Recently I had a chance to fly with NASA on their Atmospheric Carbon & Transport mission from Wallops Island Flight Facility. Here’s what it’s all about:

Our atmosphere is made up with unique blends of gasses, oxygen, nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide are just a few. Recently I had a chance to meet with some of the scientists involved with the Atmospheric Carbon and Transport study, otherwise known as ACT America. The goal is to understand how the carbon dioxide and methane moves throughout our atmosphere.

When methane is created, it lasts in the atmosphere for about 10 years. (Note that I misspoke in the above video) When carbon dioxide is created, it lasts for hundreds of years. Some of the sources of carbon dioxide are from our cars, factories and animals. The absorbers, or sinks of carbon dioxide are from plants and trees. 

What scientists are doing are flying a C-130 from Wallops Island Flight Facility and measuring the carbon dioxide in the upper levels in the atmosphere, and then they fly at a low level, around 1,000 feet and then measure the carbon dioxide along the same path. When flying this low, the third pilot was used to spot towers, wind turbines and thunderstorms developing over the mountains.

The path we flew on on this particular day was from north of Washington D.C. all the way to northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. The total flight round trip was just a little more than 4 hours, and inside the C-130 was surprisingly comfortable with very soft seats, unlimited snacks, a spacious bathroom, and a microwave!

But this is a mission for science, and the plane is also filled with several computers and hoses to take in the outside air for constant measurements. A LIDAR was used to measure the contents of the atmosphere, and that data was checked by other instruments and verified by the lead scientist Ken Davis.

Throughout the flight, the levels of CO2 did change, and most of the time it made sense, flying over the dense forest, the CO2 levels dropped, then after leaving the forest, they would rise. Sometimes the levels would be higher, and we don’t really know why, so that is why scientists are looking to understand the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

NASA’s ACT America Homepage

Meteorologist Jeff Edmondson