SkyGas: Development of a new technique for determining watershed/airshed gas fluxes
Posted on 7 December 2011
Staff from Biology, Chemistry & Electronics will be designing and building the first cable operated trace gas monitoring platform, the SkyGas proptotype, capable of monitoring trace gas fluxes from both terrestrial and aquatic systems on the new Heslington East Nature Study Area.
It is now internationally accepted that climate change is a very real and important threat to the future of our ways of life for human populations across the entire planet. This has lead to major societal and policy concerns about human-induced climate change and we lack some very important basic data on the sources and sinks of 'greenhouse gases' (GHGs). Some of the most important GHGs are both released and taken up by terrestrial and aquatic systems and it is very difficult to work out whether a specific area, such as a catchment, is a net source or sink of these gases and how changes in management and climate will affect these balances. It is actually quite embarrassing for environmental scientists when they are unable to state even whether a particular piece of land is a net source or sink of the most common GHGs; despite this, key national and international decisions are currently being made about energy production, transport and (of particular relevance to the current NERC Macronutrient Cycles Programme), land use and catchment management in the absence of this basic knowledge. Unfortunately, we frequently do not have the necessary data because these fluxes are difficult, and labour intensive, to measure and they can change rapidly from place to place and even over the course of a few hours - this high spatial and temporal heterogeneity is a real problem to us. We urgently need new automatic techniques to deal with these measurement problems, and this proposal is a request for the funding necessary to build a new type of automatic GHG measurement system.
Quite often in sports events one catches a glimpse of a 'fly-by-wire' camera, which hovers above the action, rapidly moving from point to point and delivering unique, dynamic birds-eye images of the scenes below. This computer-based 'flying' technology is now well developed and quite commonly used to move cameras, scenery (and occasionally pop stars!) over a variety of very different arenas. Our proposal is quite simple - we wish to apply this kind of technology, for the first time, to make automatic GHG source-sink measurements over complicated landscapes. Not only can this all be automatically preprogrammed to place our specialised 'flux' chambers when and where we want them, it can also be used to deliver treatments, carry special cameras or enable us to create 3-D images of the concentrations of gases over sampling areas. It will mean that we will be able to find 'hotspots' of gas release or uptake. This has never been done before and will take the combined efforts of scientists from three different Departments at the University of York; we have specialists in electronics, helicopter flight control, atmospheric chemistry and ecologist all working together to see if we can build a prototype system here at the University of York. If we can get it to work, the applications are enormous and could become the basis of an entirely new, UK-based technology.
For more information, contact Phil Ineson