For most of the science team flying days start about 5:30am, getting up to check the latest forecasts and to grab the most up to date sea ice data and satellite imagery of cloud cover. Satellite imagery and retrievals of sea surface temperature and chlorophyll concentration are provided by NEODAAS – we email a subset of these out to the team on the research ship to help guide their sampling too. The aircraft ground crew and many of the instrument operators have a much earlier start. Pre-flight preparation starts 4 hours before take-off: 5am for most of the ACCACIA flights.
Just over an hour before take-off we all meet in the operations room at the airport for a quick briefing to ensure everyone knows the plan for the day; then it’s all aboard ready for the flight. Almost all our flights have had a 9am take-off from Kiruna. Although we’re primarily interested in low-level process for ACCACIA, measurements start straight away.
Our area of interest is mostly over sea ice around Svalbard; this is around a 2-hour transit from Kiruna. In order to maximise our science time, we stop for a refuel at Longyearbyen. Depending on the plan for the day, we may do some science on the approach to Svalbard – releasing dropsondes to measure the vertical thermodynamic structure of the atmosphere, and mapping the cloud field with a lidar.
Once in the operational area the aircraft flies a complicated pattern of ‘legs’ to measure the vertical and horizontal structure of the boundary layer, cloud, and aerosol. The science is directed by the ‘mission scientist’ who sits up front just behind the pilots.
While the mission scientist has a laptop on which to view some of the measurements as they are made, they rely heavily on the rest of the team to keep them informed of the full array of measurements in real time. Very often we end up changing our original plan in the light of the conditions we actually find – this can take a lot of quick thinking, and good information and advice from those down the back. Flight time is expensive (over £100 a minute) so we can’t afford to take our time thinking about what to do next.
The main cabin is packed with instrument racks, and a science team of anything up to 19 people. FAAM provide a core team of instrument operators, and university or MetOffice instruments usually have their own operators. Then there are a handful of people who don’t have specific instruments to deal with, but monitor the real-time data and keep the mission scientist informed. Everyone keeps some sort of log or notes of what’s going on – these are eventually compiled to provide a detailed set of notes on each flight to help interpret the data during later analysis.
After the flight, a quick debrief and chat with the team on the ground to discuss what went well, what problems occurred, and to see what’s planned for the next day. It’s usually about 8pm by the time we get back to the hotel – time to find some dinner, a well-deserved beer, and an early night ready to start all over the next day.