**Leaving the wet UK winter**
Heathrow: Mon 13 Jan: 1800 UK
Finally…. off to Guam via Seoul. It is rare for me nowadays to start 24 hours of flying with a sense of excitement – but that is exactly how I am today. The NERC CAST aircraft campaign has been 3 years or more in the planning, and now it is about to start. I am going out a couple of days early so I can check out the lie of the land and to do some early planning with some of our US colleagues who are already out there. It is certainly not to try to get one of the best rooms at the hotel, though my German side did mean that I packed a towel in readiness. Anyway, in 24 hours time I will be there, and over the next week around 200 people will converge in Guam, as well as three of the best atmospheric research aircraft in the UK and US. And between now and the end of February we hope to learn much about what happens in the tropical atmosphere.
**Arrival in Guam**
Guam: Wed 15 Jan: 2100 Guam / 0100 UK
As I hoped, the flights were uneventful and we arrived in Guam roughly on time. We checked in the hotel at 0230 and I managed to get a few hours sleep even missing breakfast, my favourite meal of the day. Not much to be done apart from gently acclimatising, so I found the joint operations room where the CONTRAST team were already settled, sorted out my car hire and went for a short walk.
Guam: Thurs 16 Jan: 2100 Guam
Picked up my rental car and went out to Anderson Air Force Base (AFB) to meet up with the NASA Global Hawk team. My pass was ready on arrival (hats off to NASA and the USAF) and I was in the Global Hawk Operations Centre when it took off from California on its 21 hour flight to Guam. If it can get half-way, then it will not turn round.
After that I went up to Ritidian Point to see if it could be used as a site for measurements of surface air composition. It is a US Wildlife Refuge and I bumped into its manager, Joseph Schwagerl who told me all about its problems (principally the accidentally imported brown tree snake which has destroyed much of the native wildlife) and what they are trying to do about it. That must be a very tough job given the limited resources. Ritidian Point is however a most beautiful place with great beaches and native forest. Well worth visiting, even though one has to brave half a mile of very pot-holed road. We could make good measurements there.
**One and one makes two**
Guam: Fri 17 Jan: 2100
The Global Hawk landed safely at 0900 having encountered some problems along the way. Their team, while happy, now need to recover as it is hard work operating an autonomous vehicle and all its scientific instruments for 21 hours on the trot. However as one plane lands, another takes off with the NCAR Gulfstream V leaving for a flight to the South East. This is their first local flight (i.e. departing and raring Guam) and so is a good test of the whole system (flight preparation, air traffic control, instruments… everything). It turns out to be a success in all ways which augurs well for all three campaigns. Some things to be ironed out, but nothing horrible. Scientifically the measurements seem to be interesting as well. Being scientists, we need to be cautious and wait for the final version of the data, rigorous analysis, etc. But even so, it is the first hard evidence backing up all those times we have emphasised what a unique opportunity it is having three aircraft here covering the whole atmosphere from the surface to 20 km altitude. That puts a real buzz in the air.
Guam: Sat 18 Jan: 2100
A quieter day, with no flights out of Guam. The NERC FAAM aircraft however was continuing on its merry way from Cranfield in rural Bedfordshire. At the end of its third day of transits flights, it has reached Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. One more day and two more flights and it will be with us in Guam. I continue my survey of the possible ground sampling sites suggested to me by Mark Lander at the University of Guam. We want to be at the beach – where the air is representative of the oceanic atmosphere – so the job is quite pleasant. So I go with Paul Palmer to Jeff’s Pirate’s Cove which seems to be another good option – with the additional advantage of being quite a happening place…. That makes me late for a flight planning meeting – but that’s fine as there is a reasonable chance of all three aircraft flying together on Wednesday as well as two of them on Sunday.
Jeff’s Pirate Cove with Paul Palmer surveying the beach.
**And then there were three**
Guam: Sun 19 Jan: 2100
Things are progressing well, but as usual in a field campaign, not without hitches. All three planes are now here which is something of a miracle in itself given where we were three months ago. Ours was the last to arrive after what sounds like a fairly gruelling 4 day transit. The last leg, from Palau to Guam, was a science flight in that we flew where the scientists wanted (low down) with instruments working. It was better than expected because the NCAR Gulfstream V flew a similar route at higher altitudes in interesting conditions. An excellent start to collaborative flying – and a real bonus because I was not expecting that.
