Snow Dragon Tastes the Polar Air

Snow dragon

What's a great story without a dragon? While not a George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling creation, this tale involves "Xuelong" – or "Snow Dragon" – a 167 meter-long polar icebreaker and research vessel that travels the Arctic to better understand climate change.

Nearly 25 years old, the Snow Dragon has contributed greatly to our global scientific understanding of polar ecosystems and marine environments. This year, the Snow Dragon, operated by the People's Republic of China, traveled to the Arctic carrying special cargo: an Ambient Ion Monitoring (AIM) system, which includes the Thermo Scientific Dionex ion chromatography systems from our Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry business – providing a great example of how we enable a cleaner world. 

The AIM system has long been deployed at terrestrial sites around the world where poor air quality is expected, and it simultaneously samples particulates and gases in the air and analyzes them for the presence of ions – critical in separating, identifying and quantifying air pollutants. Our Dionex ion chromatography systems therefore play a critical role in monitoring potential health impacts of the air we breathe and in deepening our understanding of the contribution of various sources of pollution. 

Poor air quality is not something that we typically associate with polar regions. So why did the Snow Dragon take the AIM system aboard? With atmospheric and ocean currents dispersing pollutants around the globe, even the Arctic is not pristine. Tracing the source of impacts on the polar environment is necessary for mitigation, and this can only be achieved through mapping the spatial distribution of atmospheric pollution.

With climate change, our polar regions are experiencing a more rapid temperature increase than the rest of the world. However, the presence of atmospheric ammonia and amines help promote cloud formation, and their measurement is of critical importance in forecasting climate impacts. Unfortunately, amines tend to decompose during offline sampling and storage. The online capability of the AIM system, along with the resolving power of Thermo Scientific Dionex IonPac columns, solves this with high-frequency, high-resolution, accurate data. During the Snow Dragon's long voyage, researchers also appreciated the operational simplicity of the AIM system: minimal maintenance is required and only water needs to be added to keep the system running. 

Air pollution continues to be a global challenge, and tackling global challenges requires global monitoring. To keep up with that challenge, keep an eye out for another story on a Snow Dragon plying the polar waters. Snow Dragon 2 is scheduled to debut in 2019.

Snow dragon