Scientists blend synthetic air to measure climate change

Feb 26, 2014
NPL scientists blend synthetic air to measure climate change
This is a photo of gas cylinders. Credit: National Physical Laboratory

Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have produced a synthetic air reference standard which can be used to accurately measure levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. This will greatly help scientists contribute to our understanding of climate change.

A paper published in Analytical Chemistry describes how researchers at NPL have created a synthetic gas standard for the first time, which is comparable to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) scale and can be quickly produced in a laboratory and distributed, meeting growing demand.

The bulk of demand for gas standards comes from atmospheric monitoring stations around the world. The data collected from these is important to our understanding of climate change.

To reliably compare the concentration of and methane in air at different locations, and over time, a primary standard to which all measurements relate is required. We must be able to relate the measurements to a trusted base unit, so we can reliably compare measurement between London and Beijing, or between 1990 and 2014.

The current primary standards for carbon dioxide and methane are a suite of cylinders of compressed air captured from Niwot Ridge in Colorado and held at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

They are used to create secondary standards, which are used to calibrate the instruments that measure greenhouse gasses around the world.

A new improved measurement technique - cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) - has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of atmospheric measurements taken. As the requirement for data that is comparable to the WMO scale increases, there is a corresponding increase in the demand for comparable reference standards.

Supplying the demand for reference standards comparable to the WMO scale is becoming an issue. An infrastructure to disseminate reference standards prepared gravimetrically – i.e. by weighing the gas in the cylinder - that are traceable to the International System of Units (SI) offers a means of broadening availability. These could overcome the cost and complexity of sampling air under global background conditions which can only be carried out at remote locations.

NPL has developed a solution, producing a synthetic standard which can be used to calibrate carbon dioxide and methane measuring instruments. Rather than sampling air directly, NPL created the sample in the laboratory by carefully blending a mix of gaseous components found in air.

However preparing reference standards synthetically presents a significant challenge. Industrially produced carbon dioxide has a different isotopic distribution to that of atmospheric air, which measurement instruments read differently.

Paul Brewer, Principal Research Scientist at NPL, said: "By using high accuracy gravimetry, we were able to prepare a gas mixture that accurately replicated the natural occurring isotopic carbon dioxide. The samples were tested using NPL's world leading measurement equipment and expertise, which demonstrated that the synthetic standard was comparable with the NOAA standard and suitable for use with the international measurement scale for atmospheric monitoring."

The research has demonstrated that air standards comparable to the WMO scale can be prepared synthetically with an isotopic distribution matching that in the atmosphere. The methods used can be replicated, leading to widespread availability of standards for globally monitoring these two high impact greenhouse gasses. For the international atmospheric monitoring community and for gas companies, this could solve the pressing supply issue.

The project has received widespread support from the atmospheric measurement community. Euan G. Nisbet, Foundation Professor of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway maintains an Atlantic network of greenhouse gas measurements. He says: "Standards are a critical problem in greenhouse gas measurement. Developing high accuracy reference standards of carbon dioxide and methane with international comparability, and traceability to the SI, will greatly contribute to our work, and to improving our understanding of how greenhouse gases affect the atmosphere."

Explore further: NPL and Astrium launch measurement service to improve analysis of greenhouse gas emissions

More information: Anal. Chem., 2014, 86 (3), pp 1887–1893 DOI: 10.1021/ac403982m

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User comments : 18

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MR166
1.4 / 5 (10) Feb 26, 2014
Good God, can climate "science" get any sillier?
savroD
5 / 5 (8) Feb 26, 2014
The science gets more precise; the straw-grasping by climate change deniers is what gets sillier!
MR166
1.4 / 5 (9) Feb 26, 2014
Face it warmists, you have been played like a fine Stradivarius.

http://www.ibtime...ans-poll
savroD
5 / 5 (7) Feb 27, 2014
Good luck with that flat Earth thingy fool!
mrmortgage
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2014
This is taking "politically correct", so called, climate change science to the next level of stupidity. Why would one need an air standard when analyzing atmospheric gas samples using gas chromatography?

savroD
5 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2014
Make sure the Koch brothers have signed your paycheck before they send it to your mothers basement!
MR166
2 / 5 (8) Feb 28, 2014
While the NAS and NASA are falsifying the past temperature data all that you guys are worried about is the Koch brothers. You have really been brainwashed.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (6) Feb 28, 2014
While the NAS and NASA are falsifying the past temperature data all that you guys are worried about is the Koch brothers. You have really been brainwashed.


Says the guy who thinks all scientists are involved in some grand conspiracy to take over the world. Talk about disconnect.
MR166
1 / 5 (7) Feb 28, 2014
http://stevengodd...-report/

http://stevengodd...ciences/

"Says the guy who thinks all scientists are involved in some grand conspiracy to take over the world. Talk about disconnect."

I suggest that you stop drinking the Kool-Aid Maggnus.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (7) Feb 28, 2014
...Says the guy who thinks all scientists are involved in some grand conspiracy to take over the world...


Conspiracy among climate scientists? Very unlikely. It is more like [natural] defense mechanism protecting their collective incompetence. Would you dispute the obvious idea that if one has any rudimentary sign of talent, he would stay away from wasting it in climate field?
Maggnus
5 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2014
Steven Goddard!?! Holy, no wonder you're a conspiracist denier. Even Watts thinks he was a nutcase: http://wattsupwit...er-year/

is more like [natural] defense mechanism protecting their collective incompetence.

And the best you have is to point to a different conspiracy. Incompetence indeed.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2014
And the best you have is to point to a different conspiracy. Incompetence indeed.


No, what I meant was evolution and natural selection. The same kind of that forces palm trees flea uncomfortably warm equatorial zone and establish new habitat in the polar regions.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2014
No, what I meant was evolution and natural selection. The same kind of that forces palm trees flea uncomfortably warm equatorial zone and establish new habitat in the polar regions.
No, what you meant was to denigrate those who choose to study the climate sciences. What you are attempting to do now is dissimulation.

MR166
2 / 5 (8) Feb 28, 2014
Well Maggnus you do seem to have one of the basic skills needed to become a climate scientist, the ability to ignore data that does not fit your position.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2014
Well Maggnus you do seem to have one of the basic skills needed to become a climate scientist, the ability to ignore data that does not fit your position.
The difference being that I can understand it.
MR166
1 / 5 (5) Mar 01, 2014
Maggnus I am sure that you do understand it better than I. The problem is that the historical raw data has been corrupted and rewritten for political and business purposes. This is a classic garbage in equals garbage out situation.

All of the warming hyperbole presented to us each day by the media and the total lack of any critical analysis of the climate change reports is yet another indicator of the immense power held by the few behind this movement.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (3) Mar 01, 2014
The problem is that the historical raw data has been corrupted and rewritten for political and business purposes. This is a classic garbage in equals garbage out situation.
And that is the very base upon which you build your wall of ignorance. No such corruption is occurring, and I challenge you to support your statement with anything beyond innuendo and your fervent desire that it be so. You are blinded by your prejudices.

All of the warming hyperbole presented to us each day by the media and the total lack of any critical analysis of the climate change reports is yet another indicator of the immense power held by the few behind this movement.
Another reference to this powerful "they" existing in the nebulous netherworld of your imagination.

Want to change the world? Show some proof. Something beyond innuendo and idle speculation.
ViperSRT3g
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2014
I'm surprised that only now has this been done. All this time I assumed that scientists already had some sort of standard they were comparing measurements to.