The 100 kilometres or so of air above our heads is all that separates us from space. It’s in every breath we take and makes Earth habitable. Yet for all its centrality to the health of the planet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the atmosphere."James Van Der Pool, Series Producer, Cloud Lab
Date: 19.09.2013 Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.57
A team of scientists is taking to the skies in the world’s largest airship - the Skyship 600 - for one of television’s most ambitious experiments on the atmosphere.
Flying from coast to coast, across the USA, in a month-long
expedition for the BBC Two series Cloud Lab (working title), the
team of British scientists will scrutinise insect life, the relationship
between life and weather, as well as how hurricanes form.
The team, which includes an entomologist, meteorologist and
professional explorer, is also hoping to shed light on the creation of clouds
and the relationship between diverse ecosystems and weather. Their journey can
be followed in real-time on twitter - @BBCCloudLab.
The airship is a unique platform for exploring the
atmosphere. It can maintain a stationary position, so the team is able to watch
weather phenomena develop, and then manoeuvre to get the best vantage point. It
flies slowly and is exceptionally stable, making it the ideal base from which
to conduct scientific experiments.
Cloud Lab series producer, James Van Der Pool,
100 kilometres or so of air above our heads is all that separates us from
space. It’s in every breath we take and makes Earth habitable. Yet for all its
centrality to the health of the planet there’s a lot we still don’t know about
the atmosphere. For instance, at what altitude does life cease? What type of air is most likely to cause
rain? With Cloud Lab we’ve a rare and exciting opportunity to address some of
these questions head on.”
Skimming the ocean’s surface and drifting with the wind allows
the team to explore the physics that control the creation and destruction of
cumulus cloud as well as using the Cloud Lab’s sophisticated technology to
examine a growing cloud’s internal anatomy.
Through sampling different types of air, from sea, and
desert to city, while simultaneously measuring cloud cover, the team will
attempt to understand what types of air produce the most cloud.
trip, the entomologist will use the airship as a sampling platform to produce a
unique survey of the insect life that lives above the USA. Bats will also be
filmed using a range of technology, revealing how they have learned to exploit
these insect superhighways.
Other experiments include researching the role of
plants in maintaining the balance of the atmosphere through measuring the
amount of oxygen produced by a forest. The team will
also be looking into the causes of wildfires - the recent spate of which have claimed so many lives.
BBC executive producer of Cloud Lab, Jonathan
Renouf, explains: “Flying across the entire North American continent by airship
is ambitious in every conceivable way. As far as we know, no one has done this
for two decades. It’s incredibly exciting because we will get to explore the
atmosphere in a way that’s never been done before, as well as seeing America
from a unique vantage point.”
The executive producer is Jonathan Renouf and it will be
produced by James Van Der Pool. It was commissioned by Natural History and
Science Commissioner Kim Shillinglaw. Cloud Lab will transmit on BBC Two next year.
Notes to Editors
The team includes:
Dr Chris Van Tulleken
After studying medicine at Oxford University, Chris specialised in emergency treatment. In 2004, he came second in a race to the Arctic, and then accompanied Bruce Parry on the expedition to recreate Captain Scott’s last 100 days. He was a member of the science team in BBC Two’s Operation Iceberg, which explored the life and death of icebergs. He is a registrar in microbiology and infectious disease in London. His role on Cloud Lab will be to explore what the atmosphere means for us humans.
Felicity is the Cloud Lab meteorologist, leading the research inside the airship as samples of the atmosphere are taken throughout the journey. She spent over two years living and working as a meteorologist in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey. On her return, she was part of the first all-female team to complete the Polar challenge, a 360-mile endurance race across the Canadian Arctic. A year later, Felicity led the first British women's crossing of the Greenland ice-sheet. In 2012, she became the first woman in the world to ski across Antarctica alone.
Dr Sarah Beynon
Sarah has featured on Countryfile and Coast and will be Cloud Lab’s entomologist. She completed her doctorate in Entomology (insects) at Jesus College, Oxford. In the course of her research, she has travelled the globe studying insects and other wildlife, to countries including Zambia, Indonesia, Bolivia and Honduras.
On Cloud Lab, the former paratrooper will attempt to break a world record parachute jump while collecting microbial samples from the atmosphere. As an extreme adventurer, he is a highly qualified climber, caver and diver. Andy spent 10 years in the British Forces as a Bomb Disposal Officer, diver and paratrooper on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. Since he left the forces, he has presented on programmes including Coast and Operation Iceberg.
Dr Jim McQuaid
Jim will be managing all of the equipment on board the airship and sampling the skies throughout the expedition. A senior lecturer at the University of Leeds, atmospheric chemist Jim has dedicated his career to understanding the atmosphere. He has travelled across the world on board a specially designed aircraft, designed to sample the atmosphere from the Saharan Desert to the icy expanses of the Arctic Circle.
The itinerary includes:
Launch in September 2013 from Florida, flying past NASA Kennedy Space Centre.
Four weeks later, the plan is to arrive on the Californian coast, flying over Los Angeles and ending the journey on the coast of Big Sur. In between, the team will visit New Orleans, an extraordinary bat cave in Texas, Las Vegas and the Arizona Desert.