CARIBIC (Civil Aircraft for the Regular
Investigation of the atmosphere
Based on an Instrument Container) is a powerful system for obtaining detailed atmospheric composition data. We measure all greenhouse gases, many reactive gases, all aerosol particles etc. Eleven well known atmospheric science institutions from six European nations partake.
LUFTHANSA offered to use one of their new AIRBUS A340-600 long range aircraft. This allows CARIBIC to collect data from remote locations, for instance between Sao Paulo and Santiago. Flying monthly from Frankfurt, many regions that are of great interest for atmospheric science can be probed regularly.
Measure while flying !
The inlet for air and aerosol particles is a piece of high tech engineering. Design and construction meet strict scientific and aviation requirements. To measure trace gases and particles at very low concentrations is difficult. The system also has to be stable and aerodynamically sound. The upper section visible is inside the aircraft.
Inside the aircraft an assembly of tubes lead the outside air to the scientific equipment. The CARIBIC system installation took 12 days and was concluded with a test flight. By cleverly using the grounding period needed for installing the internet (LH FlyNet) and wireless LAN system in the A340-600, no additional down time of the aircraft was needed.
The inlet system moves at a cruising speed of about 250 meter/s through the air. The sampling of particles at this speed is a real challenge. The inlet contains 3 separate aerodynamic probes with a total of 4 inlets. There also are 3 miniature optical telescopes that allow analysis using the sunlight spectrum. A video camera is used to investigate clouds. Used air is expelled through an outlet.
All scientific equipment is installed in the 3.2 m wide airfreight container (1500kg). fifteen apparatus, all controlled by a main computer, continuously analyse air and particles. Moreover, in flight 28 air samples are collected for detailed laboratory analysis. This container took years of research and technology. Now it has become a frequent flyer, once to twice every month its travels...
The changing composition of the earth´s atmosphere causes changes in climate. The atmosphere can be regarded as a very extensive and most complex chemical reactor. Next to particles (dust etc.) billions of tons of polluting gases (...and natural gases, for instance emissions from the oceans) are injected into the atmosphere each year. Once up in the air, the gases are transported, mixed, and undergo hundreds of chemical reactions. Often new aerosol particles are formed, which influence the formation of clouds, and also directly affect the earth´s radiation balance. Fortunately, powered by solar ultra violet light, the atmosphere cleans itself and a highly complex, dynamic equilibrium between pollution and cleansing exists. Scientists working on understanding all these processes clearly need observations. They need data across the globe, they need detailed data, they need data throughout the seasonal changes, over the years, day and night.
CARIBIC is a truly unique system that uses passenger aircraft flights to obtain such data. The idea is logical, its realization a fact.
CARIBIC principal investigators:

Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. mult. Paul Crutzen, MPI Mainz - Science adviser
Prof. Dr. Jos Lelieveld, MPI Mainz - The oxidative capacity of the atmosphere
Prof. Dr. Andreas Macke and Dr. Markus Hermann, TROPOS Leipzig - Aerosol distributions
Prof. Dr. Johannes Orphal and Dr. Andreas Zahn, IMK FZ Karlsruhe - Water vapor and ozone climatologies, short lived reactive gases
Prof. Dr. Markus Rapp and Dr. Hans Schlager, Dr. Helmut Ziereis, DLR Oberpfaffenhofen - Nitrogen oxide budget and aircraft emissions
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Platt, Dr. Lara Penth, University of Heidelberg - Optical measurements, remote sensing
Dr. David Oram, University of East Anglia, Norwich - Halocarbon research
Prof. Dr. Bengt Martinsson, University of Lund - Aerosol properties
Prof. Dr. Markus Leuenberger, University of Bern –Ultra precise oxygen measurments
Dr. Ralf Ebinghaus, GKSS Geesthacht - Atmospheric mercury cycle
Dr. Philippe Ciais, LSCE-CEA, Paris - Carbon dioxide cycle
Dr. Peter van Velthoven, KNMI, the Netherlands - Meteorology
Dr. Jonathan Williams, MPI Mainz - Hydrocarbon chemistry
Lufthansa aviation engineers and atmospheric scientists worked closely together to create this new platform for investigating the earth´s atmosphere in greater detail, over longer distances and for years to come. Thanks to an excellent cooperation, CARIBIC can keep a finger at the pulse of the changing atmosphere.
CARIBIC was presented December 2004 when the hon. Mr. Trittin, Germany´s minister for the Environment, used the CARIBIC A340-600 to fly to a climate summit in Buenos Aires. Climate change challenges mankind. Understanding our atmosphere, its chemistry, physics and composition is a scientific/technological challenge.
Below is an interesting illustration of the "origin of the air" intercepted by the aircraft on a flight from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires. Leaving Europe the CARIBIC aircraft "sees" air that is transported within 5 days from as far away as the Pacific Ocean. Over Spain complex mixing occurs by a low pressure system. Note that although the air at 11 km generally is cleaner than surface air, it is often polluted by emissions from the continents. When the air strikes over the earth´s surface, pollution is picked up. When strong convection occurs, air is rapidly lifted from the surface to the cruising altitude of ~ 11 km. In the tropics, it is more tranquil. Here the air moved much less in the 5 days and at times was uplifted from the ocean surface (green). Such air may be fairly clean due to the effect of intense solar radiation. The air is gradually "cleaned up" by a powerful natural process that we want to study in detail. However, big forest fires for instance produce pretty persisting pollution carried around the globe. Upon approaching Buenos Aires, we see a weaker westerly jet (this was December, hence summer in Buenos Aires). The dark red colour indicates stratospheric air. For flights like this, the CARIBIC team has thousands of data about the composition of the air. Much more information is provided in this website .