Finally after years of challenges and struggles the main campaign of StratoClim to investigate the asian monsoon has started!!

The research aircraft, M55 Geophysica, landed at the campaign site in Nepal, Kathmandu today (see picture) and is now ready to carry our atmospheric instruments into the upper troposphere and stratosphere during the asian monsoon.

M-55 Geophysica in the hangar in Kathmandu, Nepal (picture by Antonis Dragoneas)


The view from the hangar in Kathmandu (picture by Johannes Wintel)


M-55 Geophysica (picture by Talat Khattatov)


But why is the investigation of the asian monsoon so important?

The asian monsoon is seen as a major pathway for tropospheric gases into the stratosphere, bringing large air masses quickly from the ground into high altitudes. In the stratosphere, atmospheric gases have a more direct impact on the climate, as they directly interact with solar radiation. The investigation of the asian monsoon transport mechanisms is the main goal of this measurement campaign. The improved understanding of these processes in and around the asian monsoon from this campaign will contribute to global climate models, which will, as a result, give more accurate predictions of the climate development, providing important information for climate change policy making. The M55 Geophysica reaches altitudes of 20 km and is therefore suitable to bring our instruments in the area of interest.

Personally, I am not yet in Kathmandu, but will be there to give on-site information in August.


Last night Kalamata was hit by a flood and most of us were affected by it. Already yesterday and during the night we had several storms and strong rain here. We woke up from water streaming in our rooms and had to rescue ourselves one level up. Everyone is fine and we found another hotel to spend the last days in. However, the demage at the hotel is huge. Our rental cars were flushed away and clothes from our luggage are soaked in or at least smell like dirt. One dog that we saw every day going to breakfast was on a leash and and couldn’t rescue himself.

For the campaign that means that todays measurement flight was cancelled, the option for another one tomorrow is currently discussed. Everyone scheduled to leave today cannot.

One thing is for sure.. This was an event/adventure that we won’t ever forget..

Here are some impressions:

During the night, after escaping to the first floor.

During the night, after escaping to the first floor.

My room, after the water went down again.

My room, after the water went down again.

Decreasing water level.

Lower water level.

Can you spot one of our rental cars?

Can you spot one of our rental cars?


Two out of four planned measurement flights have already been made. Collected data show a lot of potential for nice atmospheric studies and analysis. One group is especially excited after they saw that during the last flight Geophysica – like predicted – really went through an ice cloud (which they study with their instrument).

Next week is the last week of the campaign here in Kalamata, Greece and although one week seems like a long time, with all of the preparation it is hard to fit two more measurement flights in. One was originally planned for today, but unfortunately one instrument showed some major technical problems yesterday night, so this morning the flight for today was spontaneously cancelled. Many of us used that decision to take a day off after 7 days of long and hard work (and although we are on a campaign, where weekends don’t exist, it’s still Saturday 😉 ), others are back in the hanger to fix/improve some components of their instrument. I use the spare time to write another blog entry.

The next flight will either take place on Monday or Tuesday.

The preparation for one of those flights already starts the day before, when all instruments are installed. For our instrument (AMICA) for example, a crane has to be ordered to lift it to the top of the aircraft.

Early in the morning of the flight day, usually around 6 until 7 a.m. scientists come to the hangar to do some last minute preparation (for example warming up the instrument, fixing the inlet, software or logger programming …).

Last minute preparation before flight. Sunrise in the back. Picture by Brian Leen

Last minute preparation before flight. Sunrise in the back. Picture by Brian Leen

At 7:30 Geophysica is pulled out of the hanger and rolled to the apron. On the apron all scientists have to wear a high-visibility-vest.

high-visibility-vests are requested on the apron. A shortage of vests can lead to collegues sharing one ;)

high-visibility-vests are requested on the apron. A shortage of vests can lead to colleagues sharing one 😉

A minute by minute schedule, considering the need of every instrument, is followed. In general: The aircraft is connected to Ground power, instruments are switched on, the pilot takes his seat, engines of the aircraft are switched on, the Ground power is disconnected and Geophysica is ready to fly (at around 9:30 a.m.).

Geophysica taking off. Picture by Brian Leen.

Geophysica taking off. Picture by Brian Leen.

One point that on paper is estimated to take 5 minutes, but really takes around half an hour is ‘pilot takes his seat’. Because Geophysica is a high altitude aircraft (up to 21 km) the pilot is dressed in something that looks more like an astronaut costume to me, rather than a normal pilot uniform. He is connected to oxygen bottles and the whole process is more complex, than just sitting down. One measurement flight takes around 4 hours and it is really exciting to see the aircraft taking off and landing,

.. which we will see again in a few days.

Usually there is one EMC test for each measurement campaign. This is to test if any instrument interferes with the aircraft electronics. We had our EMC test on Friday 26th of August (picture).

For the EMC test procedure the plane is supplied with ground power first, then the engines are switched on and the ground power is switched off. This way the instruments should continuously be supplied with power.

