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Pack Your Bags, We're Going to the Arctic... for Spring Break
By: Jennifer Collings

For many at NASA Langley Research Center it is time to pack bags for spring break. However, those working on the Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites (ARCTAS) mission can leave the sunscreen, beach balls and swimsuits at home. They are heading north to study the Arctic.

The ARCTAS mission, one of the POLARCAT (POLar study using Aircraft, Remote sensing, surface measurements and modeling of Climate, chemistry, Aerosols and Transport) campaigns for the International Polar Year, is aimed at learning more about the state of the Arctic atmosphere and reporting on the changes that have occurred as a result of pollution. The ARCTAS team includes members from NASA Langley, NASA Headquarters and partners from universities and other research groups across the U.S.

Andreas Beyersdorf, Bruce Anderson and Glen Sachse.Image right: After long hours of packing instruments and equipment, Andreas Beyersdorf, Bruce Anderson and Glen Sachse secure the cargo for shipment. Following instrument integration and test flights in Palmdale, Calif., the team will begin the first deployment for the ARCTAS Mission in Canada and Alaska. Credit: Sean Smith.

Climate change in the Arctic has been accelerating at an alarming rate over the past few decades. Thick particle layers, forest fire emissions and pollutants from North America and Eurasia have penetrated the Arctic environment, causing ice sheets to melt and a decrease in the reflection of sunlight off the snow.

The ARCTAS aircraft and instruments will be taken to Palmdale, Calif., for test flights, and then the crew will continue on in April for the first of two month-long deployments. They will establish bases in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Cold Lake, Canada.

"These sites are where our bases will be, but we will be making trips into the Arctic Circle to take measurements. We can cover a lot of ground because the DC-8 has a duration of 10 hours," explains Lee Thornhill, a Science Directorate researcher with Science Systems and Applications, Inc.

To accomplish the mission objectives, the ARCTAS team will need a suite of instruments. NASA Langley researchers are needing some of the instruments on ARCTAS aircraft. For example, while AVOCET measures carbon dioxide levels, the Langley Aerosol Research Group Experiment (LARGE) will track aerosols.

Glenn Diskin, Charlie Hudgins, Eddie Winstead and Bruce Anderson.Image left: As Glenn Diskin, Charlie Hudgins, Eddie Winstead and Bruce Anderson load the ARCTAS instruments onto the truck, a crowd begins to form in the parking lot behind building 1250 at NASA Langley. This shipment represents the culmination of more than two years of preparation by more than 50 Science Directorate employees. Credit: Sean Smith.

John Hair, a research scientist in the Science Directorate and an instrument principal investigator for the campaign, explains the role that Airborne UV DIfferential Absorption Lidar (DIAL) will play: "DIAL is an active remote sensor that measures profiles of ozone and aerosols using several different laser wavelengths. Specifically in the spring phase, our instrument will be providing observations of the ozone and aerosol distributions to better understand the long-range transport of pollution into the Arctic and quantify its contribution to the observed ozone."

Many of the mission's instruments, including DIAL, will be carried on NASA's DC-8, with the support of B-200 and P-3B. The key to their flight plans is coordination of he instruments with NASA's polar observing satellites, such as CALIPSO and other members of the A-Train.

"It is important to see the more detailed distributions, both vertically and horizontally, of aerosols and trace gases, that the aircraft measurements provide and connect these to the larger scale satellite measurements," Hair explains.

The data from the satellites, combined with the instruments on the aircraft, will provide a rich amount of information about one of the world's most remote and vulnerable areas.

For more information on ARCTAS, please visit:

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