Researchers have been able to successfully produce an unprecedented portrait of greenhouse gases and particles in the atmosphere that affect Earth's climate after a three-year series of research flights from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
The series of flights conducted under a far-reaching field project, known as HIPPO, which come to an end this week, mark an important milestone as scientists work towards targeting both the sources of greenhouse gases and the natural processes that draw the gases back out of the atmosphere.
"Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkelling with a really foggy mask," said Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and one of the project's principal investigators.
"Finally, HIPPO is giving us a clear view of what's really out there," he stated.
HIPPO, which stands for HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations, brings together scientists from organizations across the nation, including NCAR, Harvard University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Miami, and Princeton University.
The team measured a total of over 80 gases and particles in the atmosphere.
One of HIPPO's most significant accomplishments has been quantifying the seasonal amounts of CO2 taken up and released by land plants and the oceans.
The team also found that black carbon particles-emitted by diesel engines, industrial processes, and fires-are more widely distributed in the atmosphere than previously thought.
The researchers were also surprised to find larger-than-expected concentrations of nitrous oxide high in the tropical atmosphere.