Public Lab Research note

Public Lab and NASA DEVELOP fieldwork session one

by Shannon | July 31, 2013 16:27 31 Jul 16:27 | #8946 | #8946

We've been working with a small team from NASA DEVELOP National Program that is headquartered at Stennis Space Station in Mississippi. They reached out to us with interest in using the Public Lab spectrometer to look at emissions from oil and natural gas production and processing sites, and refinery flaring in particular. Particular toxics that they are interested in looking at include sulfur, nitrogen containing compounds and organic carbons.

Scott Eustis, Darin (an intern at Gulf Restoration Network) and I met the DEVELOP team in Chalmette, LA after connecting with local community members that do advocacy work on behalf of their neighborhood, which sits on the fenceline of Valero refinery (historically Murphy). The initial goal was to see if we could capture spectra from over a mile away with only a small flare to look at. We had also considered going to Norco (another refinery community), but decided because of proximity to New Orleans and Long Beach, Mississippi, this location would be better suited for initial tests.

We met at 6:30pm and put together the boom mic with desktop spectrometer attached by zip ties (not the most secure method) and then decided that it was too light outside to try it out, so we waited until about 8:20pm to actually start doing the tests. We weren't able to get a clear reading on the flare, my assumption being that we were too far away. We tried out a telescope and a pair of binoculars, but neither gave a better reading.

We tried removing the slit and black cardboard and then started getting some readings. Before removing the slit, we were able to get a spectra of the sky, but couldn't pick up anything else. It might have been that there was no strong light source, but it was also because the slit plus the distance meant that our aim had to be completely precise. Taking the black paper out of the conduit box (the housing of the spectrometer) allowed us to better focus in on the light source we were trying to sample. We were able to pick up spectra of a nearby sodium street light, especially when we used a paper towel roll to block out any additional ambient light.

We decided to move closer, about a football field and a half away and decided that the main issue was that we didn't have a well conceived method for blocking additional ambient lighting, as there are numerous lights turned on at refineries at night. After we finished for the night, we took it to the plots-spectrometry list to discuss methods for better scopes (we'd thought of a rifle scope while out doing the testing), the conversation is continuing here:!topic/plots-spectrometry/C3gn0dmKOxY. Additionally, here is a note about modifications and tweaks to the spectrometer when looking at flares.

From this conversation, and one that we had on the organizers call, we decided that the best model would be very similar to what we had tried out, a stand to help keep the spectrometer still, but also a paper tissue roll with black paper lining it and potentially tissue or wax paper between the end of the spectrometer and the "scope" (see below).'


We went out again on Friday night and got different results, as detailed in these notes: and

Additional images from various nights working on the flare spectroscopy project:


This is super awesome. What is the function of the tracing paper?

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I especially like this photo:


The tracing paper was my suggestion; you can read about it here

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