Carbon in flight

Using a powerful, teched-out jet, scientists are taking a series of “slices” of the atmosphere over the next few years to figure out exactly where and when greenhouse gases enter and leave the atmosphere.

An article in Scientific American reports that a crew just returned in late January from the first of 11 flights that will stretch “from pole to pole and from the surface to the atmosphere’s upper reaches.” Specifically, they’re traveling from Colorado to the Arctic Circle to Tahiti, Antarctica, Easter Island and Costa Rica. Once all measurements are known, scientists will have a global picture of the atmosphere that shows where and when the carbon “emitted annually by cars, factories, deforestation and other human activities enters the atmosphere.”

The $4.5 million mission is intended to increase our understanding “of how carbon cycles through the atmosphere and among the earth, air and oceans,” the article states, and to develop more accurate models of the carbon cycle. The mission also aims to “provide a baseline against which efforts worldwide to curb carbon emissions can be judged,” the article said.

The scientists are from NCAR in Colorado, Harvard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Miami and Princeton University.