UK climate instruments to measure fluctuations in greenhouse gas levels

Two cutting-edge science instruments developed by UK researchers have taken to the skies aboard NASA’s Global Hawk research aircraft for the first time.

The first of the instruments, GHOST (Greenhouse Observations of the Stratosphere and Troposphere), was developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, in a joint effort with the Universities of Edinburgh and Leicester.

The second instrument, AIITS (the Aerosol Ice Interface Transition Spectrometer), measures particles like dust, water droplets, and ice crystals. The transport of particles and pollutants between the troposphere and stratosphere plays a crucial role in the climate system and the health of the ozone layer. AIITS was jointly developed by the universities of Hertfordshire and Manchester.

Dr Hartmut Boesch, the science lead at Leicester from the Department of Physics and Astronomy who helped to develop the first instrument, said: "The Global Hawk is an ideal vehicle for our GHOST instrument and thanks to its long duration, we can obtain an unique dataset of atmospheric greenhouse gases that will help us to better understand the drivers for the variability of these key gases."

The Global Hawk aircraft is flying above the equatorial regions of the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 20km, where the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere, meets the stratosphere above. Scientists believe this area, known as the tropopause, plays a critical role in Earth’s climate.

The instruments hope to accurately measure incredibly tiny fluctuations in greenhouse gas levels.