Flying air-monitoring lab tests emissions in oilsands region
Aircraft is capable of testing atmosphere while flying thousands of feet in the air
A unique aircraft is in Fort McMurray this month to test the cocktail of pollutants emitted by oilsands facilities.
Shao-Meng Li is excited talking about all the gadgets and gizmos on board the twin-propeller Convair 580, a flying research lab.
"And ... it has enough range that it could fly in a time frame that's desirable."
The Convair 580, which belongs to the National Research Council of Canada, has been modified with 25 air-quality-testing instruments in preparation for a series of flights this summer over oilsands facilities in the Fort McMurray area.
The aircraft is "the most extensively instrumented aircraft in Canada for air quality studies," said Stewart Cober, research manager with Environment and Climate Change Canada. It's one of only a few planes in the world that can test particles and gases in the air.
In 2013 the researchers did similar work and found levels of air pollutants from oilsands mines might be underestimated.
But there were gaps in the research and now the team is back to sample a larger area with more modern instruments on board.
"We have newer technology to measure newer compounds that we weren't able to do in 2013," Li said.
Last time the team tested for hydrocarbons such as methane and volatile organic compounds, which can be harmful to human health.
The earlier research was restricted to areas such as mines and tailings ponds north of Fort McMurray.
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The data will be used to help understand the impact of emissions on the ecosystem and humans over the long term.
"The biggest impact of the research," Cober said, "is understanding where the plumes go and what the level of exposure is.
"Once we know that, we can understand the impacts on the ecosystem and the impacts on human health."