Looming into sight: Black and Bloom

As with many things, I have been guilty of letting this channel slip over time. Like many before me I had blog aspirations but you can probably guess the rest.  Anyway much has happened since the last post in December 2013, yes it’s really that long. We’re continued to visit the Isle of Arran every CaptureSeptember with some of our final year students for an atmospheric science fieldcourse, the course is now multinstitutional, taking students from both the Universities of Reading and Edinburgh, it’s always great to mix up the groups and see them thrive through having such a broad range of skills around a single table. I have posted about this fieldcourse in the past so won’t elaborate here.

A major event was the funding success of the Black and Bloom project (website has just gone live last week). This is a major project funded by NERC which will make, what we think to be, the most comprehension survey of the biological process that are thought to contribute to the darkening of the Greenland Ice sheet. Black sand Bloom is a bit of a new venture for me as much of my previous fieldwork has onboard the UK research aircraft, originally the now retired MRF C130 ‘Snoopy’ and latterly the NERC ARSF Dornier and the FAAM  146 aircraft. That said before that my PhD work was ground-based, on the west coast of Ireland at Macehead as part of the ACSOE project back in the late 90s.

As an aside from the scientific challenges we have to tackle for the Black and Bloom project, we will also have to contend with the extra complexity of working on the icesheet. Things sucS61h as the only way to access the site is by the Air Greenland S61 helicopter based in Kangerlussuaq (or just ‘Kanger’ as everyone seems to call the place. Accommodation is fairly basic, that translates into tents…. we do have two fairly impressive tents which provide us with a lab and also a ‘mes20160709_185645-W800s’ for cooking and general relaxation space, if such a thing actually exists where we’re heading. The site we are heading to (tomorrow!) is around 20 minutes flight from Kanger, around 30 km onto the icesheet itself, we want to be well away from the edges where the dangers of hiddencamp_s6 crevases doesn’t bear thinking about. We have a solar powered system with generator as a backup AND to be operated when the site is downwind of our observation al area (but to be avoided because of the pollution it generates when it’s running, pointless producing the stuff I’ll be trying to measure). For the assorted surface measurements we will setup our ‘pixel’ this is a 500 x 500m area that will be instrumented and have samples collected from across it, this allows us to capture a representative selection of some of the inhomogeneities across the ice surface, the satellite image above illustrates this nicely.

You can stay in touch with our progress via the website and also @Glacier_Albedo

 

 

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Operation Cloud Lab snippets

A few people have asked about footage from our journey across the US in 2014, there are a number of clips still live on the BBC website….

Trailerthe original trailer, the Cloud Lab shows were part of a short season of programmes built around the umbrella of “Life in the Clouds”

Out of control‘ when the wind gets hold of the airship there’s little you can do about it. In Galveston we ‘sat out’ a storm system for five days

Weighing a cloud, this has to be one of the programme highlights, no one has every do it before (to our knowledge). The figures are quite surprising, although if you think about it they do make sense, there are plenty of images of roof collapse due to snow build up (google images). Accuweather even tell you how to calculate roof snow load and all this weight drops out of the sky from those little fluffy clouds (sorry I had to do it…..)

Felicity (Aston) also put pen to paper for the BBC blogsite

 

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So what exactly was Cloud Lab all about?

cloud_lab_logo - CopySince I have come back a number of people have asked about my ‘holiday’ in the United States with the BBC. It is strange, I have done a great many field campaigns over the last few years and in general they all have their own ‘special features’ which make for an interesting life. Be it aircraft getting stuck in Ahmedabad (India) with landing gear problems, project gas cylinder shipment arriving 6 days before end of six week deployment or even an Icelandic volcano interrupting (which meant that the aircraft was required to stay in the UK in case of further eruptions and subsequently postponed a project in Brazil for 2 years). And let’s be honest Cloud Lab was nothing different, weather is always the main factor whether it is a 4 engine research aircraft or an airship. That said the airship is a great deal more susceptible to the vaugaries of the weather and our journey coinciding with the North American Monsoon was always going to make things interesting. And it did, which meant that things changed as we progressed across the continent, we were certainly kept on our toes. And it served as a constant reminder that no matter how much planning goes into something, somethings are well beyond our control and the weather is one of them. I guess this is somewhat fitting since the whole raison d’etre of the Cloud Lab experiment was to demonstrate that there are a great many factors which affect the weather/climate. These factors all exist in the ‘earth system’, as the science community often calls it, and they interact with each other at many different scales and a range of repercussions. So if we are to understand the atmosphere then we need to have a good handle on all of these interactions or at the very least the more important ones.

As is always the case, once you finish a project you suddenly discover things that would have added an extra dimension to your story. What makes clouds? A very long time ago Charles Lindberg tried his hand at aerial microbiology. Six years after his historic trans-Atlantic flight, he used a tube-shaped contraption called a “sky hook” to collect fungi and pollen from a red-winged monoplane. We did a similar experiment but using pumps and sterilised plastic filter holders, but you’ll have to wait and see what we found!

Crash course….. Along the way we received quite a few visits from local newspapers, radio and TV stations. One thing that I learnt quite quickly is that one should always hold back, saving some surprises for when the programme is broadcast. These are known as ‘reveals’ and each show has a number of these along the way.

2013-10-01 07.44.30

Strangely our appearance on the front page of the Galveston County Daily News appeared to relegate the Government Shutdown as a major news story, whilst obviously the arrival of an airship in Galveston is serious stuff but I have to admit that I sort of felt some thing of a fraud upon discovering that the economic situation in the US had been pushed aside by a 200 foot long bag of helium….

In the UK, the Daily Telegraph published a piece just as we were starting out.

There was also a short article in the October edition of our University Reporter about the trip.

Our final halt was Salinas in California which is a few miles south of San Francisco, the final press visit to the airship was whilst we were returning it to normality by removing all the kit we had installed. (this one originally included a video clip but this now appears to have been taken down, surely disk space is cheap these days….)

I discovered an interesting piece by the Cloud Lab Executive producer, Jonathan Renouf, about producing what some might see as biased television.

Photos taken during the trip continue to get some coverage, the latest ‘outing’ is one of the images used for this years electronic Christmas card from the university!

 

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Cold calling……..

Picture the scene, we are finally generating filter samples for Kelly to work her magic upon and probe them for ice nucleation efficiencies. BUT! we don’t have the necessary solvents to prepare the cold stage. So we get online and start to contact faculty members at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Kelly strikes gold and gets a call back from Dr Hamish Christie who thinks he can sort us out!

This is not the first occasion that cold calling local universities has come up trumps, it has previously been cryogens like solid carbon dioxide and liquid nitrogen (in Fresno and Tromso respectively). It gives a warm feeling that this sort of approach works through the “kinship” of academics who are always keen to see other strike out with research and will go that extra mile to help this happen.

So, all in all, a heartfelt thanks to Hamish, cheers mate!

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