Reflections on LASIC Installation Trip to Ascension Island

Published: 29 July 2016

Editor’s note: Allison Aiken, ARM Mobile Facility aerosol specialist for the Layered Atlantic Smoke Interactions with Clouds campaign, sent this update.

As I sat waiting to board the flight contracted by the Royal Air Force out of Brize Norton in the United Kingdom to Ascension Island, I was excited but already jet-lagged. I had met up with some of the aerosol instrument mentors and site data systems experts from Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and Argonne National Laboratory, as well.

LASIC installation team of operators, mentors and technicians.
LASIC installation team of operators, mentors, and technicians head to the site.

We had all been traveling for about 24 hours, and we hadn’t even boarded our flight to Ascension Island yet, which was another nine hours in itself. We were all unsure as to what a flight out of a military base would entail. What would security be like? Would we get food? What would the seats be like?

As it turns out, since the flight was contracted it was pretty much the same as any commercial flight. We speculated at the time that the food and seat quality might actually be better. However, this was disproved on the return trip and written off as an indication of our jet-lagged brains at the time. And, this was nothing in comparison to the travels that the equipment undertook over the previous four months.

But first, you may be wondering, why Ascension Island?

Strategically Located

ARM’s newest research campaign and first ARM Mobile Facility (AMF1) deployment, the Layered Atlantic Smoke Interactions with Clouds (LASIC), is obtaining data midway between Angola and Brazil—the latitude zone for maximum aerosol outflow from Africa. Ascension Island is located in the South Atlantic Ocean, where a large stratocumulus cloud deck transitions to year-round trade wind shallow cumulus. An international team of scientists from the United States (funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]), United Kingdom, France, South Africa, and Namibia is coordinating with LASIC scientists to better understand absorbing aerosol’s impact on cloud formation and climate.

ARM staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are coordinating this deployment effort. Leading the way is LANL’s Amon Haruta, a seasoned pro at these kinds of complicated logistics. This deployment was especially difficult in terms of shipping since the only service to the island is through either the U.S. or U.K. military. Getting the instruments and supplies out of Brazil from the two-year Green Ocean Amazon campaign—which closed in January—was also no easy task.

We started packing up the containers in November 2015 and began shipping them back to the United States over the next several months. Some of the containers shipped to the United States through Miami, but the two Mobile Aerosol Observing System (MAOS) containers were sent to Brookhaven on Long Island, New York, for instrument servicing and significant changes were required after two years of continuous measurements in the jungles of the Amazon.

Most of the containers took slow boats to Ascension, but not the MAOS! The MAOS had to be flown on a cargo plane in time to arrive for the installation prior to the June 1 start date for the LASIC campaign.

Tropically Rugged


When we arrived, we were instructed to take a rest day by the AMF1 Site Manager Maciej Ryczek, a Los Alamos colleague. The island is tropical, but very isolated with rugged volcanic terrain and dominated by non-native species. There are, however, some interesting and rare indigenous species, such as large land crabs, marine crabs, nesting sea turtles, frigate birds, and three species of boobies. Not too many people live on the island, and most are associated with the two military bases for the United States and United Kingdom.

We stayed at the only hotel on the island, which reflects the low demand. Most rooms are bare bones with no air conditioning in a hot, tropical region. It was clear that there is not a lot of tourism on the island, despite the island opening up to tourism in 2002.

Allison Aiken, Los Alamos National Laboratory, admires the land crabs.
Clearly, the remoteness of the location makes travel here a bit out of the ordinary.

The next day it was time to get to work raising the inlet stacks, turning on instruments, and starting calibrations. We will be taking numerous measurements of aerosol physical, chemical, and optical properties, in addition to tracking their ability to uptake water for cloud formation. The MAOS suite of instruments with the AMF1 for LASIC is the largest in situ direct measurements of aerosols and their precursor gases within the whole ARM Facility.

Here we plan to set the example of what can be done with routine aerosol measurements and the potential for expansion at other sites. Our onsite technician, Juarez Viegas, has enjoyed operating the ARM MAOS so much that he stayed on from the previous AMF1 campaign. Juarez, three ARM aerosol instrument mentors from Brookhaven (Stephen Springston, Art Sedlacek, and Janek Uin), and I  were able to get the instruments well on their way for the LASIC start date of June 1.

For LASIC, we are excited about understanding the interactions between biomass burning (BB) aerosol plumes, marine cloud formation, and the impacts on the atmosphere, whether they are heating or cooling, working with the campaign Principal Investigator Paquita Zuidema from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The MAOS has already started seeing these plumes in June, which was well before the normal BB season. We are all looking forward to the height of the burning season in August and September when there will be two intensive operational periods (IOPs) with aircraft from the United Kingdom and NASA.

Stephen Springston, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Allison Aiken, Los Alamos National Laboratory, work on the trace gas measurements.

The two aircraft will probe the BB plumes and cloud-formation processes as the aerosols leave the African continent and are transported across the Atlantic towards the ARM site on Ascension Island. We also look forward to the intercomparisons that will be possible from LASIC and the aircraft measurements to study how the nanoscale particles from BB plumes evolve in the atmosphere to impact large-scale cloud processing, atmospheric radiation, and climate. As an aerosol chemist, I am especially excited to look at the data since LASIC is focused on aerosol-cloud interactions.

As I headed back to the United States, I reflected on how glad I was to be a part of the U.S. Department of Energy ARM Facility, the world’s premier ground-based observations facility advancing climate change research. We can also now say that we have had a successful installation in yet another remote location of the world!