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New Standard in Measuring Gas Mixtures Help Scientists Understand Changing Climate


140226095250-largeMonitoring and measuring differences in greenhouse gas concentrations across various locations around the world is the primary goal of many research teams, who try to understand the impact these have on our climate.

A group of scientists from the National Physical Laboratory, claims to have found a fast and effective way to compare these concentrations by developing a new synthetic standard.  Their new product has international comparability, can be traced back to the International System of Units, and holds a huge potential to help understanding the influence the gases have on the atmosphere.

The process of measuring and monitoring of gases, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in particular, typically involves the use of gas standards at monitoring stations, in order to calibrate the numerous instruments so that the comparison can be accurate. Two problems are very apparent. Firstly, it is very difficult to produce and distribute large quantities of reference standards made of atmospheric air samples. A synthetic reference could be made, but here is the second problem, the produced carbon dioxide has different isotopic properties hence gives different measurements.

Paul Brewer, Principal Research Scientist at NPL, and his team, took on the task to find a way to improve the very expensive and complex method used  until now. Instead of sampling air directly, placing it in gas cylinders and weighing it, the researchers created a blend of the gases found in the atmosphere, under laboratory conditions. Using gravimetry, they then made an extremely accurate replicate of real thing. The new mix of compounds was tested using the latest technology and instruments found at monitoring stations around the world, and it showed that it is perfectly comparable with all international standards.

The findings of the research were published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, and present a truly revolutionary way to handle the ever-so-great amount of data that gets collected over the years at various locations. The team believes that their standard will enable many scientists around the world to use all data available and provide precise numbers that can explain the effect of changing concentrations on our climate.

Image (c) National Physical Laboratory

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