OK–maybe that’s a little overdone. It parachuted down. Ray still had to fetch it off the roof.
I picked it up this afternoon. It is a combination of new and old tech and it stunk of sulfur. More on that later.
As the balloons go higher-and-higher the atmosphere around them becomes less dense. The balloon expands in size until finally it bursts! Those are the shredded remains of the balloon in the photo on the left.
I called the Weather Service Office in Albany where Ray’s balloon had been launched. The meteorologist there said the balloons typically went well above 50,000 ft. At that altitude 90% or more of the Earth’s atmosphere is below the balloon!
The science is contained in the more sophisticated instrument package that is tethered to the balloon. Ray’s was a Mark IIA Microsonde made by Lockheed Martin. Though Lockheed Martin is a major US defense contractor the sonde itself is assembled in Mexico.
Inside a cardboard box that looks like it should be holding pork fried rice sits a Styrofoam case. The case holds the sensors and brains. This radiosonde has instruments to measure temperature, moisture, pressure and ozone plus it can derive wind velocity and direction. The data plus GPS coordinates are transmitted back to ground via a radio data link.
Before the balloon is launched a wet cell battery gets filled with water. The chemical reaction that produces the battery’s electricity also produces the sulfuric stink that’s tough to miss as you approach the balloon.
The results of this upper air sounding are usually charted as a Skew-T Plot. As part of my meteorological training I used to do these by hand on a giant plastic sheet. They’re an excellent way to visualize the atmosphere above a singe point.
Though satellites and other remote sensing methods can probe the atmosphere upper air soundings from radiosondes continue to be used because they work! Their data is heavily integrated into the computer forecast models I often talk about on TV.
It’s amazing how much we owe to something that looks like it should be carrying Chinese food!