September 22, 2016 – Calibrating the instruments that measure minute quantities of greenhouse gases is anything but flashy, but it’s incredibly important and exacting work.
As the urgency of research on climate change grows, ensuring that the data from hundreds of research labs across the world is accurate is essential to the credibility of research results.
“One of the hardest things to do is to understand how our atmosphere is changing,” said Bradley Hall, PhD, a research scientist and leader for the calibration gas standards project at NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab in Boulder. “To do that, you have to establish a reference standard that everyone uses and that doesn’t change.”
Hall improved on existing techniques to make calibration standards and measurements of very low concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons. These standards are used to calibrate instruments in more than 200 organizations worldwide.
For his work, Hall has been named a winner of the 2016 Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research, an annual competition administered by CO-LABS. He will be presented with the award at a ceremony to be held at the Denver Museum of Nature of Science on Thursday October 6 at 5:30 p.m. The event is open to all.
Hall makes these standards gravimetrically, by measuring precise weights of tiny quantities of condensed gases, often at the level of micrograms.
“Some of the gases we study are measured in parts per trillion,” he said. “We’ve spent the last 30 years trying to perfect calibration techniques so we can be sure that the changes we see in the atmosphere are real, and not an artifact of the measurement.”
Hall first started working on this problem with NOAA after graduating from the University of Colorado in 1988. After leaving to earn his doctorate at Washington State University, Hall returned to Boulder in 1999 as NOAA’s project leader for standards.
“What he does is the foundation for everything we do,” said Jim Elkins, the group chief for NOAA’s Halocarbons and other Atmospheric Trace Species group. “Without Brad’s work, we don’t have a basis for our measurements. He provides the absolute standards that are critical for measuring greenhouse gases and the gases that destroy ozone.”
In recognition of the quality of the work of Hall and others at NOAA, the Global Monitoring Division has been designated as a Central Calibration Laboratory for the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Atmosphere Watch Programme.
Other 2016 winners include:
Dan Baker, PhD, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder
JILA Quantum Machine Team, National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Colorado Boulder
Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, Vector-Borne Disease Division
Since 2009, the Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research has honored exceptional and groundbreaking work from Colorado scientists and engineers from the state’s federally funded research laboratories. Each year a special committee appointed by the CO-LABS Board of Directors reviews nominations from Colorado’s labs and selects projects that have had a significant global, national or state impact resulting from a scientific breakthrough, change in public policy or development of a new technology.
The annual awards event also serves as CO-LABS annual fundraiser, supporting the mission of nurturing research and technology innovation in Colorado.
Find more information at http://co-labs.org/news/governor-s-awards-2016