The NOAA Water Instrument: A Two-Channel, Tunable Diode Laser-Based Hygrometer for Measurement of Water Vapor and Cirrus Cloud Ice Water Content

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
David W Fahey1,2, Troy D Thornberry1,2, Andrew W Rollins1,2, Ru-Shan Gao1, Laurel A Watts1,2, Steven J Ciciora1 and Richard J McLaughlin1,2, (1)NOAA Earth System Research Lab, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)University of Colorado / CIRES, Boulder, CO, United States
The recently developed NOAA Water instrument is a two-channel, closed-path, tunable diode laser absorption spectrometer designed for the measurement of water vapor and enhanced total water (vapor + inertially enhanced condensed-phase) from the NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or other high-altitude research aircraft. Combining the measurements from the two channels allows the determination of cloud ice water content (IWC), an important metric for evaluating the radiative properties of cirrus clouds.

The instrument utilizes wavelength-modulated spectroscopy with second harmonic detection near 2694 nm to achieve high precision with a 79 cm double-pass optical path. The detection cells are operated under constant temperature, pressure and flow conditions to maintain a constant sensitivity to H2O independent of the ambient sampling environment. An on-board calibration system is used to perform periodic in situ calibrations to verify the stability of the instrument sensitivity during flight. For the water vapor channel, ambient air is sampled perpendicular to the flow past the aircraft in order to reject cloud particles, while the total water channel uses a heated, forward-facing inlet to sample both water vapor and cloud particles. The total water inlet operates subisokinetically, thereby inertially enhancing cloud particle number in the sample flow and affording increased cirrus IWC sensitivity.

The NOAA Water instrument was flown for the first time during the second deployment of the Airborne Tropical TRopopause EXperiment (ATTREX) in February-March 2013 on board the Global Hawk UAS. The instrument demonstrated a typical in-flight precision (1 s, 1 σ) of better than 0.17 parts per million (ppm, 10-6 mol/mol), with an overall H2O vapor measurement uncertainty of 5% ± 0.23 ppm. The inertial enhancement for cirrus cloud particle sampling under ATTREX flight conditions ranged from 33-48 for ice particles larger than 8 µm in diameter, depending primarily on aircraft altitude. The resulting IWC detection limit (2 σ) was 0.023-0.013 ppm, corresponding to approximately 2 µg m-3, with an estimated overall uncertainty of 20%.