Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A Bit of Background...

The BORTAS project is funded by the National Environment Research Council (NERC) and it aims to find out more about how the chemicals emitted from biomass burning interact and change as they disperse and how this affects the oxidation chemistry occurring.

You might wonder why BORTAS? Well as you will probably find out if you continue to follow this blog, atmospheric scientists love acronyms, particularly when they are only loosely based on the actual name of a project. So BORTAS actually stands for..deep breath...'Quantifying the impact of BOReal forest fires on Tropospheric oxidants over the Atlantic using Aircraft and Satellites'..and breathe. Now you know why we use acronyms!

Essentially we are going out to Halifax in Canada on the 12th/13th July and staying until 3rd August, over what we hope will be the seasonal peak period for Canadian forest fires. Using some clever computing, members of the group will attempt to predict the location of plumes from the fires and we hope to be able to fly through them in the FAAM (that's the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements) BAE 146 research aircraft. On the aircraft we have a lot of air monitoring instruments which should allow us to get information on the chemical composition of the air we are flying through and the number and characteristics of any particles that are present. What will be really exciting is if we can then intercept the same air parcel after it has aged a little and see how the composition has changed. There will also be some instruments on the ground operated by our Canadian collaborators that should give us even more information about what is going on.

You might think 'well..so what?', but changes in atmospheric composition in one place can affect the air quality a long way from the emission source. Basically, an increase in certain gases over Canada as a result of forest fires could affect how well cities in the UK and across Europe can meet their air quality standards. This makes understanding the chemistry that goes on in these plumes and how the composition changes over time a very worth while thing to study.