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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1606

Mr Charles Jones asked the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:

(1)   Has a research team headed by Dr E. K. Bigg of the Radiophysics Division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation been carrying out research into the possible effects of supersonic aircraft flying at heights of up to 130,000 feet.

(2)   If so, what has this research disclosed.

(3)   Does the SST Concorde cruise at between 50,000 and 60,000 feet and is this cruising height in the critical zone which has been researched.

(4)   Has Qantas an option to purchase Concordes; if so has the CSIRO advised them of possible environmental pollution from these high flying aircraft.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   The CSIRO Division of Radiophysics has carried out research into the distribution of particulate matter in the upper atmosphere since 1962. These investigations have formed part of the Division's overall programme and have not been undertaken with the object of assessing the possible effects of supersonic aircraft flights in the upper atmosphere. Following a recent reorganisation, this work is being continued in the newly formed CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Physics.

(2)   A well-defined layer of relatively large particles occurs in the stratosphere between heights of 40,000 and 60,000 feet. From 1962 to 1964 the Division of Radiophysics collected and examined these particles with the help of United States Air Force U-2 aircraft then based in Australia. Since 1968 sampling has been resumed and extended to altitudes of 135,000 feet using high-altitude balloons.

The particles are now more numerous than, they were in 1962 and are quite different In 1962 the particles collected at 66,000 feet were nearly all solid ammonium sulphate, but now they are almost exclusively droplets of concentrated sulphuric acid.

This acid is thought to have been formed from sulphur dioxide discharged into the atmosphere at ground level. As tha sulphur dioxide diffuses upwards through the atmosphere it becomes oxidised and reacts with water to form sulphuric acid. The presence of large numbers of acid droplets in the upper atmosphere implies an increase in the amount of sulphur dioxide relative to ammonia.

This increase may have had a natural cause. Very large quantities of sulphurous gases and particles were ejected high into the atmosphere following an extremely large volcanic eruption in

Indonesia in 1963. The sulphuric acid produced from these gases deposited on the pre-existing and injected particles and may have temporarily swept the lower stratosphere clean of ammonia and ammonium sulphate. Industrial activity and air traffic may also be contributing to the amount of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere but the extent of this is not yet known. Only further observations will make it possible to determine whether this problem is predominantly man-made or natural.

(3)   I am advised that the normal cruising height of the SST Concorde is between 55,000 and 62,000 feet. While this region lies within the altitudes that have been studied by the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics it has not received particular attention during these investigations.

(4)   My colleague the Minister for Civil Aviation has confirmed that Qantas has an option to purchase 4 Concordes. CSIRO has not been approached by Qantas for advice on possible environmental pollution from high flying aircraft.

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