Studies of UTLS Composition and Structure Using Disposable Composition Sondes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemistry


This proposal is to develop and deploy for the first time lightweight low cost (disposable) multi-species chemical sondes to address limitations in composition measurement capability in the troposphere and low stratosphere. The sondes would incorporate state of the art CO, O3 and CO2 sensors developed by the applicants, and would be launched on standard meteorological balloons flown by National Weather Services (thus providing T, P, RH). The intention is that the sonde be suitable for use in global sonde networks such as SHADOZ and GRUAN as well as for stand-alone use, with applicability to both short term case studies (e.g. transport, chemical processes) and long term monitoring (for example linked to trend detection and climate change).
The project will be in four phases:
- Development and construction: involving integration of chemical sensors into a sensor module and its interface with the existing Vaisala RS92 and the new RS41 radiosonde systems.
- Testing and validation: to be carried out in the JOSIE atmospheric simulation chamber, on simultaneous flights with conventional ozone sondes and in parallel with flights by the NERC FAAM research aircraft.
- Field deployment: to be conducted as a) an intensive field activity as part of a larger measurement campaign, and b) regular measurement for 12-18 months. These deployments will be in Malaysia and will be used in studies of the tropical atmosphere.
- Data analysis: statistical analysis of composition profiles and comparisons with the NAME and UKCA models to study chemical and transport processes in the tropical tropopause layer (TTL) and the transport of constituents in the free troposphere over Southeast Asia.

We have, together with our project partners, the expertise and knowledge to develop and prove these new composition sondes which have the potential to revolutionise atmospheric measurement programmes through their ability to be launched routinely by operational meteorological agencies with minimum infrastructure.

Planned Impact

There are two main deliverables from this project that have the potential to make an impact in the wider community. Firstly, the new sensor packages have the potential to radically increase the scale and scope of measurements made as parts of long-term observational programmes, enhancing the way in which the atmosphere is monitored as climate changes. Secondly, the specific scientific measurements and results generated by this project will significantly extend our knowledge of processes in the tropical atmosphere.
Likely Users and Beneficiaries of the Research
The beneficiaries of this research are as follows:
(a) International measurement networks such as GRUAN, SHADOZ and those run within the WMO-GAW programme through the development of a new, low-cost sonde packages.
(b) Industry and government organisations (e.g., sensor and sonde manufacturers, DECC).
(c) The academic and broader research community in the UK will benefit from this research through involvement in meetings, peer-reviewed papers, and an extensive data set in a critically important and data sparse region of the atmosphere;
(d) The international research programmes IGBP and WCRP through contributions to meetings, publications and assessments of IGAC, SOLAS, and SPARC;
(e) International assessments such as WMO-UNEP and IPCC through an improved scientific basis for assessing the importance of changes in the tropical UTLS on the climate system;
(f) NERC through a contribution to its Themes on: Technologies; Climate System; and Environment Pollution and Human Health;

Scientific Dissemination
The major routes to engage with the scientific community are (a) through meetings and workshops; (b) publication in the peer-reviewed literature and general scientific newsletters (e.g. SPARC or IGAC); and (c) through presentations at scientific meetings.

Technological Dissemination
Technological results will be published in the peer-reviewed technical literature, and presented in more focussed meetings such as: the Vaisala-sponsored Radio Sonde User Workshop; equivalent workshops organised under the auspices of WMO, GRUAN or SHADOZ; and validation meetings on satelite CO2 measurements. Participation in these meetings will ensure that the full potential of the sonde package is achieved.

Wider Technical and Commercial Exploitation
The underpinning technology exploited in this proposal has attracted interest from a variety of research organisations, including the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the UK Facility for Airborne Measurements (FAAM) who are currently collaborating on a drop-sonde program, both for atmospheric chemistry and studies of the atmospheric carbon budget. The PIs would actively engage with these and other institutions to exploit the technology generated within this project.

Public Communication and Engagement Activities
The PIs have extensive experience with local, national and international media (e.g. the Naked Scientist) and the University of Cambridge Outreach and Engagement programme to present science to schools and the general public and this would continue for the work proposed here.


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Description Although only partially successful thus far, vertical profiles of CO2 mixing ratios have been obtained using the low cost sensor approach.

Numerous test flights have since been added
Exploitation Route If successful, the approach will have widespread applicability for atmospheric studies, and in anticipation of this we are participating in a collaborative EU ballooning project application, and a NASA project. The sensors are also being developed further for direct use in research aircraft.
Sectors Environment

Description EU HEMERA consortium grant
Amount € 5,000,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2018 
End 01/2023
Description NASA collaboration looking at the Asian Monsoon 
Organisation National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Department NASA Langley Research Centre
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Provision of low cost NO2 and CO sensors to the NASA project for evaluation moveTo
Collaborator Contribution The NASA contribution to this project is providing flights in India are
Impact -
Start Year 2017