Sep. 22, 1997 ROLLA, Mo. -- University of Missouri-Rolla researchers will sample air particles from the world's most heavily traveled flight corridor as part of an international study of how aircraft exhaust affects the atmosphere.
Drs. Donald Hagen and Philip Whitefield -- researchers from UMR's Cloud and Aerosol Sciences Laboratory -- are conducting the tests from Shannon, Ireland, starting next week and continuing through Oct. 15.
"There is no real problem that has been identified," Hagen says. "This testing is like going to the doctor to have a physical. You don't even have a pain in your side. But if we're going to see an effect, this is where we're going to see it."
Because of the number of flights from North America to Europe, the North Atlantic Flight Corridor is the most heavily traveled flight corridor in the world. In addition to the volume, the aircraft follow narrow, well-defined flight paths.
"These paths -- called the Organized Flight Track -- make it particularly interesting to study," Hagen says.
It's so interesting that American and European scientists are teaming up through two programs -- NASA's SONEX project and the European Economic Community's POLINAT 2 program -- to conduct the tests. SONEX stands for Sass Ozone and Nitrogen Experiment. POLINAT is the European Economic Community's study, called Pollution From Aircraft Emissions in the North Atlantic Flight Corridor.
"They decided to combine these operations because the value added would be tremendous," Whitefield says. "Bringing the NASA DC-8 with all of its instrumentation on board and the Falcon (a German research plane) with all of its instrumentation on board, plus all the modeling by these scientists, will give us enormous data that will help us understand how aircraft emissions are affecting the atmosphere."
The results of this study may one day "provide the evidence upon which the decision whether or not aircraft engines need to be modified will be made," Hagen says.
This international coordination involves everyone from weather forecasters to air traffic controllers to scientists studying specific data.
"We have to know the type of every single aircraft and its engine that passes through the flight corridor," Whitefield says.
The study begins with the DC-8 operating from Bangor, Maine, gathering test data from an air mass anticipated to traverse the Atlantic through the Organized Flight Track. The German research aircraft (the Falcon) will fly through that same air mass as it passes through the eastern end of the North Atlantic Flight Corridor.
Tracking the air sample from start to finish is unique to this joint campaign and will provide the basis for comparison that the scientists need, Hagen says.
"This is something you couldn't do if you measured the air mass only on one side of the ocean," Hagen says. "You'd always be trying to guess what the original state of the clean air parcel was."
After its initial stint in Maine, NASA's DC-8 will join the German Falcon in Ireland.
Shannon, Ireland, provides an ideal base of operations. It's not only near the flight track, but "we also have exceptional cooperation from the flight controllers," Whitefield says.
Until five years ago, no one knew if it would be possible to measure the effects of aircraft exhaust on the atmosphere. The first POLINAT, in combination with Germany's DLR program, Deutsche Forschungsanstalt fur Luftund Raumfahrt, proved that it was possible. Hagen and Whitefield also participated in those studies -- in the winter of 1994 and the summer of 1995 -- through NASA-funded research.
The report on data from the first POLINAT was published in September 1996.
"There was no one gusty, one-liner type conclusion," Hagen says. "What the report did say was that it would be possible to define the effects of aircraft on an air corridor."
According to the report, the combined data shows that aircraft are responsible for a significant increase in the number of particles or aerosols in the immediate atmosphere in the North Atlantic Flight Corridor.
Beyond further testing, this joint campaign will overcome some of the challenges the scientists have identified to date. During early test campaigns, they discovered that the pollution from the aircraft exhaust spreads further than they had anticipated, "so we could never get out into clean air in the studies that we were doing with the range of the aircraft that we had," Hagen says. "This time the research aircraft will fly through the entire air mass between Iceland and the Azores, islands off the coast of Morocco. The plane will have to land and refuel before heading back."
Scientists from Germany, Norway, England, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States are participating in this joint 30-day campaign.
"This is the cream of the cream of the European people in this field put together," Whitefield says. "It's a real honor and accolade for us to be invited to participate."
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