Articles | Volume 6, issue 3
Research article
01 Mar 2013
Research article |  | 01 Mar 2013

Long-term greenhouse gas measurements from aircraft

A. Karion, C. Sweeney, S. Wolter, T. Newberger, H. Chen, A. Andrews, J. Kofler, D. Neff, and P. Tans

Abstract. In March 2009 the NOAA/ESRL/GMD Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Gases Group collaborated with the US Coast Guard (USCG) to establish the Alaska Coast Guard (ACG) sampling site, a unique addition to NOAA's atmospheric monitoring network. This collaboration takes advantage of USCG bi-weekly Arctic Domain Awareness (ADA) flights, conducted with Hercules C-130 aircraft from March to November each year. Flights typically last 8 h and cover a large area, traveling from Kodiak up to Barrow, Alaska, with altitude profiles near the coast and in the interior. NOAA instrumentation on each flight includes a flask sampling system, a continuous cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) carbon dioxide (CO2)/methane (CH4)/carbon monoxide (CO)/water vapor (H2O) analyzer, a continuous ozone analyzer, and an ambient temperature and humidity sensor. Air samples collected in flight are analyzed at NOAA/ESRL for the major greenhouse gases and a variety of halocarbons and hydrocarbons that influence climate, stratospheric ozone, and air quality.

We describe the overall system for making accurate greenhouse gas measurements using a CRDS analyzer on an aircraft with minimal operator interaction and present an assessment of analyzer performance over a three-year period. Overall analytical uncertainty of CRDS measurements in 2011 is estimated to be 0.15 ppm, 1.4 ppb, and 5 ppb for CO2, CH4, and CO, respectively, considering short-term precision, calibration uncertainties, and water vapor correction uncertainty. The stability of the CRDS analyzer over a seven-month deployment period is better than 0.15 ppm, 2 ppb, and 4 ppb for CO2, CH4, and CO, respectively, based on differences of on-board reference tank measurements from a laboratory calibration performed prior to deployment. This stability is not affected by variation in pressure or temperature during flight. We conclude that the uncertainty reported for our measurements would not be significantly affected if the measurements were made without in-flight calibrations, provided ground calibrations and testing were performed regularly. Comparisons between in situ CRDS measurements and flask measurements are consistent with expected measurement uncertainties for CH4 and CO, but differences are larger than expected for CO2. Biases and standard deviations of comparisons with flask samples suggest that atmospheric variability, flask-to-flask variability, and possible flask sampling biases may be driving the observed flask versus in situ CO2 differences rather than the CRDS measurements.