The plan is still that all three aircraft will be in the air at the same time on Wed which would be an amazing achievement. There are a few obstacles to be overcome, though. As a result of a misunderstanding, the UK plane does not have permission to land in Chuuk and so tomorrow morning, I will fly to Pohnpei with Peter Chappell (head of a/c operations) to ask for permission from the Department of Transport in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Hopefully that will be granted quite quickly, leaving the UK plane free to go to Chuuk on Wed. If so, Peter and I will go to Chuuk on Tues to be there for its arrival on Wed.
**On the road**
The Cliff Hotel, Pohnpei: Mon 20 Jan: 2100
An early start to get the island hopper flight to Pohnpei, eventually arriving there for a late lunch on the veranda of the hotel. No sign of Massy Halbert, not helped by our unfamiliarity with a slow internet system, but eventually he says he will pick us up at 0830 on the Tuesday. A couple of beers and a plate of shrimp tempura (excellent) with Peter set me up nicely for first good night’s sleep of the campaign. Tiredness can always be a problem at the start as a result of jet lag and new surroundings, food, etc.
**Clearance granted, start countdown**
High Tide Hotel, Chuuk: Tues 21 Jan: 2100
Massy Halbert picked us up as promised and took us to the Dept of Transportation. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) are Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. The federal capital is in Pohnpei and in our preparations we had made contact with the state authorities in Chuuk, but not the federal ones. This late planned visit was to make up for that and I had prepared a presentation about the campaigns to show their international nature and the importance for the region through, eventually, improved weather forecasting.
We had an excellent discussion followed by a tour of the surroundings including the weather station and the airport facilities. Massy was very helpful and promised to help us with our planning. He also pointed us to a Youtube film (Vanishing Islands; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFsZm0ddAL8) he had helped prepare on how climate change and sea level rise would affect these low-lying islands with their extensive atolls and coral reefs. Well worth watching for a different perspective on climate change, and an idea about what these remote and beautiful islands are like now and what they may become.
After that taster of Pohnpei, Peter and I took the reverse island hopper to Chuuk so we could prepare for the arrival of our first science flight planned for Wed. Inevitably various problems were waiting for us, but nothing horrible (I hope). A ground power unit (needed to keep the instruments running when the plane is on the ground) had made it all the way from Los Angeles and was now stuck in the port, just a mile or so from the airport. However one mile in Chuuk is not the same as one mile in most places, especially when there are not many vehicles capable of moving it. One of the good things about a campaign is that success is only achieved if everyone does their job. That problem is not one of my mine and so I was happy to share a beer with Peter and Ponz who had come down from Saipan to sort it out. I did have to think through the options for tomorrow’s flight if it was not ready by the planned 0900 take-off from Guam. Scientists are at home with hypotheticals so that was fine…..
**The Weather is great, but…**
High Tide Hotel, Chuuk: Wed 22 Jan: 1500
And no, this is not said happily. Our science flight from Guam to Chuuk this morning was cancelled due to a bad forecast for Chuuk. Now, the weather in Guam is pretty poor today (the Global Hawk flight has been postponed because of it), but the weather is much nicer than the previous two days, with good visibility, broken and reasonably high clouds. If this campaign is to be a success, we need to understand the decision-making process better and make sure the information we have is the best available. So we went to the Chuuk Weather service to have a chat with the station manager, Joe Berdon, about how to arrange things while we are here. They have a good team there who I am sure will help a lot in the next few weeks
The reason for the heavy rain in the island region and in Guam is that the convective region is quite far north at the moment. The weather here is subject to the so-called Madden Julien Oscillation (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/mjo/ – tabs=MJO-phase) in which there are periods of strong convection to the north east of Australia pushing up into the northern hemisphere in our region. From a scientific point of view this is good because the aircraft do not have to fly so far to get to the regions of interest. However from a practical point of view – whether flying or just walking to the restaurant! – this is less good as it complicates operations. Looking at the forecasts, this phase is close to its peak so the convection is likely to move back to the south and weaken. In terms of the campaign, we need to make the most of what is thrown at us – in this case it means making good measurements in the current strong phase and during the subsequent weakening in our region. While we are here Peter and I need to get an overview for the rest of the campaign while the rest of the team plan for the next flight out of Guam. The next few days could be pivotal to the success of the campaign.