News / Science & Technology

Balloons Launched Across US to Study Ozone

Weather Balloon Takes Flighti
X
August 30, 2013 3:46 PM
Gary Morris, lead trainer for the NASA ozone balloon project, and the Saint Louis University team launch the weather balloon at the Saint Louis planetarium.
— There’s something unusual going on in the skies over St. Louis in the U.S. Midwestern state of Missouri. Students at Saint Louis University are launching weather balloons as part of a nationwide study funded by the U.S. space agency NASA, aimed at improving our understanding of air pollution and global climate.

A small group of Saint Louis University students are huddled around a laptop and radio receiver set up outside the Saint Louis Science Center planetarium. They’re getting ready to participate in the NASA mission to measure ozone ― a gas that both protects and pollutes the planet.

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.

Gary Morris, a professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana and the lead trainer for the NASA ozone balloon project, is overseeing the launch. St. Louis is one of seven sites, from Colorado to Florida, involved in the nationwide study. Morris says NASA wants to get more data on ozone because of the important roles it plays in our atmosphere ― both good and bad.

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.”

Saint Louis University’s ozone study is being led by Jack Fishman, who worked for NASA for more than 30 years, studying air pollution and atmospheric chemistry.

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 Asia,” Fishman said.

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 Saint Louis Science Center, the balloon and its payload swoop upwards. Saint Louis University senior William Iwasko is one of four undergraduates on the launch team. He says launching the weather balloons by the planetarium, in a public park, gives kids who come by a chance to see science in action.

“And it helps to build their excitement for science and especially meteorology, so we hope we’re developing little meteorologists here,” Iwasko said.

Zack Crawford, 7, says when he grows up, he wants to be…a fireman. But the balloon launch definitely made an impression.

“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.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid