Role of Commercial Aircraft in Global Monitoring Systems

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Science  27 Apr 1973:
Vol. 180, Issue 4084, pp. 375-380
DOI: 10.1126/science.180.4084.375


The role of commercial aircraft in monitoring meteorological parameters and atmospheric constituents has been limited in the former case and virtually nonexistent in the latter. I have tried to point out that this situation can and should be changed now. The new family of wide-bodied jets such as the 747, DC-10, and L-1011 aircraft can be used to supply important global atmospheric and tropical meteorological data for which there is a pressing need. While scientists are not in total agreement on the magnitude of the effect of particulates and gases on the atmosphere, there is almost unanimous concurrence that we are severely limited in information, and that global baseline concentrations must be established for particulates and gases in the troposphere and lower stratosphere as soon as possible. Also, more synoptic meteorological information from the tropical troposphere is highly desirable.

In the final analysis, commercial aircraft may offer the most inexpensive way to monitor our atmosphere in the near future. Much of the instrumentation technology is here and the rest is certainly within our grasp. The fact of the matter is that there are now over 220 Boeing 747's and Douglas DC-10's in service, flying an average of 10 hours a day. Long-range flights, such as those from Tokyo to Anchorage to London in the Northern Hemisphere and from Hawaii to Pago Pago to Sydney in the Southern Hemisphere, are commonplace. These aircraft are equipped with inertial navigation systems and central air data computers coupled to advanced data storage systems which can readily be interrogated by satellite. This means that there is now a large amount of snyoptic weather information which can be obtained with a minimum of effort and cost. Likewise, a start at obtaining measurements of atmospheric constituents on a global basis can be made now. All we need to do is make the effort.