"Clean Air"

Katy McNitt - January 8, 1995
Expert on Ozone and Climate Change

    Hello again, from the South Pole!

I'm writing to you from my desk at the Clean Air Facility, which is located just "upwind" of the main South Pole Station. I say "upwind" because about 95% of our wind comes from the "grid" north (0 degrees longitude) or northeast.

Maybe I should tell you why I'm at the South Pole!

Jeff Otten and I work for NOAA. That's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Our lab is called "CMDL", the Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, and our mission is to study things in the atmosphere which play a part in climatic change. We have three other "baseline observatories" like this one: in Barrow, Alaska; Mauna Loa, Hawaii; and Cape Matatula, American Samoa. These are all relatively "clean" places-- places where most of the wind comes from directions where there isn't much pollution.

In fact, most of the time, the South Pole has the Cleanest Air on Earth! At least, it's the cleanest air that we know about!

And if we know what's in the Cleanest Air, we can use that as a Baseline for comparison with polluted areas, and we can make models to predict what might happen in the future.

The key to all of this is Long-Term Monitoring. Some of the things we measure might increase or decrease in cycles, and we want to know what those cycles are. Some might be daily changes, or seasonal changes, or changes which take several years! Only by long-term monitoring can we prove the effect that mankind is having on the planet and decide what our priorities are for the future.

CMDL has had an ongoing grant from the National Science Foundation for several years now. Some of our projects started when the station first opened in 1957, and we've had personnel stationed at the Pole year-'round since 1971. We measure short- and long-wave radiation, meteorology, aerosols, and trace gases. Why do you suppose things like water vapor, CO2, ozone, and CFCs are called "trace gases" when they have such an impact on our planet's climate?

We have several cooperative projects too: we send snow samples to the University of Arizona and air samples to several other universities and organizations.

As you can imagine, Jeff and I will be pretty busy all year! Jeff knows the insides of all the instruments and I do the administrative stuff and observations, and both of us are responsible for making sure the data we collect are accurate.

Well, this has turned into a longer journal entry than I expected! If you want to know more about the things I do, watch the next broadcast of "LIVE FROM ANTARCTICA!"

-Katy McNitt LTJG, NOAA
S-257 "Monitoring Climate Change"
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

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