Atmospheric sampling

RV Investigator has two dedicated atmospheric laboratories and a suite of atmospheric instruments that continually collect atmospheric data when underway.

A unique capability

RV Investigator provides Australia with an impressive capability to conduct atmospheric research across our vast marine estate.

The vessel is equipped with two dedicated atmospheric laboratories as well as a suite of instruments that continuously collect atmospheric data while underway. On board equipment ranges from a new generation of weather radar that can gather data 20 km over the ocean in a 150 km radius from the vessel, through to instruments measuring sunlight, aerosols, cloud condensation nuclei, and other components of the atmosphere. 

RV Investigator’s unique capability was recognised in 2018 by the World Meteorological Organisation when the vessel was accepted as the first Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) Regional Mobile Station.

GAW is a long-term global program that provides reliable scientific data and information on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, its natural and anthropogenic change, and helps to improve the understanding of interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere.

Measurements we make

RV Investigator is equipped with two dedicated atmospheric laboratories and an air sampling system (including sampling mast and pump) that continuously measuring while underway– the Aerosol Laboratory and the Air Chemistry Laboratory. Both laboratories have a direct atmospheric air feed.

This capability allows comprehensive sets of measurements to be collected in three of the GAW focal areas (equivalent to a GAW global station): aerosols, reactive gases and greenhouse gases.

Instrumentation on board also allows for other continual measurements including radon, weather and precipitation data, and other core meteorological data.

Key equipment and capabilities

Atmospheric sampling system

The air sampling system has an air intake attached to the foremast. Air is collected and drawn down into the Aerosol Laboratory, which is directly below the foremast. The air samples then travel onto the Air Chemistry Laboratory. The main air sampling inlet is specifically designed for laminar flow and has a directional head to ensure it always faces into the wind.

The sampling system provides full bypass vacuum, dry air supply and real-time flow control, as well as continuous monitoring of temperature, relative humidity and pressure.

Weather research radar

The vessel has a 1.75 tonne C-band Doppler weather research radar that sends and receives 800 microwave pulses per second. It collects information about the number, size, shape and movement of rain, hail, ice and snow.

Cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) counter

Used to measure the number of particles that are able to form cloud condensation nuclei (CCN).

Polar nephelometer

Provides continuous measurement of the aerosol light scattering – an important property for the climate’s radiative balance.

Greenhouse gas spectrometers

A system used to measure and analyse atmospheric trace gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and water vapour.

Multiangle absorption photometer (MAAP)

Used to continuously measure aerosol absorption and black carbon loading.

Radon detector

Provides reliable and accurate measurements of atmospheric radon concentrations – a signature of continental air.

Other instrumentation 

Other atmospheric equipment typically available on RV Investigator includes:

  • Meteorological instruments – used to measure wind speed and direction, air temperature and humidity, rainfall, radiation and atmospheric pressure
  • Ozone monitor
  • Scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS)
  • Condensation Particle Counters
  • Side towing booms (one each side).

Atmospheric research at sea

RV Investigator is the first Australian research vessel with dedicated aerosol laboratories to analyse the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere. A 2016 voyage to the Great Barrier Reef used the ship's state-of-the-art facilities to gather data to increase understanding of how the Great Barrier Reef influences atmospheric composition and rainfall in this region.

Find out how we're doing it