Last Friday we noticed that shortly after switching on the engines all instruments where shut down and the big question was: Why..? Around 25 years ago a safety feature was implemented to Geophysica. As soon as one engine fails (in theory during flight) all instruments are shut down automatically to provide as much power as possible to the aircraft for landing. Not on purpose, but exactly this was done during the first EMC test so that we repeated the test Monday morning, this time we were more successful.

The first real measurement flight was already yesterday. Geophysica and all instruments were already 30 minutes longer running in the sun than planed, so some instruments had problems with overheating. In general ,I believe, the atmosphere towards this first measurement flight is positive. Some groups collected some good data and are ready for the next flights, some are already happy to have measured data at all 😉


On Saturday almost all of us had a day off to explore the region around Kalamata a bit.

During the first EMC test.

During the first EMC test.

Our research aircraft Geophysica and most of the Scientists arrived Monday 22nd of August. We are all in the process of integrating our instruments now.

The hangar here is small, very ‘basic’ and due to some holes in the roof, not every instrument is protected from rain, which we already experienced yesterday. We struggled with the electricity supply and internet connection. It is warm and humid, but we are lucky that we don’t have any dress code like the officers around us with their thick overalls.

The campaign is planned to continue until Sep 9th. In total 4 measurement flights are planned. The first EMC test is scheduled for tomorrow morning 7 a.m. to test if any instrument is disturbing the aircraft electronics.



Panorama view from the top of Geophysica

Big holes in the hangar roof above Geophysica.

Big holes in the hangar roof above Geophysica.



After the Kiruna Test campaign did not happen as planned, the main StratoClim campaign in India during the Asian Monsoon phase this year has been shifted to next year. Those news were unexpected as we visited an India training course, got medical advice for the journey and already sent one container with equipment to India, which is now slowly on its way back. As a PhD student and new to the community I still have to get used to disappointing, unexpected and sudden cancellations of campaigns/events that already have been planned in small detail.

For this year an alternative was found: Another campaign will take place in Kalamata, Greece from 22nd of August to 9th of September.

From Forschungszentrum Jülich, the container is packed with all the equipment and instruments and is now on its way to Kalamata. The last pieces were packed yesterday 11 pm.


Over the weekend we discussed some options, plans and schedules for the main campaign in India this summer. Before and During the India Campaign I will keep you updated about the activities and also the motivation of StratoClim.

Now (here in Kiruna) the containers are packed, the hangar is empty and we are all on our way back home.

Empty Arena Arctica

Empty Arena Arctica


Packing the container

Packing the container

Geophyisca left this morning at around 10:30 am and is now on the way back to its main base in Russia.

Yesterday most people already started packing their equipment and will go back home in the beginning of next week. This weekend we still have a Campaign Group Meeting here in Kiruna.

Group picture, picture by Ivanov Pavel

Group picture in front of Geophysica, picture by Ivanov Pavel



Group picture in front of Arena Arctica, the pilot in the middle, picture by Ivanov Pavel



Geophysica leaving, picture taken by Ralf Weigel


Geophysica before take off, picture taken by Ralf Weigel

Geophysica just before take off, picture taken by Ralf Weigel

Geophysica take off, picture taken by Nicole Spelten

Geophysica take off, picture taken by Nicole Spelten


During a walk around the ice hotel

During a walk around the ice hotel yesterday evening.


Two smart Scientists pretending to be a bird

Two scientists pretending to be a bird.


At the ice hotel, one igloo already broke down

At the ice hotel, one igloo already broke down.



During a necessary engine test of the research aircraft, we hoped to test our instruments. So today we worked on preparing the instruments. However, the Swedish authorities decided at a meeting this afternoon that Geophysica needs to leave immediately. The Russian embassy contacted the engineers of Geophysica requesting to follow this demand, due to the risk of being impounded. Until now there were potential plans and hopes (i.e., transfer flights to a different country and having test flights there), now we have to interrupt our work and dismount all instruments during the next hours. Geophysica must leave the country tomorrow morning. Everyone is shocked and very disappointed…

in the process of dismounting the instruments

In the process of dismounting the instruments

Earlier today: Working in the labs in the hanger

Earlier today: Working in the labs in the hanger

Due to the current status, Geophysica is not able to leave Sweden before Friday. The Swedish ministry of defense has called the airport several times today to make sure that Geophysica is leaving.

We have been informed that the Swedish authorities are working on new flight permissions. It is unclear whether these flight permissions are for the purpose of our research (which would be great) or for the Geophysica flight to leave the country. Either way, the German-, Italian- and Swiss embassies will ask for new permissions for the research flights. We are hoping for the best…

To get an overview of the airport in Kiruna and where we are located:


At the pin: Arena Arctica, location of our work

Even though it is already mid-April, some of us (not me…) saw some nice polar lights yesterday night.

polar lights, picture taken by Brian Leen

Polar lights, picture taken by Brian Leen