British research plane to gather Arctic climate data

A specially equipped UK research aircraft has set off for the Arctic to gather data that will improve predictions about the region’s future climate.

The BAe 146 Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA), owned and converted by BAE Systems, carries up to 18 scientists working on 15 mission equipment racks and scientific consoles and fly around 500 science hours a year, the highest of any atmospheric research aircraft in the world.

The latest mission for the plane, converted from a 100-seater British Aerospace 146 passenger plane, will be to help scientists working on the project to improve understanding of how clouds and aerosols in the Arctic atmosphere affect its climate.

The plane carries a large pod on its front port side housing instruments, a range of sensors and pipes along the fuselage and wing-mounted pylons that can carry different instruments depending on the mission.

To equip the plane for the new campaign, BAE engineers at Prestwick in Scotland had to install a new wing pylon canister instrument for the detection of cloud droplets ranging from 2-75 micron by laser-initiated light scattering principles.

The plane will fly above, in, and below cloud taking measurements of cloud microphysical properties and dropping dropsondes (weather sensors carried by parachute) over the open ocean, the ice edge, the marginal ice zone and solid ice.

Researchers led by a team from Leeds University will use the data gathered to measure cloud processes that directly affect the surface of the earth, and the sources of aerosol (sea-spray and particles derived from the oxidisation of DMS – a gas emitted by marine plankton) that control cloud microphysical properties.

By better understanding the relationship between clouds, aerosol, sea ice and the wider Arctic climate system, the scientists hope to be able to make improved predictions of future Arctic climate.

The ACCACIA (Aerosol Cloud-Coupling and Climate Interactions in the Arctic) project also involves researchers from Manchester, York and East Anglia universities as well as the Met Office and the British Antarctic Survey.

The plane today left its home base at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, for a three-week tour of duty based at Kiruna in northern Sweden, flying out of Longyearbyen Airport on the Norwegian island of Svalbard within the Arctic Circle.

It will work alongside and co-ordinate its measurements with a British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter research aircraft that will be used mainly for low-level runs to measure near surface fluxes.

An RV Lance icebreaker research ship, used by the Norwegian Polar Institute, will operate in the area to the south and west of Svalbard to provide measurements of aerosol sources and aerosol precursor gases at the sea surface.

The BAe 146 ARA is operated by Directflight in the UK under subcontract to BAE Systems while the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) manages the scientific tasking on behalf of the National Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Met Office.