Reporter 442, 8 November 1999


World-wide study of emissions and pollutants cleared for take-off

University researchers have taken to the skies to help finger foreign countries whose pollution makes its way into our environment. The team from chemistry and the environment centre have been using a Hercules aircraft to study the concentrations of polluting chemicals in the atmosphere, many of which come from overseas


Chocks away: The research team flew in search of airborne pollution and even scored an obscured view of the solar eclipse. From left Jim McQuaid, Judith Davies and Ally Lewis

The source of the chemicals can be tracked if they are captured soon enough so the researchers designed their very own flying laboratory.

Each polluting species has a unique signature, said researcher Ally Lewis, but this rapidly fades if the samples of air are left for too long before analysis.

Before the research could, quite literally, take off, the team needed to build a sensor which could fit into and operate from the Met Office Hercules.

Dr Lewis said many of the polluting organic chemicals the researchers found in the skies above the UK had been blown here across the Atlantic from the United States.

The US does not escape, however, as it receives many of the noxious emissions emerging from south east Asia. Understanding how this global circulation of pollutants occurs could help predict future environmental changes, including global warming.

The researchers were also lucky enough to get one of the best views of the summer's solar eclipse from the plane - strictly in the name of science of course. Switching the sun off for two minutes offered a unique opportunity to study how its light affects the atmosphere, said Dr Lewis.

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