Kirk Beckendorf, July 17, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 17, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 6:20 PM ET
Latitude- 43 20.33 N
Longitude- 68 18.92 W
Air Temperature 17 degrees C
Water Temperature 14 degrees C
Air Pressure 1009 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Southwest
Wind Speed at surface 7 MPH
Cloud cover and type Clear

Daily Log

How is it possible to tell if we are in pollution when we can’t even see it?

This morning I went through the normal routine of helping launch the ozonesonde at 10:00. Because it was a sunny day Drew Hamilton could make Sunop measurements throughout the afternoon so I helped with that. We specifically timed the Sunops so that we were taking measurements at the same times that three satellites were crossing overhead. The satellites were taking similar measurements looking down, while we were taking them looking up. Later, our measurements will be compared with those of the satellites.

In general, air pollution is a combination of particles and gases. I have discussed the particles in previous logs, but not much about the gases. A large number of the scientists involved in NEAQS-ITCT are studying these gases. I have spent a large amount of time talking with Eric Williams, Brian Lerner, Sallie Whitlow, Paul Goldan, Bill Kuster, Hans Osthoff and Paul Murphy. They have instruments on board which measure many of the different gases related to air pollution. But not all air pollution is the same.

The cause of the pollution determines what gases and particles are in the pollution. Gasoline powered automobiles release one combination of gas and particles. Diesel engines produce another combination. Coal burning power plants release yet a different combination. Natural gas power plants release (Yep, you guessed it) yet a different combination. In a city these get mixed together, so individual cities have there own unique pollution depending on the number of automobiles, power plants and factories. To make things more complicated, once these chemicals are released into the atmosphere and start mixing together, in the presence of sunlight they react with one another making additional gases and destroying others. What eventually happens to these pollutants and where they go, are two of the questions these scientists are seeking to answer. But answering these questions is very difficult, in part because things get extremely complicated very quickly. As Paul Goldan told me, part of the reason we need to make so many different kinds of measurements is because we are not even sure exactly what we are looking for.

Today as we criss-crossed back and forth through two plumes of pollution Eric showed me some of today’s data. As always, his instruments were measuring and recording some of the gases in the air. The quantities and kinds of gases changed as we went back and forth, helping to map where the pollution was located and how it has changed. Nothing looked different outside, but from the measurements he was taking he could tell that one of the plumes was younger than the other.

During the nightly meeting, Paul Goldan and Tim Bates presented completely different kinds of measurements that agreed with what Eric’s data showed. This comparing of daily observations will help confirm the accuracy of the observations and what they actually mean.

Questions of the Day

Where is the electricity in your house produced?

What kind of fuel is used to make your electricity?

What kind of fuel is burnt to make your automobiles run?

Who should be responsible for the pollution produced to make the electricity you use?

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