Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg

Climate Knowledge Lifted by Lab Zeppelin

  1. Grounded


    A zeppelin doesn’t seem much like an innovative tool for modern research. It's  a vehicle typically relegated to football game coverage and bad Hindenburg jokes. But the Pegasos is proving to be a vital information gatherer in the age of pollution and climate change.

    Currently tethered to a truck mast in Jamijarvi, Finland, three hours outside Helsinki, the zeppelin has been collecting samples from the area for a month. The data is analyzed at the Center for Measuring Ecosystem-Atmosphere Relations at the University of Helsinki.

    This project was started in 2011 and will continue for four years. The European Union research budget devotes €10 million ($13.3 million) across 15 countries and 26 research institutes in order to study the interactions of climate and atmospheric chemistry. The ultimate goal is to help regulate pollution and create policy initiatives.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  2. Cabin for Scientists

    Cabin for Scientists

    The zeppelin is accompanied by an international team of scientists and technicians, with a 40-person staff on hand in the country of operations. Two pilots and technicians fly the ship, with one scientist on board. The remaining staff works in the on-ground laboratory, where samples of the earth’s surface is compared with data from the atmosphere.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  3. Pilots


    Two pilots are required at all times; on long journeys, the ship lands to switch crews. Here they check instruments before takeoff. The pilots are trained helicopter pilots accustomed to lifting vertically, as zeppelins do, unlike a runway takeoff. The lighter-than-air aircraft is propelled by rudders and thrust mechanisms.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  4. Ground Work

    Ground Work

    The scientist prepares for the next flight by calibrating the laboratory equipment. Most of the equipment for gathering samples or data has to be changed, controlled, and readied before each flight.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  5. Size Matters

    Size Matters

    At almost 250 feet long, the body holds almost 30,000 cubic feet of non-flammable helium. The body, which dwarfs the cabin, must be tethered to a small mast or it will lift off on its own. This airship makes a good choice for studying air quality because it can stay aloft for hours or days—much longer than an airplane.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  6. Tests


    The cables below the pilot’s area are used to attach instruments and atmospheric samplers to the internal instruments for later analysis.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  7. Refills


    The non-flammable helium is stored at the airfield not far from Pegasos, an acronym for “Pan European GAS AerOSol” Climate Interaction Study. Helium blimps don't vent helium to maintain equilibrium. They inflate up to 90 percent to 95 percent and then use air sacs, which can be inflated or deflated to raise or lower the craft.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  8. Checking Equipment

    Checking Equipment

    Tuukka Petaja, a professor from the University of Helsinki who specializes in aerosol physics, is checking and calibrating the gas analyzer. Aerosols are minute particles created naturally, by volcanoes and desert dust, or by man, via the burning of fossil fuels. They can chemically react in the stratosphere, triggering destruction of the ozone layer.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  9. Land Laboratory

    Land Laboratory

    As zeppelin flights gather airborne evidence, the same measurements are performed in land-based laboratories. The scientists have constructed a separate lab at the airport. Here, physicist Xin Li prepares a liquid for the calibration of an instrument that measures nitrous acids in the gas phase. Other gases studied include benzene, ozone, carbon monoxide, and hydroxide.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  10. Data Analysis

    Data Analysis

    Physicists Hanna Manninen and Petaja review information. Data taken from earlier decades during similar environmental studies allow trajectories to be made for climate expectations.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg
  11. Ready to Fly Away

    Ready to Fly Away

    On June 17, the airship took on the next leg of its journey, to Sweden. The crew has already taken measurements in Italy, the Netherlands, the Alps, France, and the Adriatic, in addition to Finland.

    Photograph by Veikko Somerpuro for Bloomberg