Far from Bei­jing, tech­ni­cian eye­ing cap­i­tal’s skies

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XIN WEN xin­wen@chi­nadaily.com.cn XIN WEN / CHINA DAILY

Zhou Huaigang was glad to fi­nally have a chance to spend a warm Spring Fes­ti­val with his fam­ily this year. For more than 20 years, he didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend fam­ily din­ners dur­ing the all-im­por­tant hol­i­day as he was al­ways on duty at the China Re­gional At­mos­phere Watch Sta­tion.

His pro­mo­tion and the em­ploy­ment of more staff al­lowed him to go home this year.

The sta­tion — 150 kilo­me­ters north­east of Bei­jing in Shang­di­anzi vil­lage, near Miyun Reser­voir — is one of six Chi­nese global base­line sta­tions es­tab­lished by the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

It was es­tab­lished 60 years ago to mon­i­tor pre­cip­i­ta­tion lev­els, con­cen­tra­tions of PM2.5 (tiny haz­ardous par­ti­cles), ozone de­ple­tion and green­house gases in and around Bei­jing and Tian­jin.

Since re­tir­ing from the mil­i­tary, the 57-year-old has spent the past 34 years work­ing at the base­line sta­tion.

“I mainly keep an eye on data col­lec­tion and in­stru­ment main­te­nance to mon­i­tor me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions in the Bei­jing-He­bei-Tian­jin area,” said Zhou, who works as a tech­ni­cian.

More than 40 types of pre­ci­sion in­stru­ments are in­stalled on the roof of the two-story build­ing, while an 8-me­ter steel tower erected nearby keeps track of wind speed, tem­per­a­ture and pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

The sta­tion’s lo­ca­tion was cho­sen be­cause of its pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment, free from nat­u­ral or ar­ti­fi­cial pol­lu­tion sources, said Quan Wei­jun, head of the ob­ser­va­tory.

To re­duce hu­man in­ter­fer­ence from ex­haled car­bon diox­ide and other fac­tors, a dozen probes were placed high up to col­lect sam­ples and trans­mit data to the mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion’s in­stru­ments, Quan said.

The em­ploy­ees’ liv­ing quar­ters are 750 me­ters away from the sta­tion, con­nected by a paved road, to pre­vent cook­ing smoke from skew­ing the data.

“It’s much bet­ter now com­pared with 30 years ago when we had to carry food by util­ity carts on a dirt road,” Zhou said. “Our shoes got stuck in the mud when it rained.”

Ten peo­ple work at the sta­tion, and those tasked with mon­i­tor­ing the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions stay on duty for more than 20 days at a time.

“At least three times ev­ery day we need to re­port the data to the Na­tional Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Cen­ter for weather fore­casts and re­search sup­port,” Zhou said. “Fre­quent in­spec­tions of ser­vice con­di­tions re­lated to mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment are also nec­es­sary.”

Sea­sonal wind gusts in the moun­tains are a con­cern for the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal mon­i­tors ev­ery spring. “Be­tween March and May, winds are so strong that they can blow peo­ple over. But we still need to go out at least three times a day to check equip­ment in the right or­der,” he said.

Quan added: “We have the most ad­vanced equip­ment to trace chem­i­cals in the air and make sure that the raw data is ac­cu­rate. It pro­vides the factual ba­sis for study­ing how green­house gases af­fect global warm­ing as well as mon­i­tor­ing air qual­ity.”

The re­sults col­lected by the sta­tion also help me­te­o­rol­o­gists stay abreast of the at­mo­spheric sit­u­a­tion of north­ern China.

Xu Xiaobin, deputy di­rec­tor of the Chi­nese Academy of Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Sciences’ In­sti­tute of At­mo­spheric Com­po­si­tion, is a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to the sta­tion.

Av­er­age PM2.5 lev­els are see­ing a de­creas­ing trend, rep­re­sent­ing a strong con­nec­tion with the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­prove­ments in the Bei­jing-Tian­jin-He­bei area, he said.

Thanks to his fa­ther’s in­flu­ence and en­cour­age­ment, Zhou’s son also chose to work at the sta­tion af­ter grad­u­a­tion, and he now helps mon­i­tor me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal data and pro­vides tech­ni­cal sup­port.

As the first base­line sta­tion in China, few peo­ple in Shang­di­anzi thor­oughly un­der­stand the oper­a­tion of the com­plex ma­chines, and back­ing up data is dif­fi­cult for the mon­i­tor­ing team. But Zhou said he hopes his pas­sion for the job will in­spire cur­rent and fu­ture col­leagues to bet­ter un­der­stand the high-end equip­ment.

An en­gi­neer checks equip­ment at the China Re­gional At­mos­phere Watch Sta­tion in Bei­jing.

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