Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
26 Feb 2010
 | 26 Feb 2010

Analysis of non-methane hydrocarbons in air samples collected aboard the CARIBIC passenger aircraft

A. K. Baker, F. Slemr, and C. A. M. Brenninkmeijer

Abstract. The CARIBIC project (Civil Aircraft for the Regular Investigation of the atmosphere Based on an Instrument Container) is a long-term monitoring program making regular atmospheric measurements from an instrument container installed monthly aboard a passenger aircraft. Typical cruising altitudes of the aircraft allow for the study of the free troposphere and the extra-tropical upper troposphere as well as the lowermost stratosphere. CARIBIC measurements include a number of real time analyses as well as the collection of aerosol and whole air samples. These whole air samples are analyzed post-flight for a suite of trace gases, which includes non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC).

The NMHC measurement system and its analytical performance are described here. Precision was found to vary slightly by compound, and is less than 2% for the C2–C6 alkanes and ethyne, and between 1% and 6% for C7–C8 alkanes and aromatic compounds. Preliminary results from participation in a Global Atmospheric Watch (WMO) VOC audit indicate accuracies within the precision of the system. Limits of detection are 1 pptv for most compounds, and up to 3 pptv for some aromatics. These are sufficiently low to measure mixing ratios typically observed in the upper troposphere and lowermost stratosphere for the longer-lived NMHC, however, in air samples from these regions many of the compounds with shorter lifetimes (<5 days) were frequently below the detection limit. Observed NMHC concentrations span several orders of magnitude, dependent on atmospheric region and air mass history, with concentrations typically decreasing with shorter chemical lifetimes.