The CARIBIC flying laboratory will have rounded the earth 50 times. Now it has returned from its 80th research trip on board the Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 ”Leverkusen“.
Since December 2004, the mobile observatory has been underway once monthly in the service of science and research, logging meantime a good two million in-flight kilometres. In that time, it has gathered data on more than 50 different gases and particulate compounds while cruising at an altitude of eight to twelve kilometres – in a layer of the earth’s atmosphere, which is of special scientific interest. Neither satellites nor ground-based equipment can measure climate-relevant parameters with anything like the same accuracy as measurements taken in-flight aboard aircraft.
Climate care is a prime corporate goal at the Lufthansa Group and climate research is a long-standing Lufthansa tradition. “We’ve been committed to climate research for close on two decades. We provide data to improve climate models and furnish better weather forecasts, for example. Projects of the likes of CARIBIC can take climate research immense strides forward and our intent at the Lufthansa Group is to contribute to that, also in the future,“ noted Dr. Karlheinz Haag, Head of Environmental Management at the Lufthansa Group.
The automated measuring container was developed and equipped jointly by ten research institutes from five European countries. It gathers for analysis, data on aerosols and trace gases at cruising speed in the atmosphere through a sophisticated air and particle inlet system on the fuselage with the help of 20 different scientific instruments integrated inside the container. On each trip, the 1.5 tonne container comes back with 116 air samples from specific regions. The collected data contributes to better understanding of a sensitive region in the atmosphere – the boundary layer between the troposphere and stratosphere, where extremely complex processes occur and influence the radiation balance of the atmosphere and thereby the earth’s climate.
The container is just back from its 80th research trip, this time from Kuala Lumpur, along a route of notable interest to scientists. The flight over the tropics provides data from the atmosphere’s so-called washhouse. Not only do many trace gases enter the atmosphere from the densely populated conurbations of Asia. They are broken down here very quickly and flushed out with the rain, since the high temperatures and intense solar radiation boost convection in the atmosphere and accelerate the chemical degradation pathways.
The CARIBIC container undertook a special mission in April 2010 after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. Three ad-hoc measuring flights were carried out to measure the ash concentration in the volcanic cloud over Europe. Those measures were only possible because Lufthansa was the only airline ready-equipped to gather the required data through its participation in the CARIBIC project.
Under the guidance of the Mainz-based Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry, twelve other scientific institutions from across Europe as well as Lufthansa and Fraport participate in the EU research project CARIBIC (Civil Aircraft for the Regular Investigation of the Atmosphere Based on an Instrument Container). Each of the monthly measuring flights is preceded by a four-week planning phase. Once the destination has been freely chosen by the scientists from the route network of the A340-600 and agreed on, the aircraft and space in the cargo hold are allocated to the flight. No less than 14 departments at the Lufthansa Group and Fraport are involved in installing and dismantling the measuring container so as to guarantee the smooth functioning of the complex operation. They include, for example, flight dispatchers, technical operational managers, traffic managers and works security staff. Conversion of the Airbus “Hotel Eco“, completed in around 1,000 hours after a three-year development phase, leads to additional maintenance work required by law. Through these regular structural checks, the airworthiness of the system is kept under constant surveillance.