay area, a refuel and a transit back to Halifax (at last!). During this flight the aircraft instruments saw evidence of aged plumes from forest fires against a clean background of marine air. They performed a vertical profile up to 24,000 ft in the same area as the Goose Bay ozone sonde launch site approximately 30 minutes before the daily sonde was launched which should hopefully give a nice comparison. After flying into and out of the plume numerous times and at several heights the aircraft refuelled at Goose Bay and the tired scientists and crew headed for home (well, the holiday inn/hilton hotels) for a good night's sleep. After all, the next day would be a no flying, hard down day, supposedly for rest and relaxation, but in this case would see the second BORTAS football match and hopefully a win for the flight team this time!

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.