COALA Project


COALA (Characterizing Organics and Aerosol Loading over Australia) is a broad project designed to study the emissions and atmospheric chemistry of Australian biogenic species in pristine conditions and as they interact with anthropogenic pollution. Recent technological developments now make it possible to study in unprecedented detail the reactive carbon budget for isoprene, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, including quantifying emissions, transformations and deposition. These new developments will allow us to address specific questions related to a major uncertainty associated with climate forcing: knowing how emissions were processed in a pristine environment representative of pre-industrial conditions. The isolated urban areas of Australia, located close to pristine forests, will also allow us to quantify the impact of isoprene, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes on urban air quality, and to address questions associated with the emerging science of lower NOx regimes in the mature industrialized world of the Northern Hemisphere. COALA is an international collaboration bringing together resources and facilities from multiple organizations and funding sources.


Today AIRBOX arrived at Cataract and was powered up successfully. Travis has started to get the handrails on the roof. Spectronus is powered up but we need to load up with desiccant before we start measuring. Michi and Sho have installed the high vol and low vol samplers in the open clearing in site 10 and the mast has gone up behind the first office with the sonic on top but not yet powered up.

Two mobile offices have arrived – one is powered up and set up as a basic office, the other one needs an extension cord to be powered as we have set it up right next to the large scribbly gum all ready for the PTR-MS-TOF’s arrival. Jhonathan and Jack have removed the flyscreen so we can access the branches and bring the ends into the office if that might make a nice experiment for emissions with the PTR-TOF-MS.

Talking of which, the PTR-TOF-MS has escaped the Manilla volcano, but the hold-up means that it has missed its customs slot and we may not get it here until Tuesday next week.

All the other instruments have been moved from Wollongong to Cataract and are ready for installation in the next day or two. 

Despite the good fall of rain earlier in the day we have had almost none since 9am.

It is nearly a full week since the AIRBOX arrived at Cataract.

  • The filter sampling has been up and running for several days now and Michi has already headed back to Nagoya University leaving the sampling in the capable hands of Sho and Jack D
  • Radon and sonic measurements have also been running several days set up by Alan Griffith of ANSTO in the first couple of days
  • Spectronus has also been running for several days but is awaiting the target tank (delayed with Dave Griffith due to the massive Canberra hailstorm which took out Dave’s car with so many others L). This measures CO2, CO, CH4 at WMO standards as well as N2O and del13 C in CO2
  • The AIRBOX aerosol measurement suite (ACSM, SMPS, CPC, CCNC and MAAP) are all up and running to complement the measurements that have been running all summer in the DPIE air quality monitoring station (including PM2.5, PM10 and Nephelometer measurements). Ruhi and Melita worked all weekend and managed to catch their intended flights on Monday back to CSIRO in Melbourne. Travis, Alex and others put in sterling efforts to get everything installed and working – many thanks to everyone involved.
  • We are also running a NOx with a blue light converter to supplement the DPIE NOX, O3, CO and SO2 measurements – thanks Alex C.
  • Kathryn has been providing smoke forecasts for the site and Travis has been keeping a close eye on the fire danger ratings.
  • Today Asher got the PTR-MS-TOF running and we are taking ambient samples overnight from an inlet line that we installed today at the top of the 10m mast next to the sonic: (thanks Travis, Jack x2, Hamish, Jhonathan & Graham & …?).
  • Also today Malcolm and Danica started the enclosure flux measurements from some of the tree species identified by Kris French (despite some problems with overheating pumps) with help from Frances, Alayna and others.
  • Also today Steve Wilson and Alex got the MAXDOAS installed on the top of the DPIE station with a little help from Alayna  - and the control computer in AIRBOX.
  • Frances, Alayna, Kathryn and Graham have been discussing plans for the soil emissions experiments with Kirsti and her team in the UK. The collars are in the soil and the passing storm helped settle them after the extra encouragement that Frances and Kris gave them. Alayna’s suggestion of using blue-tack to fix the chambers to the collars appears to work well; Alex has been working on the NOX analysers loaned by DPIE (many thanks) and Graham has sorted a good plan for shelter for the instruments. We have decided that the soil emissions measurements will start early next week.

