The laboratory was set up in 1994 as part of a European methane project drawing on existing expertise in the measurement of stable isotopes. Since then a major focus of the laboratory work has been on the isotopic measurement of methane and carbon dioxide. The RHUL site provides an important location for atmospheric monitoring as it picks up relatively clean Atlantic air from the SW and air with London emissions from the E. The laboratory has been developed as a long-term monitoring site for the atmospheric gases CH4, CO2, CO, H2 and N2O, with a continuous record of CH4 measurements since October 1995.
The laboratory is pursuing 3 main strands of research:
- Instrument development for stable isotopic analysis of methane in air samples, with mass spectrometers to measure carbon and hydrogen isotopes in less than 150 ml of air. Development of automated sample collection to fill bags with air at remote sites.
- Global network of greenhouse gas measurements and sampling. This ranges from continuous measurement of greenhouse gases at sites such as Ascension Island and Hong Kong, to collection of air samples in flasks and bags for analysis at the RHUL labs from sites ranging from the high Arctic to Antarctica, and the Bolivian Andes to southern African swamps. In the UK we receive samples from NW Scotland, Norfolk and Devon, as well as our home base to understand decadal changes in CH4.
- Mobile measurements of methane onboard planes, ships and automobiles. Recent projects have utilised UK research aircraft to collect samples from boreal wetlands, African savanna fires and swamps, and North Sea gas installations. Ground surveys have made continuous mobile surveys across much of England and South Wales to detect and sample methane from a diverse range of anthropogenic sources including gas leaks, coal mines, landfills, biogas plants, sewage works and cow barns. Overseas vehicle surveys have included Queensland, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Netherlands and Romania since 2014. A new survey vehicle will take to the road in 2021 with added instrumentation to measure CH4 fluxes and isotopes directly at emission source.
More information is available on the Greenhouse Gas Research Group micro site https://ggrg.rhul.ac.uk