But he was able to upload the data to Mocnik, who hopes to persuade his peers in the atmospheric science community that such data are useful. They are accustomed to rare injections of higher-precision data from the occasional Nasa or German jet mission, he says. "We hope to prove ... that one can do really sophisticated aerosol science on a scale which does not require this huge infrastructural investment," says Mocnik. If he can make the Aethalometer simple and robust enough, even recreational paraglider pilots might one day provide scientists with aerosol profiles, he says.
Such a widespread, consistent dataset would allow researchers to compare how black carbon travels the globe, says Shindell. It would let climate modellers test their theories against real-world data to improve their accuracy. Then it will be up to policymakers to make the changes which could improve the actual forecast, says Mocnik.
"We believe we collected quite interesting information," Lenarcic said after his polar flight. "I could see something in the air which might have been soot." If low cost efforts such as his can help plug the black carbon data gap, perhaps the warnings of scientists and fine words of politicians will finally be translated into action.