New space-borne instrument to track greenhouse gases, ozone destroyers, and other pollutants

BOULDER -- A powerful new instrument heading to space this Saturday is expected to send back long-sought answers about greenhouse gases, atmospheric cleansers and pollutants, and the destruction and recovery of the ozone layer. Only a cubic yard in size but laden with technical wizardry, the High-Resolution Dynamic Limb Sounder (HIRDLS) will measure a slew of atmospheric chemicals at a horizontal and vertical precision unprecedented in a multi-year space instrument.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), University of Colorado, and University of Oxford developed HIRDLS (pronounced "hurdles") with funding from NASA and United Kingdom sources. The U.S. space agency plans to launch the 21-channel radiometer along with three other instruments July 10 aboard its Aura satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

HIRDLS will capture the chemistry and dynamics of four layers of the atmosphere that together span a region 8 to 80 kilometers (5 to 50 miles) above Earth's surface: the upper troposphere, the tropopause, the stratosphere, and the mesosphere.

Using infrared radiation as its yardstick, the radiometer will look through Earth's atmosphere toward the planet's limb, or edge. It will find and measure ten different chemical species, characterize airborne particles known as aerosols, and track thin cirrus clouds, all at a vertical resolution of half a kilometer (a third of a mile) and a horizontal resolution of 50 kilometers (30 miles). The signal-to noise ratio is one tenth that of previous detectors.

"The angular resolution of the instrument's mirror position is equivalent to seeing a dime eight miles away," says principal investigator John Gille, of NCAR and the University of Colorado.

A few questions HIRDLS data will answer

  • What are the concentrations of the primary greenhouse gases and their height in the atmosphere?

    The answer should reveal where Earth will warm

  • 7-Jul-2004

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