ARL News

New Atmospheric Tracer Technology Being Tested


March 22, 2005

The need for atmospheric tracer studies in urban areas is now obvious. In the past, the tracer material of choice has been sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), a gas that is easily detectable in trace quantities. The ARL group at Idaho Falls has worked with sulfur hexafluoride for many years, and is the national “center of excellence” in its use.

SF6 is a gas that is commonly used as an insulator in high voltage transformers, such as are used in electrical substations. The use of SF6 in urban areas is consequently hindered by the presence of these substations, each of which leaks SF6 into the air. Clearly, there is room for other trace gases that can be used as atmospheric tracers.

The research team at Idaho Falls has now demonstrated an improved capability to use a variety of perfluorocarbons as atmospheric tracers. These substances were first used more than twenty years ago, in studies such as the Metroplitan Tracer Experiment (METREX) conducted by ARL in Washington, DC. Since that time, analytical methodologies have improved substantially. As a result of a rather intensive research effort by the Idaho Falls team, a new measurement capability is now in place. It is anticipated that this will be a major contribution to the studies of urban dispersion, planned to take place in New York City later this year.

Contact information: Kirk L Clawson
Phone: (208) 526-2742