Invention helps map Earth's last frontier
A superfast research aircraft is mapping the earth's atmosphere for the first time in fine-grained, three-dimensional detail. One of the instruments on the craft was invented by Princeton's Mark Zondlo, who designed it to measure water vapor throughout the atmosphere. "In discussions about global warming, carbon dioxide and methane get all the attention, but water vapor impacts climate more than any other gas," says Zondlo.
The plane, known as Hiaper, is a flying laboratory that collects data while zigzagging up and down through the atmosphere as it flies from the Arctic to the Antarctic as part of a National Science Foundation project called Hiaper Pole to Pole Observations, or HIPPO for short.
One half of Zondlo's device -- shaped much like the tail fin of a plane -- juts out on top of the plane, probing the air as it rushes by the sensor. The bottom half rests inside the interior of the plane and houses a delicately calibrated laser that monitors and records water vapor levels in real time.
This video, narrated by Zondlo and featuring his graduate student Minghui Diao, was funded by a grant from the High Meadows Foundation. Zondlo an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is affiliated with Princeton's MIRTHE center, which conducted air-quality research during the Beijing Olympics using new laser-based sensors.