Lufthansa airbourne laboratory celebrates milestone flight for climate research

The Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 “Leverkusen” has undertaken its 462nd measurement flight in the service of atmospheric and climate research. It has also clocked up mileage equivalent to 85 orbits around the world.

In a statement from the Lufthansa Group, the long-haul aircraft D-AIHE has been collecting up to 100 different trace gases, aerosol and cloud parameters for 15 years. These flights have been operated on behalf of the European research infrastructure IAGOS-CARIBIC (Civil Aircraft for the Regular Investigation of the atmosphere Based on an Instrument Container), which is an alliance of 12 European research institutes.

Since measurement flights commenced on 13 December 2004, the CARIBIC jet has covered more than 3.6 million flight kilometres for science.

The measurement data is collected mainly during the cruise flight at an altitude of nine to twelve kilometres in the ‘tropopause region’, the boundary layer between the troposphere and stratosphere. The data is gathered and used by scientists in to assess the efficiency of today’s atmospheric and climate models and thus their significance for the future climate on Earth. According to Lufthansa, aircraft can record climate-relevant parameters with higher accuracy and temporal resolution than satellites or ground-based measurements.

“We are very pleased about the long-standing and successful cooperation with the atmospheric researchers. Lufthansa assumes responsibility and supports the development of a globally unique database for climate research,” says Dr. Gerd Saueressig, project manager at the Lufthansa Group. 

The Lufthansa Group and its partners invested over three years of preparation time and more than 1,000 assembly hours in converting the aircraft into a research laboratory. In addition, a 1.6-ton automated measuring container was developed especially for the research project.

“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,” says Dr. Andreas Zahn from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and coordinator of IAGOS-CARIBIC. 

To date, Lufthansa says that evaluation of the measurement data has led to over 150 scientific publications. Particularly noteworthy are the results of the eight aerosol measuring instruments, which were able to provide insights to the effects of volcanic ash particles or North American forest fires on the atmosphere. In 2014, the flying CARIBIC laboratory was also able to make an important contribution to the detection of three previously undiscovered chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the main causes of the so-called ozone hole in the stratosphere.

The IAGOS-core system is installed at Lufthansa on two other long-haul aircraft, which contribute significantly to the development of one of the most comprehensive data sets of ozone and water vapour content in the free atmosphere.