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MIRTHE / CEE Team Measures Methane Emissions in Northern Alaska

The department is excited about an innovative new joint project with the Center for Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE, www.mirthecenter.org).  Funded by MIRTHE and led by a team consisting of CEE Professor Mark Zondlo, head of the Atmospheric Chemistry Group (http://zondlo.princeton.edu/), along with MIRTHE Center Associate Research Scholar Anna Michel, CEE graduate student David Miller, and CEE undergraduate student Levi Stanton (Class of 2015) who is supported through the PEI Grand Challenges Program, the project aims to study Arctic methane emissions as they impact greenhouse gas emissions. The project site is a thermokast lake at the NSF Long Term Ecological Research Station at Toolik Lake, Alaska (http://toolik.alaska.edu), which is located on the north slope of the Brooks Range in the northern part of that state.  To measure the methane emissions, the team is deploying a novel open-path Quantum Cascade (QC) laser-based methane sensor in Alaska for long path (> 500m) integrated measurements. The project couples the team’s interests in sensor development with their interest in atmospheric chemistry and climate.

Professor Mark Zondlo explains the motivation for this project: “The importance of the research is that as the Arctic continues to thaw, large methane amounts locked inside the permafrost are expected to be released to the atmosphere. Methane, on a per molecule basis, is twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, Arctic methane emissions - bubbling to the surface of a lake, for example - are episodic in time and very localized spatially. Measurements from an in-situ, point sensor or a satellite would be too fine or coarse, respectively, to capture such emissions. The integrated, open-path QCL project provides a means to acquire spatially-integrated, continuous methane measurements across kilometer scales such as a lake. Successful demonstration of the pilot project in the Arctic provides a pathway for full spatial and temporal maps of methane emissions on scales of individual lakes and wetlands over the duration of an entire thaw season. The research will help to improve our understanding of the positive climate feedback of permafrost thawing and increased greenhouse gas emissions.”

Check back to this site in the future for periodic updates on the team’s progress, and be sure also to visit their blog, which features beautiful and diverse images of the Alaskan landscape and wildlife, at:  http://voletracks.wordpress.com/.