It’s called “Leverkusen” and it’s a Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 that has covered more than 3.6 million flight kilometres – the equivalent of 85 orbits around the Earth — in the name of climate science.
The A340 has spent 15 years collecting up to 100 different gas traces, aerosol and cloud parameters for an alliance of 12 European research institutes.
The work it does has led to more than 150 scientific publications and six articles since 2015 in respected journals Nature and PNAS.
It has contributed to the detection of three previously undiscovered ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons and helped determine the concentration and composition of ash after the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
Data is collected during cruise at altitudes varying from 9000m to 12,000m (39,370ft) in the “tropopause”, a boundary layer between troposphere and stratosphere, for a program called IAGOS-CABIRIC.
That’s a shorthand way of saying or In-service Aircraft for Global Observing System (IAGOS) and Civil Aircraft for the Regular Investigation of the atmosphere Based on an Instrument Container(CARIBIC).
The data are used by scientists to assess the efficiency of atmospheric and climate models and the system is capable of recording climate parameters with higher accuracy and temporal resolution than satellites or ground-based measurements.
Lufthansa says its support for the globally-unique climate research database included more than three years of preparation and more than 1000 assembly hours to convert the plane into a flying laboratory as well the development of a 1.6-ton automated measuring container.
Air, aerosol and cloud particles enter the measurement laboratory via a special air inlet system on the outer fuselage of the Lufthansa jet.
“The high-tech laboratory with its 19 instruments, some of which are very complex, allows the investigation of a large number of climate-relevant processes and their future change — for example, aerosol cloud processes or exchange processes between troposphere and stratosphere,” said Dr. Andreas Zahn from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and coordinator of IAGOS-CARIBIC.
Each measurement flight, and the latest brings the count to 462, involves a three-week planning phase in which the scientists select the destination from the A340-600 route network.
Twenty divisions at Lufthansa and Munich airport are involved in the installation and removal of the measurement container.
Lufthansa notes it has been involved in climate science even before CARIBIC and supported the measurement of ozone, water vapor, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides through a program called MOZAIC.
It still monitors ozone and water vapor through an IAGOs-core system installed on two other long-haul aircraft and pledged this month to continue its atmospheric research work.