Balloons Launched Across US to Study Ozone
Varonique LaCapra (http://www.voanews.com/author/5382.html" target="target)
A small group of
Inside a small Styrofoam box are a GPS, and two little instruments that measure temperature, humidity, air pressure and ozone. A transmitter in the box broadcasts the data to a 2-meter-tall antenna connected to that beeping radio receiver. From there, an old-school modem translates the audio signal into ones and zeroes that the laptop converts into air quality measurements.
Once the students have checked that all the equipment is working, the next step is to attach the Styrofoam box with its instruments to a weather balloon that will carry everything up into the atmosphere.
Once it is filled the helium, the balloon is 2 to 3 meters in diameter. The goal is to give it enough lift to carry its cargo up about 30 kilometers into the stratosphere. That's around three times as high as commercial jets fly.
High up in the stratosphere, the ozone layer absorbs sunlight and keeps harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth.
But down near the ground, emissions from sources like petrochemical plants and cars can form ozone pollution and smog, which can exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma.
"It's especially difficult on children who are still developing," Morris said. "So children who grow up in areas that are chronically exposed to high levels of ozone have more frequent rates of asthma."
He says while regulations have led to lower ozone pollution in urban areas of the U.S., ozone levels outside of cities have continued to rise.
"A lot of it has to do with the increased anthropogenic activity, industrial activity in eastern
He says that's because pollution is being blown across the Pacific by global air currents in the upper atmosphere.
"So we've crossed the threshold of increasing ozone concentrations whereby we actually see enough ozone, in the atmosphere, that crop growth is inhibited, forest growth is being impeded."
In 2010, Fishman published a study showing that ozone damage to the U.S. soybean crop alone may cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
And he says that, like carbon dioxide, ozone absorbs heat and affects climate.
"So this project is trying to understand the complexity of the chemistry and the clouds and other processes, meteorological processes, that impact local meteorology," Fishman said, "which in turn form the big picture of climate...and in turn climate change."
Back at the
"And it helps to build their excitement for science and especially meteorology, so we hope we're developing little meteorologists here," Iwasko said.
"That was amazing," Zack said. "It's so high that I can't even see it."
The ozone balloon project runs through the end of September.
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