Blog: atmospheric gas measurements - 21 February

21 February 2018John McGregor from NIWA checks on the instruments that measure atmospheric gases throughout our voyage.

21 February 2018

It’s a daily task for NIWA’s John McGregor from NIWA to make several trips down from the bridge to his lab on the Main Deck, one deck up from the bottom of the ship, to check on the instruments that measure atmospheric gases throughout our voyage.

John McGregor, NIWA enjoying the fresh -6°C Antarctic air.
John McGregor, NIWA points out the path of the air line up the ships decks to the Monkey Island.

The PICARRO instrument is a Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and water vapour (H2O) analyser. It is constantly measuring CO2 , and CH4 in the air that is piped down from the Monkey Island at the very top of the ship. Water vapour is removed by drying before analysis, so if any water shows up in analyses, it is an indication of problems with the system. In addition, the instrument is automatically calibrated twice a day with gases of known concentration.

John needs to keep an eye on the wind direction to rule out false measurements from the ships exhaust. In addition, a flask sampler system allows John to take samples of Antarctic air for more detailed analysis back on shore after the voyage.

The air in Antarctica is very clean, as it is as far as we can get from any cities, traffic and other major sources of air pollution. Another clean air site closer to home is at Baring Head, near Wellington, and the measurements we take from down here will be compared with the measurements we take from air samples at Baring Head, in order to improve our understanding of CO2 in the atmosphere and its influence on climate.

 Another system onboard measures dissolved carbon dioxide (pCO2) in the seawater coming through the ships Underway water supply, which gives us the other half of the picture of how much CO2 from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean.

John McGregor, NIWA gives us a tour of the lab where atmospheric gases are analysed.
John McGregor, NIWA points out the CO2 measurements from the Ross Sea air analysed by the PICCARRO instrument.
This complicated looking instrument is a PCO2 analyser, which takes seawater samples from the ships Underway water system and measures how much dissolved CO2 is present.
The valve used to switch between the dissolved carbon dioxide PCO2 measurements and atmospheric gas analysis by PICCARRO.
The compressed air and CO2 gas bottles used for calibrating PICCARRO.
Gas flasks are filled with Ross Sea air samples taken off Cape Adare and stored in this box to take back home to Wellington and compare with air samples taken at Baring Head.