Injy – Blog 1
Blake Ambassador 2016/17 Blogs | NIWA AMBASSADOR 2016/17
November 16, 2016

NIWA: Week One Greta Point Campus: 15th-18th of November

This is an overview of the work I am doing each week with NIWA as part of the Blake Ambassador Programme.

Day one joining the Tropospheric Physics and Chemistry group or TROPAC for short at NIWA at their beautiful Greta Point Campus on the Wellington harbourside, unfortunately happened to be the day after the Kaikoura Earthquake. Thankfully Greta Point was still intact and everything back up and running by the time I arrived on Tuesday morning.

Figure One: A view of NIWA’s Greta Point Campus from my bedroom window (Injy Johnstone)

First up was health and safety inductions and getting my workspace set up for what promised to be a very exciting next three weeks. We had a TROPAC team meeting and I got to see the many other friendly faces that I’d be working with during my time here.

Figure Two: My home for the next three weeks (Injy Johnstone)

The rest of the day was spent finding my way around the campus and getting inducted to the gas labs. The TROPAC team were all very welcoming and it was great to get stuck into asking them questions and finding out what they do in NIWA.

At 2.30pm we got word that the roads had been closed to the Hutt Valley due to flooding, so my very first day was cut short and we headed to the train station to try get home by rail. However on the way to the train station a strong aftershock hit and by the time we got there; the trains had been cancelled as they were rechecking the lines. Whilst having a quick caffeine dose to think over what to do next, we got the news that the roads were open again and we could head home. Back to work to pick up the car and we were off (very slowly) home.

Thankfully the rest of my time here in Wellington has been significantly less disrupted than the first few days and I was able to get stuck into my work with NIWA.

The next day we went out to the Baring Head Clean Air Monitoring Station to check out the site after the earthquake and do the weekly tasks and checks. Baring Head is a really special site due to its location overlooking the Cook Strait, in good southerly conditions you can get airflows that likely haven’t had any human or land source interferences for many days. This is particularly helpful to get baseline measurements of the abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Figure Three: Baring Head monitoring station (Injy Johnstone)

Whilst there I got to see how these atmospheric measurements are made. I found it quite amazing that all monitoring machines are fully automatic can be accessed remotely for tuneups and calibration if need be.

It was also a really cool experience to help clean out the metal traps which form part of the NDIR CO2 analyser. The ambient air collected from Baring Head has to have the water removed in order for proper gas analysis to be performed on the sample. The air first goes through a glass trap first which is at 2°C then through a metal trap immersed in an ethanol bath set at -80°C. When looking at how to disconnect the water traps for cleaning, I first also discovered the importance of wrenches in atmospheric testing set-ups. The water trap consists of a metal cylinder with several hundred small glass beads inside. As air passes through these very cold glass beads, the water freezes and forms ice on them. It’s this ice that is important to clean the traps of weekly because if too much accumulates it can stop air passing through and consequently halt testing. To clean the ice off them you carefully disassemble the components and use a heat gun to evaporate the ice and dry it for the following week’s use. Therefore despite automation of the machines it was interesting to learn that the human element is still an important part of the testing process at Baring Head.

Figure Four: Some of the setup of the NDIR CO2 analyser (Injy Johnstone)

Gordon and I then calibrated a gas tank for use on NIWA’s ship the Tangaroa. After that, it was time to record the levels of all the calibration tanks that are used by the machines in order to check there are plentiful supplies to keep them working smoothly. After reading so much about the significance of its measurements, Baring Head was a truly a fantastic place to experience first-hand.

Figure Five: Calibrating a gas tank (Injy Johnstone)

After learning so much on the first few days of the job, on Thursday I felt it was time to start exploring how best to share my experiences with the wider public. I settled on the channels of Facebook, Twitter and a Blog website in order to try reach a broad range of people.

Another main goal I set for my ambassadorship was to really get to know what the TROPAC team does and gain insights from the projects they’re working on, through interviewing group members individually.

Alongside project specific questions I set out to ask them:

  • What fascinates you about the atmosphere?
  • What is one piece of information that you think the public should hear or understand?
  • What has been the most rewarding project for you and why?
  • What are some future projects, areas of interest / development?
  • What is one word that sums up NIWA?

So far the answers have been really interesting and it is really humbling to gain this kind of access to some of the country’s top scientists. I’m looking forward to presenting some of the things I’ve learnt from this process as part of a seminar on my ambassadorship to Greta Point staff on my final day.

Friday was another exciting day as I got stuck into what is going to be my research project for the time I’m here. I will be looking at seasonal variability in CO2 at Rainbow Mountain in Rotorua. Rainbow Mountain is NIWA’s newest CO2monitoring site alongside Baring Head, Lauder and Arrival Heights in Antarctica. This project allows me to gain insight into the full scope of the research process from seeing how the data is collected, processed, modelled and then reported. It’s intriguing for me to have a project to study whereby the answer is still an unknown and through this research process I will (fingers crossed) discover it.

Throughout the week the TROPAC team have also been introducing me to the various components of the gas lab, such as the mass spectrometer and the gas chromatograph. Learning what ‘MS’ and ‘GC’ stood for in technical meetings was one of the first acronyms I picked up and ones that have remained important throughout my time here. Other cool things that I’ve done in the lab have been to see how the team deals with machine hiccups and assisting with the testing of a heating component to be used in methane isotope analysis.

The TROPAC team have been really welcoming and with the huge amounts I am learning each day I look forward to seeing where the rest of my ambassadorship takes me, particularly in regards to my research project on Rainbow Mountain.

Injy Johnstone

Injy Johnstone

BLAKE NIWA Ambassador 2016