Profiles in Science - Frank Flocke and Emily Fischer (CSU)


The 2018 NSF-funded Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption and Nitrogen (WE-CAN) field campaign measured the chemical components of wildfire smoke in plumes emitted from active forest fires in the northwestern United States. A collaboration of scientists from several universities and ACOM filled the NSF/NCAR C-130 research aircraft with a battery of instruments. The C-130 flew out of Boise, Idaho during July and August 2018; Dr. Emily Fischer of Colorado State University and Dr. Frank Flocke of NCAR served as two of the Principal Investigators on the project’s Science Team.

How the collaboration started:

Emily and Frank have known each other for about 10 years. During her PhD research with Dan Jaffe at the University of Washington, Emily set up instruments to measure PAN (Peroxyacetyl nitrate) on Mt. Bachelor in Oregon. Frank, working for NCAR's Atmospheric Chemistry Division (now ACOM), loaned her a detector for her GC/ECD instrument (Gas Chromatograph/Electron Capture Detector). During the FRAPPÉ field campaign in 2014, they worked together again in setting up PAN measurements at the BAO Tower (Boulder Atmospheric Observatory) in Erie, Colorado. They repeated similar measurements in 2015 to focus specifically on the impact of emissions from the oil and gas sector on local air quality.

Emily Fischer served as the Chief Principal Investigator for WE-CAN, with ultimate responsibility for the entire field campaign. Emily was at first reluctant to step up and lead WE-CAN until Frank encouraged her during the early planning stages. NCAR's Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL) noted that Frank has extensive experience with aircraft research and flight operations; Emily was especially glad to have his guidance as a super-mentor in real time.

Results of the collaboration:

During a research flight, the C-130 pilots are responsible for the safety of the aircraft and its occupants, while the Principal Investigators of the Science Team are stationed in the cockpit to get the most science out of each flight. Frank helped Emily to become comfortable with Air Traffic Control interactions, what the pilots consider to be safe maneuvers, flight instrument rules, and the best flight tracks and altitudes for taking measurements. Emily is grateful for all Frank has taught her about flight operations over the last year. This knowledge transfer will pay off in future field campaigns.

Becky Hornbrook (Twitter handle @BecHornbrook), a project scientist in ACOM, flew on the C-130 and operated the NCAR Trace Organic Gas Analyzer (TOGA) during WE-CAN. She tweeted about the collaboration between Emily and Frank:

PI @ScienceEmily & @NCAR_ACOM's Frank Flocke are 2 of the *most entertaining* Mission Scientists I've had the pleasure of flying with. It's like listening to a super funny morning show! More importantly, they're doing amazing work getting us where we need to get for #WECAN2018.

Emily Fischer and Frank Flocke - photo by Ilana Pollack

Figure 1
. Emily Fischer of Colorado State University and Frank Flocke of ACOM in the cockpit of the NSF/NCAR C-130 research aircraft during WE-CAN 2018. Photo by Ilana Pollack; click for larger image.

2018 was an active fire season in the western United States, unfortunately so for the people whose homes were destroyed. Within the C-130’s range from Boise, Idaho there were always many suitable smoke plumes to sample. Emily and Frank are pleased to report that the three main sampling goals of WE-CAN were achieved:

1. Measured the chemical aging of smoke on the first day after emission.
2. Measured fire emissions of many different fires in different stages of combustion.
3. Observed smoke-cloud interactions between smoke particles and water vapor.