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View from the UTSI Piper Navajo airborne science research aircraft, looking eastward along the Gulf of Mexico coastline during an atmospheric mercury air sampling mission.

TULLAHOMA—The Aviation Systems Program at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) started its 2011 summer flight research season with the successful completion of two major airborne science missions—one for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and one for NASA.

The NOAA mission took the aviation systems team to the Gulf of Mexico region for their second intensive field study of atmospheric mercury. The team’s state-of-the-art research included obtaining both ground and flight data to investigate the chemistry, transport, and deposition of mercury compounds, or pollutants, in the atmosphere.

Based at Trent-Lott International Airport in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the crew flew UTSI’s Piper Navajo several times over the gulf from as high as 15,000 feet to as low as 750 feet. The Piper Navajo was specially fitted with advanced instrumentation, sensors, and data systems to collect airborne samples of mercury and other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and ozone.

After the NOAA mission, the Piper Navajo performed a costume change of sorts. In just one week, the aviation systems team removed the atmospheric mercury instrumentation and equipment and integrated the hardware required for the NASA mission.

Based out of Ponca City, Oklahoma, UTSI teamed upwith scientists and engineers from the NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to fly their Marshal Airborne Passive Imaging Radiometer attached to a belly pod underneath the Piper Navajo. Their goal was to provide data for the modeling of precipitating cloud systems in a mid-latitude region. They collaborated with participants from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and McGill University.

The summer research season is not over for the aviation systems team. During June and July they will support continued NOAA Land Surface Temperature science flights over climate reference network sites in Crossville and Oak Ridge and possibly in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois later in the summer. This fall, the aviation systems team plans to be in Sarasota, Florida to fly aerial surveys of manatees for the Florida Wildlife Research Institute.

This research is a collaborative effort between NOAA’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division in Oak Ridge; NOAA’s National Climate Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina; North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites; and UTSI.