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In-service Aircraft for a Global Observing System


The European Research Infrastructure IAGOS responds to the increasing demand for long-term in-situ observations of greenhouse gases, reactive trace gases and aerosols, by establishing a monitoring infrastructure based on the use of commercial passenger aircraft as measurement platforms. IAGOS provides long-term, frequent, regular, accurate, and spatially resolved in-situ observations of atmospheric chemical composition in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere of atmospheric chemical species (O3, CO, CO2, CH4, NOx, NOy, H2O), aerosols and cloud particles. The infrastructure is designed for global coverage and a lifetime of at least 20 years.

IAGOS combines two complementary approaches:

  • IAGOS-CORE: Operation of fully autonomous instruments on 20 long-range aircraft for continuous measurements of reactive gases and greenhouse gases, aerosol particles and cloud droplets.
  • IAGOS-CARIBIC: Monthly deployment of an instrumented cargo container on one aircraft.

The CORE component comprises the implementation and operation of autonomous instruments installed on up to 20 long-range aircraft of international airlines for continuous measurements of important reactive gases and greenhouse gases, aerosol particles and clouds. The fully automated instruments are designed for operation aboard the aircraft in unattended mode for several weeks. The data will be available in near real-time to weather services, GMES service centres and atmospheric scientists around the world.

The complementary CARIBIC component consists of the monthly deployment of a cargo container equipped with instrumentation for a larger suite of components. It includes instruments that cannot yet be implemented in full routine operation for measuring e.g. organic compounds or water vapour isotopes. The installation combines instrumentation for in-situ measurements and remote sensing and collection of samples for post-flight analysis in the laboratory.

This setup of IAGOS aims at complementing global coverage of key observables on a day-to-day basis with a more complex set of observations with reduced coverage. It is foreseen to operate the infrastructure over long term in order to establish trends of greenhouse gases, air pollutants and aerosols in the free troposphere and in the tropopause region. IAGOS data have been earmarked as being essential for the GMES Atmospheric Monitoring Service and for monitoring atmospheric composition and climate.


IAGOS builds on more than 15 years of experience gained in the research projects CARIBIC and MOZAIC, which have demonstrated the technical feasibility and the value of using passenger aircraft for atmospheric observations. Partners of IAGOS are leading atmospheric research institutes in Germany (FZJ, MPG, KIT, IfT, IUP), France (CNRS, MeteoFrance, CNES) and the U.K. (U. Manchester and Cambridge), WMO and aviation industry.


Due to the strong support from large research institutions, and driven by the successful history of predecessor projects MOZAIC and CARIBIC and the world-wide interest in this research infrastructure, the implementation of IAGOS construction and operation are progressing. At present, the CARIBIC aircraft and two IAGOS-CORE aircraft are operational. The next three aircraft will be equipped in 2012/2013. The final size of 20 operational aircraft is expected in a time frame of 5 years.