Airborne measurements of trace gases using a Chemical Ionisation Mass Spectrometer (CIMS) onboard the FAAM BAe-146 research aircraft

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Michael Le Breton


A chemical ionisation mass spectrometer (CIMS) was developed and utilised for measurements onboard the Facility for Atmospheric Airborne Measurements (FAAM) BAe-146 aircraft. The I- ionisation scheme was implemented to detect nitric acid (HNO3), formic acid (HC(O)OH), hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and dinitrogen pentoxide (N2O5) simultaneously at a sampling frequency of 1 Hz. Sensitivities ranged from 35±6 ion counts pptv-1 s-1 for HC(O)OH to 4±0.9 ion counts pptv-1 s-1 for HCN and limits of detection from 37 ppt for HNO3 and 5 ppt for HCN. Trace gas concentrations of species such as HC(O)OH are currently under predicted in global models. In order to understand their role in controlling air quality, it is crucial that their production pathways and abundance are accurately measured and constrained. To date, airborne measurements of these trace gases have been difficult as a result of instrumental limitations on an aircraft such as limit of detection and sampling frequency. The first UK airborne measurements of HC(O)OH and HNO3 confirmed that HC(O)OH is under predicted by up to a factor of 2 in a trajectory model that implements the full Master Chemical Mechanism (MCM) and Common Representative Intermediate Scheme (CRI). The inclusion of a primary vehicle source enabled the model to reproduce the concentrations observed; verifying that direct sources are under represented. Secondary formation of HC(O)OH was observed through its correlation with HNO3 and ozone (O3), indicating a strong photochemical production source. Hydroxyl (OH) concentrations were estimated for the first time in a flight around the UK using the HC(O)OH and HNO3 measurements. A biomass burning (BB) plume identification technique is applied to data obtained from Canadian biomass fires using HCN as a marker. A 6 sigma above background approach to defining a plume resulted in a higher R2 correlating value for the normalised excess mixing ratio (NEMR) to carbon monoxide (CO) when compared to current methods in the literature. The NEMR obtained from this work; 3.76±0.02 pptv ppbv-1, lies within the range found in the literature. This NEMR is then used to calculate a global emission total for HCN of 0.92 Tg (N) yr-1 when incorporated into the global tropospheric model STOCHEM CRI. The first direct N2O5 airborne measurements on an aircraft at night are compared to indirect measurements taken by a broadband cavity enhancement absorption spectrometer. An average R2 correlation coefficient of 0.87 observed over 8 flights for 1 Hz measurements indicates the selectiveness of the I- ionisation scheme to detect N2O5 directly, without nitrate (NO3) interference.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • C J Percival (Supervisor)
Award date31 Dec 2013