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.

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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!



About Jim McQuaid

Atmospheric scientist (chemist by birth). Working in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds). Often found in close proximity to the FAAM146 research aircraft. Previously found urrently providing some science (and weighing clouds!) to the BBC Cloud Lab project as well as making clouds for BBC Wild Weather series.... (more... @jimmcquaid
This entry was posted in Atmosphere, Cloud Lab, fieldwork, general musings. Bookmark the permalink.

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