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 Businessweek.com

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 Businessweek.com

Climate Knowledge Lifted by Lab Zeppelin

Grounded
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com
Pilots
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com
Tests
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 Businessweek.com
Refills
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com
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 Businessweek.com