Couldn't Get Much Higher

Ozonesonde ascends 39 km into atmosphere over Summit Station Launching a balloon with an instrument package to detect springtime atmospheric ozone levels--an ozonesonde--at Summit Station. Photo: Jason Johns

Benign weather last week led to perfect conditions for launching instrumented balloons at the NSF-funded research station in the middle of Greenland's ice sheet. In fact, atmospheric conditions allowed the balloon to fly higher into the atmosphere than usual. We heard from science technicians at Summit, Marci Beitch (PFS) and Jason Johns (NOAA), who were suitably impressed by the flight.

We asked Marci and Jason if they could calculate how big the balloon got in the thinning atmosphere. Here's their response.

"This particular balloon (which by the way, got higher than any balloon since the super pressure balloons of the 60's - we are told by our ozone guru back in Boulder) had a pressure drop from about 650 mbar at Summit to about 3 mbar at 39 km. That means that the volume of the balloon had to expand by a factor of 650/3=217. We then wanted to see what a 217 increase in volume meant for the diameter. We calculated that it was about a 6-fold increase. We estimate that the initial diameter of the balloon was about 1.5 m, so it would be 9 m at 3 mbar of pressure. A pretty big balloon!"

Ozonesonde flights are launched weekly at Summit Station, and sometimes more often if conditions or other experiments warrant it. The information is part of a group of baseline measurements--data collected routinely that is archived for the general use of the scientific community.

In February, scientists predicted that atmospheric conditions in the Arctic may be ripe to enable concentrations of atmospheric ozone to reach record low levels in 2016--potentially opening a so-called ozone hole. (Here's what that could mean to you.) You can monitor the status of Arctic atmospheric ozone via the Ozone Watch website.  Meanwhile, stock up on the sunscreen. --Kip Rithner

The U.S. National Science Foundation funds and manages Summit Station in cooperation with the Government of Greenland. CPS operates the station year-round for the NSF.