11 June 2010
In early June, CSD researchers travelled to the Gulf of Mexico to assist in assessing the impacts of the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the environment. Researchers performed in-situ measurements and collected air samples during two extensive flights of a NOAA WP-3D aircraft in and around the oil spill areas. These observations included measurements of pollutants and their reaction products released into the atmosphere by the oil itself, as well as combustion products from the controlled burns.
The flights sampled the vertical distribution of chemical compounds and organic aerosols from within a few hundred feet above the water's surface to altitudes of a few thousand feet. Along with the characterization of the horizontal extent of these compounds, such measurements will provide information about the amount of atmospheric pollution emanating from this spill, and how it moves and disperses through the marine and coastal atmosphere.
The NOAA WP-3D research aircraft N43RF, affectionately named "Miss Piggy", is one of the world's premier airborne research platforms. This four-engine turboprop aircraft had been deployed in California since early May, engaged in an extensive multi-platform research campaign to examine interactions between air quality and climate change issues (CalNex 2010). Already chock full of sampling and analytical instrumentation for the CalNex study, this high-tech flying chemistry laboratory was fortunately "ready and able" to investigate air quality issues related to the oil spill.
The WP-3D aircraft left California for the 2000 mile transfer flight back to its home base at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida on June 7. With the full complement of research instruments filling every nook and cranny of the aircraft, researchers and support staff had to find their own way to Tampa aboard commercial flights. The first of two survey flights occurred on June 8, with approximately 6 hours of measurements and air sampling over the spill area. The second flight took place on June 10.
Upon completion of the Gulf survey flights, the CSD researchers and support staff returned to California, along with the WP-3D N43RF, to continue with the CalNex 2010 atmospheric research study.