Between February 3rd and February 6th, we completed two more legs of the Pacific tour of ATom: flight from Alaska to Hawaii and flight from Hawaii to Fiji. These two flights allowed us to sample extremely remote northern mid-latitude and tropical Pacific air, to investigate how “remote” versus how impacted this air was with pollutants transported from biomass burning and cities.
Both flights were extremely interesting in the real-time observations of the pollutants measured on the airplane. We were observing various gradients as we ascended and descended through the atmosphere, that quickly went from very clean air to air “recently” (less than 1 week ago) impacted by pollution to air that had been impacted by pollution at least 1 year ago. These two flights alone have provided a vast amount of data that will keep us busy for a while to understand the chemistry and transport impacted pristine, remote atmosphere.
One of the more fascinating things, from my perspective, has been the gradients and differences we have seen in the marine boundary layer as we have headed from Alaska to Fiji. Research on explaining the chemistry impacting the aerosol in this region will be a highlight and valuable result from the ATom mission, especially since we have already seen differences, in the observations, between ATom-1 and ATom-2.
The bad thing about airborne science, though, as previously mentioned in a prior post I wrote during KORUS-AQ, is the amount of time working, as well as, the time one has to wake up. The flight from Alaska was a “luxury,” with take-off at 11:00 am, local time, meaning we had to be at the plane by 8:00 am, local time, but the flight was about 9 hours. On the other hand, the flight from Hawaii to Fiji had a take-off at 8 am, local time, meaning that we had to be at the plane by 5 am, local time. Between the fact that we are staying on local time, and changing places every couple of days (think extreme jet leg and confusion about what time your body is actually in) with the early take-offs and long flights (9 – 11 hours), it starts becoming a toll on the scientists, both physically and mentally.
However, having the opportunity to partake in this science missions, which is extremely unique and has never been done, is an awesome experience with really great science that is occurring now and in the future. This mission will have lasting impacts on our understanding of the impacts of cities, forest fires, etc. on the remote atmosphere for years to come.
I had one more research flight before I swapped out with another member in my research team that I will write about later. In the mean time, here is the press from Fiji about the mission and the excitement and opportunity for Fiji to host our mission.