Tomorrow is predicted to be very hot and we have only a very small team on site that won’t include me – (I won’t know what to do with myself!).

Still to do are various checks and calibrations of the PTR-MS-TOF and getting the VOC sequencer together and running.

Nevertheless, we’ve had a full and exciting first week – 8 more exciting weeks to go!

Today marks the end of the 4th week of COALA-JOEYS and it has been quite an exciting time for all involved!

The highlights:

  • In the 2nd week of the campaign we successfully got (nearly) all the instruments up and running and for the most part they have been behaving themselves well and so we are getting a very large and rich dataset of atmospheric composition from the site to keep us happy for months and years to come!
  • The first part of the campaign was impacted by some lingering smoke (e.g “background” CO at ~ 200 ppm and PM2.5 > 20 ug/m3) and also some episodes of significant smoke pollution. This includes at least one event that the PRTMS was operational alongside all the aerosol measurements and the FTIR – which should allow the most comprehensive analysis of smoke composition from Australian bushfires to date!
  • And after the fires came the floods! (More on this below). We have had very significant rainfall and all of the NSW fires are now extinguished – CO is now ~ 50ppb and PM2.5 < 5 ug/m3. So we are now getting data on the biogenics clean or interference from the lingering smoke.
  • The first round of enclosure measurements for VOC emissions from 6 native tree species (3 replicas of each – identified and tagged by Kris) have been completed by the Sydney Uni team (Malcolm and Danica). We are planning to do another repeat later in the campaign if possible.
  • The soil emissions work is progressing well with borrowed NOx boxes from DPIE resurrected by Alex’s hard work and deployed along with VOC tube sampling by Frances with help from Alayna and Kathryn and remote instructions from Kirsti.
  • HiVol and LowVol sampling has been operational from day one of the campaign and has recently moved from daily to every two days (since Sho returned to Japan and left in the capable hands of Jack D ).
  • Ian Galbally visited and we undertook some further calibrations of the PTRMS-TOF in ambient air. Ian also got the VOC sequencer up and running and leak free which will make our tube ve PTRMS intercomparisons easier.
  • Graham is working on a manifold that will enable our 5 way VOC intercomparison too.

The low lights:

  • A broken optical fibre means that we will have to take MAX-DOAS measurements from ANSTO as we cannot get the AIRBOX one operational at the JOEYS site
  • An absent minded Clare failed to realise that we were not monitoring PAR initially and so until first days of February (when we successfully deployed an ambient PAR sensor) we have only the few readings taken by Malcolm and Danica whilst doing enclosure measurements.
  • The recent rains resulted in AIRBOX springing a leak. Jack and his dad made valiant efforts to stem the flood but the instruments were switched off until the worst of the storms had passed.
  • The NOX boxes have been struggling with issues and Alex and Travis have been working hard to get them all running smoothly. We will have a few different measurements of ambient air to compare so we will be able to get a measure of our uncertainties here.

We only just have another month or so until the planned end of the campaign but we are still unsure where AIRBOX will go next. Since the first 3-4 weeks of the campaign were smoke impacted, I am already contemplating whether we might look to extend a fraction of the measurements to the end of March.

So we are into the final stretch of the COALA-JOEYS campaign and I am overdue to send another update.

Since I last sent news we have had struggles to get the PRT working well but it now seems to be behaving itself (mostly).

Some highlights:

  • Frances and Alayna have continued the soil sampling program including a mammoth effort to get diurnal cycle measurements last week.
  • Jack D has managed to keep the filter sampling going without any issues.
  • AIRBOX has recovered from the floods and the instruments have been running nearly continuously (with small interruption to SMPS data whilst the borrowed neutraliser was returned to QUT for a quick test)

We have started coincident tube measurements (using Alex’s tubes) with the PTR-MS-TOF and sequencer in line so that we can get a handle on the monoterpene speciation. This is running now and has included a very hot day today – so should be plenty to see J.

We still have quite a few experiments to run:

  1. 5 way intercomparison with tubes from UCI, USYD, Lancaster and UOW inline with Georgia Tech PTR
  2. VOC tube measurements at surrounding sites
  3. More ambient tube/PTR coincident measurements
  4. Interrogation of the Scribbly Gum! (interweaving enclosure, ambient and open measurements in the leaves using PTR)
  5. Ideally repeating the enclosure measurements done by Malcolm and Darnica early in the campaign

Pack-up for the AIRBOX is planned now to take place on 17th /18th March with last day of ambient measurements being 16th March. We would like to continue PTR measurements (to do things like the Scribbly Gum experiment) until the end of March.

