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Fig. 1 Scoria cones surround the runway

 

During the course of the GEOmon project, a new deliverable was introduced to install air sampling and monitoring equipment on Ascension Island with an aim to monitor CO2 and methane.

Dave Lowry and Rebecca Wilson bravely accepted the onorous task of installing the equipment and reported back to us on the rigours of their trip. Thank you to Dave for the engaging report and the wonderful photos!

We left RAF Brize Norton late on June 16 on the scheduled Air Seychelles flight to the Falkland Islands via Ascension. Eight hours later we approached the aptly named Wideawake airfield for touchdown between the imposing deep red-brown scoria cones (Fig. 1), and were whisked off to the Obsidian Hotel (the only hotel) in the administrative centre and island port Georgetown. One of the distinctive fleet of white Fiestas allowed us to travel around the island and get back to our main workplace for the week, the Met Office building at the airport. Waiting patiently for our arrival were numerous boxes of equipment sent 3 weeks prior, but not our vital calibration gases.

Within 3 hours the main equipment was set up and operational in the air conditioned server room, measuring carbon dioxide and methane concentrations. Our Met Office host, Vicky Huntly, got to work persuading the services guys to help us set up the air inlet. The following day we had two holes drilled through the wall and our air line outside and sampling the South Atlantic breeze, but it would take a further 4-days of waiting before we could get our airline attached to a mast above the buiding. With our calibration cylinders having been pushed off two flights by more important military cargo, we had the weekend to fret over their arrival on the Monday morning flight and the last chance to complete the installation before we left. 

 

Fig. 2 Lush plantations cover the summit ridge of Green Mountain

 

Still, no point worrying about it when there was a whole 100 square kilometres of island to explore and many air samples to be collected to prove that our new site at the airhead was as representative of South Atlantic air as anywhere else on the island. Ascension has some of the most constant winds in the world, the SE trades. It is largely barren scoria and lava desert around the edges, but lush Green Mountain in the centre (Fig. 2) spends half of the time in clouds and provides an amazing contrast, the top of the peak having no view due to dense plantations of bamboo, bananas and ginger, and on the lower slopes, frequent sightings of the native orange or purple land crabs (Fig. 3).  The island was the site of a NASA tracking station for the Apollo missions, and is currently the site of an ESA tracking station for Ariane. Air was collected at both of these sites (Fig. 4), as possible future alternatives to the airhead.

 

Fig. 3 Orange land crab on the defensive

 

The coast of Ascension is a hive of activity, although not of the human variety.

 

Fig. 4 Rebecca collecting air at the edge of the old NASA tracking site

 

Pale sandy beaches nestle between rugged black basalt lava flows (Fig. 5),

 

Fig. 5 Typical NE coast of Ascension

 

Ascension frigate birds (Fig. 6) fly in squadron back to their only nesting site on the guano-capped Boatswain Bird Island (Fig. 7), spotted crabs fight for supremacy of the rock pools (Fig. 8), and the carnivorous Black Trigger Fish patrol the shallow aquamarine pools (Fig. 9).

 

Fig. 6 Ascension frigate birds

 

 

Fig. 7 Boatswain Bird Island, home of the frigates

 

 

Fig. 8 Spotted sea crab

 

 

Fig. 9 Blackfish await meal

 

The icon of Ascension Island and the focus of most conservation effort are the Green Turtles, the deep nests of which cover most of the sandy beaches on the island (Fig. 10). June is the end of the hatching season. An evening torchlit stroll saw a few struggling toward the surf, a morning stroll outlined how many didn’t make it and one who needed some significant help to the water, to avoid becoming a dried-up husk in the midday sun (Figs. 11-13).

 

Fig. 11 Hatchling heading for the sea under cover of darkness

 

 

Fig. 10 Turtle nests at English Bay

 

 

Fig. 13 Turtle eggs uncovered on Long Beach, Georgetown

 

 

Fig. 12 This little mite was still breathing but exhausted and needed help to the surf

 

Such a barren, rugged and dry place this used to be, our sampling forays took in the delights of the Devil’s Ashpit, the Devil’s Cauldron and the Devil’s Riding School (Fig. 14),

 

Fig. 14 Devil’s Riding School crater, filled with dark and light ash layers, some reworked by water

 

first described by Darwin on route home from South America, an ash-filled and lake-sedimented crater, with it’s distinctive layer of Devil’s Eyeballs (Fig. 15).

 

Fig. 15 The water-deposited layer with Devil’s Eyeballs.

