Precisely where greenhouse gases are produced and absorbed is a question that has vexed scientists for years. As of last Friday, they now have a clearer picture of the global distribution of these gases in the atmosphere. And they have HIPPO to thank.
HIPPO stands for HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations. It’s the name given to a series of research flights that mapped global greenhouse gas concentrations from the Arctic to the Antarctic. The research team included scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Harvard University.
The scientists tested for 80 different particles and greenhouse gases, including methane and carbon dioxide.
Their data collection method improved upon that of existing ground stations—namely the global tall-tower network operated by NOAA. The airborne method could pinpoint the concentrations of gases in higher definition. The jet’s altitude ranged from 500 to 45,000 feet, which also let scientists figure out the vertical distributions of these gases.
The new data have informed scientists more precisely about the sources and sinks of greenhouse gases. For example, black carbon particles—emitted by diesel engines, smokestacks and fires—are much more prevalent and widely distributed than previously thought.
The HIPPO project began in 2009. It was co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and NOAA. Last Friday marked the landing of the project’s fifth and final mission.
Results from the HIPPO project will provide baseline measurements of global greenhouse gases. They’ll also allow scientists to improve atmospheric models for future predictions.