NOAA Deploys High Powered Research Aircraft to Gulf to Help Monitor Air Quality

WASHINGTON — A second National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration WP-3D Orion aircraft was deployed to the Gulf today to build on current air quality monitoring efforts near the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The NOAA plane conducted two flights over and around the spill site to detect pollutants and their reaction products released into the atmosphere by the oil, as well as the pollutants and smoke from controlled burns. The flights will enable researchers to better understand the spill’s atmospheric effects.

As part of the federal government’s ongoing response to the BP spill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues its extensive air quality monitoring along the Gulf Coast. In this case, NOAA and EPA are working collaboratively to take advantage of NOAA’s highly specialized atmospheric research capabilities, which can detect concentrations of compounds in the atmosphere with greater sensitivity than standard operational monitoring flights. The P-3 is currently involved in a major climate and air quality study in California, called Calnex, which is why it is already properly outfitted for this emergency gulf mission. Another NOAA P-3 is also in the Gulf and has done multiple flights to help monitor the location of the loop current.

“We’re taking every step we can to ensure the health and safety of Gulf Coast residents and oil spill responders,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The data we gather through this next step in our partnership with NOAA will enhance efforts to monitor the air we breathe and better prepare us to address the long-term impacts of the BP oil spill.”

“Ensuring the health and safety of Gulf Coast families is a priority for NOAA,” said Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “We want to make certain that the air is safe for coastal residents as well as workers on the water. We are pleased to partner with EPA in this effort and to provide state-of-the-science air quality instruments in our flying laboratory aboard the P-3 aircraft.”

Both NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson were in the Gulf region last week overseeing the ongoing federal response operations.

Operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, the NOAA WP-3 Orion “hurricane hunter” plane is currently configured as a high-tech flying chemistry laboratory that can collect and provide near real-time air-quality data to scientists on the aircraft and on the ground. Scientists onboard will also collect air samples that will be sent to the laboratory to be analyzed for additional compounds.

Much of the sampling will be conducted below 1,000 feet, in what is called the marine boundary layer, where scientists expect most of the pollutants to be trapped. They will collect data from as close to the sea surface as allowed by safe aircraft operation, with plans to go as low as 200 feet, to monitor for pollutants near the surface and up to 1,000 feet or more to track how the pollutants move through the air. The many measurements gathered from the flights will enable scientists to distinguish emissions associated with the leaking oil well from other sources, such as ships and aircraft operating in the area.

Both NOAA and EPA will combine their measurements with model simulations to provide a broader overall picture of air quality impacts from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.

For the latest information on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, visit the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command website.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.