We describe the development, characterization and first field deployments of a quantum cascade laser direct absorption spectrometer (QCLAS) for water vapor measurements in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The instrument is sufficiently small (30×23×11 cm3) and lightweight (3.9 kg) to be carried by meteorological balloons and used for frequent soundings in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS). The spectrometer is a fully independent system, operating autonomously for the duration of a balloon flight. To achieve the required robustness, while satisfying stringent mass limitations, the concepts for optics and electronics have been fundamentally reconsidered compared to laboratory-based spectrometers. A significant enhancement of the mechanical and optical stability is achieved by integrating a segmented circular multipass cell. The H2O mixing ratio is retrieved by calibration-free evaluation of the spectral data, i.e., only relying on SI-traceable measurements and absorption line parameters. An open-path design reduces the risk of contamination, allows fast response and thus high vertical resolution. Laboratory-based characterization experiments show an agreement within 2 % to reference measurements and a precision of 0.1 % under conditions comparable to the UTLS. The instrument successfully performed two balloon-borne test flights up to 28 km altitude. In the troposphere, the retrieved spectroscopic data was in excellent agreement with the parallel measurements by a frost point hygrometer (CFH). At higher altitude, the quality of the spectral data remained unchanged, but outgassed water vapor within the instrument enclosure was reducing the accuracy of the retrieved water vapor data. Despite this limitation, these test flights demonstrated the successful deployment of a laser spectrometer in the UTLS aboard a low-volume meteorological balloon, with the perspective of future highly resolved, accurate and cost-efficient soundings.
AMTD paper Graf et al. 2020 in review
Compact and Lightweight Mid-IR Laser Spectrometer for Balloon-borne Water Vapor Measurements in the UTLS
Graf, M., Scheidegger, P., Kupferschmid, A., Looser, H., Peter, T., Dirksen, R., Emmenegger, L., and Tuzson, B.
by Atmospheric Measurement Techniques Discuss (AMTD) at 2020-06-25