GHOST in the sky captures Greenhouse Gases

An instrument co-designed by University of Leicester scientists has been used in aircraft flights over the UK to monitor greenhouse gases.

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.

Professor Hartmut Boesch, the science lead at Leicester, said the instrument allows scientists to produce precise maps of where greenhouse gases are being released and taken up at the Earth’s surface.

The instrument was recently taken on board a British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter out of Cranfield as part of a project funded by the UK Space Agency Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation. These planes, which are adapted for polar research, are being used for important science closer to home too.  The flight was also captured by a BBC film crew.

Professor Boesch, Professor in Earth Observation in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “These aircraft flights are important to show that we can use space technology to gather information where CO2 and methane is emitted. Such technology will play a key role supporting policy makers in their efforts of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Dr Neil Humpage, researcher in the Earth Observation Group, added:  “It was a great experience to have the BBC on board the flight and to be able to explain to a wider audience the importance of our research into greenhouse gases.”

First installed on NASA's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, GHOST behaves like a sub-orbital satellite instrument, measuring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane across large regions but in fine detail.

Soon after GHOST returned to the UK, it was deployed on the NERC Airborne Research and Survey Facility Dornier aircraft as a demonstrator for UK technology, funded by the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation. Unlike the Global Hawk, the Dornier and Twin Otter aircrafts can fly slow and low, letting it map the plume of emissions from a particular source in great detail.

On the deployment the targets included the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, landfill sites near Bedford, Leicester city centre and Edinburgh city centre. In this type of deployment, GHOST provides a unique perspective on regional emissions of greenhouse gases.

This new instrument demonstrates the value of merging the expertise of environmental physicists with that of another community - in this case, astronomers. GHOST represents a new and unique resource for the UK science community that can be adopted for many different platforms and science applications. Over the coming years it will be shedding new light on emissions and uptake of greenhouse gases all over the world, and so helping us get a better idea of how our climate is changing. GHOST also helps to prepare future space missions that will use similar technology.