Today marks the original planned date for the end of the COALA-JOEYS campaign and this morning we have begun switching off instruments in AIRBOX.

The ambient measurements are therefore completed but we have a few extra remaining experiments that we are hoping to complete before packing up the PTRMS and tree enclosure and soil sampling work.

We have some good weather forecast Wednesday (mostly sunny Min 12C Max 26 C), Thursday (Sunny Min 13 Max 30), and Friday (Sunny, Min 14 Max 33) and we are hoping to complete the last of the repeat enclosure experiments and the final soil sampling diurnal runs (on Wednesday and Thursday).

On Friday we plan to run the last of the 5 way intercomparison ambient VOC tube measurements and a repeat of the coincident VOC tube sampling at multiple sites.

Assuming that we achieve all of this, then all that remains will be the intense experiment on the Scribbly Gum tree and the final calibrations and inlet tests for the PTRMS inlet.

So today the 3 of us remaining standing finalised the pack-up at Cataract to spell the end of the COALA-JOEYS campaign.

Before I go into some actual news, I would like to extend an invite to all involved in the campaign (or even just interested) to join in a virtual end of campaign party (since sadly a real one is off-limits). I will try to sort some possible times that might work for a beer/coffee and send an invite later.

This last week we have been frantically trying to finish up before the expected lock-down occurs here. We had some great weather that, along with some very long days, helped us achieve all the remaining experiments that I outlined last week.

Today the PTR packing was finalised and it is awaiting pick-up at the distribution centre at the University of Wollongong. AIRBOX is powered down, packed and strapped down also awaiting pick-up (when we know where it’s going next!). The DPIE air quality station is similarly packed and ready for transportation. Malcolm fetch all the University of Sydney gear yesterday and all the UOW gear is back at the lab (some major clear up will be needed when we next can spend serious time there). Sho packed up the Nagoya gear last week.

Meanwhile all the VOC tube samples have gone to their respective groups – Alex has confirmed that his arrived safely in California – not sure if Kirsti’s have reached Lancaster yet. Malcolm has run his already, but ANSTO has shutdown and so we are not yet able to run ours.

So it has been a truly amazing few weeks!

Whilst the world as we know it has been transformed around us, the campaign at Cataract has included:

  1. Approximately 8 weeks of ambient sampling, with aerosol and gas-phase continuous (1-3 minute) measurements, supplemented by filter samples from the University of Nagoya.
  2. Enclosure measurements of 6 species (with 3 replicates) run twice over – in January and in March - which will allow flux rate calculations for these species using the VOC tube data.
  3. Measurements of soil emissions of NOX and VOCs, including regular daily measurements and two sets (of slightly different) diurnal measurements.
  4. In addition, we ran an intensive experiment on the Scribbly Gumtree using 3 different branches for ~ 24 hours each, sampling from the enclosure onto the PTRMS. These measurements occurred for 10 minutes every half an hour, interspersed with 10 minutes of ambient measurements up the mast and 10 minutes from an open tube into the leaves of the Gumtree. Sadly, although we have ambient PAR, and PAR, humidity & temperature inside the enclosure, we didn’t manage a PAR sensor next to the open tube in the leaves (but you can’t have everything!)

On top of the COVID19 challenges, we have had problems caused by bushfires, volcanoes and drought …….(and poor plumbing!!).

We have experienced smoke, huge rainfalls and then a fairly typical end of summer, beginning of spring as far as weather is concerned. We have seen some significant new particle formation events and some interesting behaviour with the biogenic VOCs – lots of isoprene and surprisingly little amounts of monoterpenes.

I think we will have some very interesting science out of this all and I thank you all for your contributions and look forward to working together to understand the results.



P.S. We adopted the COALA-JOEYS name for this campaign because this name was always intended for the Australian-led part, however I would like to retain that name for the long-term measurements from ANSTO. I would like to refer to this campaign simply as COALA-2020. Let me know if anyone is unhappy with that naming.