Boeing, Alaska Airlines and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have teamed up to test the use of commercial aircraft to collect data on greenhouse gases. The tests will be part of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator program, which since 2012 has been selecting promising and innovative technology and providing the opportunity for it to be tested in the air and make use of Boeing’s resources. NOAA operates four permanent observatories and monitors three of the most consequential greenhouse gases: nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane.
“The ecoDemonstrator program provides NOAA an unparalleled opportunity to test our greenhouse gas sampling system on a civilian airliner,” said Colm Sweeney, lead scientist for the NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory’s aircraft measurements program. “Standardizing the location and installation of greenhouse gas monitoring instruments on commercial aircraft will be an important first step in expanding our sampling network to provide data for scientists and policymakers interested in understanding greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.”
Three different versions of the air sampling technology will be installed on an Alaska Airlines 737-9. One will collect samples from a duct used to ventilate the plane’s interior, and two will be attached to window plugs. The spread of the devices will allow for comparison, and help to avoid interference from the plane’s exhaust. There will be several test flights over the next year.
The aim is to bolster NOAA’s current data collection and make the process more effective by eventually installing the devices on commercial flights. NOAA already makes use of private jets to collect data, and commercial flights are already commonly used to measure temperature and humidity for weather forecasts.
“Greenhouse gas measurements made from U.S. commercial airliners would help scientists verify the effectiveness of mitigation efforts in urban areas near major metropolitan airports, and changes in natural emissions coming from melting permafrost near remote airports in the high Arctic,” said Kathryn McKain, the lead scientist for NOAA’s Commercial Aircraft Sampling Network.
The Alaska Airlines airplane will also be testing other new equipment as part of the ecoDemonstrator program. This will include a new agent for extinguishing fires, which could offer a reduced negative impact on the ozone layer and potentially replace the commonly used Halon 1301. The test flights will also be assessing acoustic linings that can surround the engines and potentially reduce noise.