The return of the low-flying HIPPO

The HIAPER jet recently flew very low over NIWA’s atmospheric climate research station at Lauder. The international mission is taking a slice of the atmosphere, so scientists can learn more about greenhouse gases globally.

This is the third of five missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic aboard an advanced research jet, and the latest stage in a three-year project.

The scientists took the jet from an altitude of 300 meters above Earth’s surface up into the lower stratosphere, as high as 14 km. The scientists make measurements every second from take off.

The U.S. National Science Foundation HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) project in conjunction with NIWA is investigating the transport of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases throughout various altitudes of the western hemisphere through the annual cycle.

These findings help determine where and when greenhouse gases are entering and leaving the atmosphere.

"We have now collected high resolution global measurements during the southern hemisphere spring, summer and autumn, we are seeing CO2 and other gases going in and out of the Southern Ocean, with important implications for climate change,” says principal investigator, Dr Britton Stephens.

“In the Arctic we saw pooling of industrial emissions and respiration from land plants, while in the tropics we see evidence of biomass burning, and all of our measurements help us to quantify these processes,” says Stephens.  

The aircraft records a profile of greenhouse gases from the stratosphere downwards. At the same time, atmospheric scientists at Lauder measure the concentration of those gases at the Earth’s surface and upwards through the “total column” overhead.

"We then compare the integrated aircraft profiles and the ground based measurements from aircraft overpasses, helping to put New Zealand’s measurements in a global context, ” says Dr Vanessa Sherlock, leader of NIWA’s Total Carbon Column Observing Network research project.

For further comment, contact

Dr Britton Stephens
NIWA
04 382 1625

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HIAPER in flight (National Center for Atmospheric Research)