UH telescope atop Maunakea to help collect essential climate change data
To better understand how Earth’s climate is changing, the University of Hawaiʻi is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to collect critical atmospheric measurements atop Maunakea on the Big Island.
NOAA scientists recently installed an intake tube less than an inch in diameter and 25 feet long on the UH 88 inch observatory on the mountain to sample the summit air. The temporary measurement site ensures the continuity of carbon dioxide data collection and other atmospheric measurements that normally would be taken at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory.
Data collection on Mauna Loa was abruptly disabled when lava from the recent eruption cut off staff access and power to the Mauna Loa Observatory. Atmospheric measurements have been taken on Mauna Loa since 1958, providing more than six decades of data to track global climate change through carbon dioxide measurements.
“The data gathered over many decades in Hawai‘i are essential to our understanding of climate change,” said Steve Thur, NOAA assistant administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, in a press release. “We are always grateful for the strong partnership with the University of Hawai‘i, but especially now when we need a way to ensure continuity in the measurement of CO2. Being able to pull atmospheric samples from Maunakea while [Mauna Loa Observatory] is down ensures that any disruption to this important long-term research will be minimal.”
The NOAA will collect air samples in flasks to measure almost 60 gasses, including methane — the second most important greenhouse gas measurement after carbon dioxide — at intervals similar to what was being done at Mauna Loa Observatory before the eruption.
“As conditions related to climate change worsen around the globe, it was critical for UH to step in to assist NOAA as scientists scrambled to get atmospheric data collection back up and running,” said Doug Simons, director at the UH Institute for Astronomy, in the press release. “Maunakea plays an important role in research that extends beyond astronomy.”
NOAA plans to continue measurements on Maunakea for at least a year to compare data with the Mauna Loa locations.
The NOAA also worked with UH scientists to install a separate small intake tube on the existing weather monitoring station on Maunakea for carbon dioxide measurements by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. NOAA and Scripps scientists make independent measurements of carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa. Along with measurements made at the Mauna Loa Observatory site, NOAA also ships air samples to its Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., for further analysis.
NOAA staff continue to work with federal, state and private partners on plans to return to Mauna Loa Observatory and get all of the instruments there back online quickly.