Measuring Greenhouse Gases on the Go

UCR Today

New mobile emissions van allows UCR researchers to track atmospheric emissions anytime, anywhere
By Sarah Nightingale on September 4, 2018
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UCR’s mobile emissions lab on location at a dairy manure lagoon in Southern California.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Two UC Riverside professors are taking to the road to pinpoint sources of air pollution across California.
They’ll be traveling in the university’s new Mobile Isotope Laboratory, a Mercedes Benz transport van fitted with a suite of instruments that can measure the flux of greenhouse gases in the environment in real time. The scientists leading the project are Francesca Hopkins, an assistant professor of climate science and sustainability in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and Marilyn Fogel, the Wilbur H. Mayhew Endowed Professor of Geo-Ecology in the Department of Earth Sciences.
By pumping the surrounding air into the laser-based sensor system, the researchers can measure the amount of methane, ethane, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. They can also identify the naturally occurring stable isotopes of individual elements — carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen — in the gases, which enables them to determine where the emissions came from and whether they originated through human activities or natural processes.
The van is equipped with a diesel generator, solar panels, and an inverter, which power the laser-based machines and air conditioning needed to work in remote locations such as UC’s Natural Reserve System sites.
“By analyzing air samples in real time while the vehicle is in motion, we can identify pollution hotspots and further study them to learn the sources and concentrations of the emissions,” said Fogel, who is director of UCR’s Environmental Dynamics and GeoEcology (EDGE) Institute. “The instruments in the mobile lab will enable us to take a comprehensive look at current greenhouse gas emissions across California, which will provide a baseline that the …

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