Something in the air

WP-3D Orions collect air samples to better understand climate change impacts

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 7/1/2010

Radar planes that typically track hurricanes for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been flying over the San Gabriel Valley in recent weeks in a multi-agency project involving Caltech called CalNex aimed at determining the nexus of pollution and climate over California
Using three types of aircraft — a WP-3D Orion four-engine turboprop aircraft with a 100-foot wing span, the Atlantis, a research vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and a DeHavilland Twin Otter aircraft packed with instruments to collect air particles all over the Los Angeles basin and along the coast of California — the goal is to provide regional information on climate and air quality issues. 
According to Jose-Luis Jimenez, a University of Colorado professor, CalNex is one of the largest air quality experiments ever performed, measuring particles and pollutants in a mission to help policymakers better understand and deal with climate change.
“We want to understand very thoroughly where these particles come from, what they’re made of, how they evolve, and eventually how they’re removed,” said Professor John Seinfeld, who headed the Caltech team, according to a Caltech press release.
It will now take years to analyze all the data collected during the four-month project. 
“Data analysis will go on for quite some time,” said Richard Flagan, executive officer of chemical engineering at Caltech, who worked with Seinfeld on CalNex. “People are already starting to analyze it, but it will certainly be going on for at least a year. Many samples were collected, and after they’re analyzed then comes the hard part: what we see in the air.”
The LA Basin portion of the project began in March, when researchers from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, NASA, Harvard, University of Colorado, University of Miami and Caltech set up shop at several locations in Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and the Caltech campus. 
Flights began May 1 and continued through June 22.