Far from Beijing, technician eyeing capital’s skies
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.