 

Monday morning came around all too quickly and with everything crossed we headed back to the Met Office to await news of the incoming flight. Call came through at 9:45 and 15 minutes later a forklift rolled up to the door with 2 crates of cylinders. Devoid of appropriate equipment a geological hammer and chisel opened the crates beautifully. Two hours of plumbing later the first calibration gases flowed out of the cylinders and into the instrument. A revised plan was hatched to put a temporary air inlet on a mast above the Met Office building and on our final afternoon this was put in place and monitoring of greenhouse gases on Ascension started in earnest (Fig. 16), a big relief having spent the last year with help from UEA developing the auto inlet and software and calibrating the instrument.

 

Fig. 16 Screenshot of the first morning of methane data

 

We were visited by the Ascension Island administrator, Ross Denny (Fig. 17), who is keen that the installation is publicised in the local Islander newspaper.

 

Fig. 17 – Dave, Rebecca and Ross Denny admire the new equipment

 

The Met Office have promised to send the data files produced on a daily basis and the first results look very interesting. Despite the financial requests of the Cable and Wireless monopoly, remote data transmission and login is likely to follow.

Next up for installation is the Falkland Islands, hopefully in October this year.

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Going...

A personal view from Copenhagen

The high level segment has started today, which means a lot of security and a lot of cameras and long queues outside the centre (some have waited for 10 hours). Access to the conference is now limited for the NGOs.

In the side events on science there is consensus that the climate is changing. Although we do not exactly know how the future climate will be, we know that it is warming and will continue to warm to potentially dangerous levels. There are potential tipping points ahead of us: We are flying blind into a wall, as a speaker phrased it. So there is no doubt: action is urgently needed and the number of people who doubt this fact is insignificant here I guess. The translation of complex science into policy is then called the 2-degree-target (not “limit” by the way).

In the side events on mitigation targets that are needed to stay well below 2 degree of warming it is clearly shown that the current pledges of the industrialized countries are not sufficient.

going...

In the side events on transition pathways to a low-carbon-society, renewable energy and technological potential the good news is that there is a bright green future (although most say that one might have to accept carbon capture and storage and/or nuclear power). The technology is available or will most probably be in the future

In the side events on the cost of climate change mitigation the economists show that the costs would not exceed some tiny percent of the GDP, which means a delay in economical growth of only some months (which is important, if you like the idea of growing ever more).
So here is the logic: climate change can be dangerous, if we do not act now, it is feasible and we can afford it. Let’s be reasonable and “seal the deal”.

But then in the negotiation here at COP this does not seem to be known. Is this the science-policy gap? Or is it the science-general public gap? Do these people not have a conscience? How about the ethics of such behavior and the responsibility of these delegates?

gone.

As I am now closely watching the politicians act, I understand a little bit better why they do not act according to the logic laid out above: they are all under a constraint, they all represent the meaning of their government. Many of them really care (some do not). They work long days since months, the sessions last late into the night. They talk in the plenum, in contact groups, informally and bilateral, and then are consulted by the heads of state. They discuss the framework of the decision, the complex details and the shared vision. So it should work? Now again, I do not understand, because so far, the countries follow their own agendas, there is not much movement. Maybe all the Excellencies present now will make the deal, but I am not sure if it will be a/the real deal. I hope. It could be!

(Thank you to Belalonbg Jantan, chrissy575 and flikkerphotos from Flikr for their wonderful photos)

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Part of the reason for the GEOmon blog is to get to know the people who work on the project. Our first profile is of Zoë Fleming who works in Activity 2. She is also chairing the GEOmon Gender Committee this year, helping to ensure that the conditions are in place to allow women to develop their careers in science.

Weybourne_tower

Zoe up a tower at the Weybourne atmospheric observatory

I have been working on the trace gas project of GEOMON for just over 2 years and have enjoyed the international and interdisciplinary nature of being a part of this community. I grew up in Brussels and then moved to Edinburgh to study Environmental Chemistry.

My first research experience was at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Warnemünde, Germany, looking at atmosphere-ocean interactions, which included laboratory work and field work in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean. I then did a PhD in Leicester, England, measuring the radicals that are involved in tropospheric ozone formation. I have since worked on field work in Antarctica with Imperial College and the British Antarctic Survey, for Greenpeace International’s research unit and researching the communication of climate change and sustainable development issues at De Montfort university.

Weybourne footprint for May 2008

A plot of the monthly footprint of the air arriving at Weybourne using the Met office's NAME dispersion model.

I am now working for the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), based at Leicester University on determining trends in atmospheric trace gases at measurement stations around Europe and in the Atlantic ocean. Part of my work involves the GEOMON harmonisation and comparison of European trace gas datasets and detecting trends in ozone across Europe.

TuomZoe8

Zoe measuring Persistant Organic Pollutants in the Arctic Ocean

At present I am only doing data analysis and no longer do field work or take measurements myself but studying the meteorology and characteristics of the measurement stations does bring the data to life and make me content in being an environmental scientist. Knowing that our research contributes to future air quality and carbon reduction policies makes me feel like I am doing my bit to understand and protect our environment.

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