Balloon Madness

Reviews are in. Pictures are loaded. Results: weather is looking beautiful to put it lightly (if indicative of a changing climate). Weather balloons are a critical to our understanding of the structure and behavior of the atmosphere. Without the twice daily weather balloon launches which take place simultaneously at over 800 sites around the world, we would not have the week’s weather predictions, any understanding of how the troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere, the part which impacts us the most) is structured, or have an inkling of important global weather patterns.  Weather balloons (as pictured here) are made up of several (if deceptively simple) parts. Our six ft balloon!The most obvious of which is the giant balloon. Our balloon was one of the smallest options out there starting at ground level a tiny 6 feet wide, and as it rises up in the atmosphere and the temperature and pressure drops, it will expand up to 25 feet. Hanging on a long string attached to the bottom of the balloon (around 700 feet of string to avoid the shadow of the balloon) is the information gathering device. I have included a picture of this strange instrument which fits into a human hand and is surprisingly light. The device, called a radiosonde, collects: temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and barometric pressure. This is the simplest of sondes used to collect daily information.

Attached to a weather balloon- measures: temperature, pressure, wind speeds, wind direction,and humidity.

Sondes can vary in size and purpose. A couple of examples would be the well protected versions they drop into the eyes of storms, or the huge telescope they sent up to see the sun’s corona (which was the size of an average car and weighed three tons. But we were sending up the most basic model. We all took turns holding onto the balloon to get the chance to take funny pictures and feel the pull of our six feet balloon.

A few fun and fascinating tidbits about weather balloons:

-The radiosondes are rarely collected once they are sent up. Imagine all of those balloons sent up twice daily, worldwide, just falling all over and never being collected. One: that is a lot of plastic and balloon material. My mother used to yell at me when I would let go of my balloons and told me I was killing birds and other small creatures. Two: could you imagine seeing one of those fall in your backyard with no indication of what it is? I think aliens. Which leads us to the next tidbit.

Our weather balloon soaring (rapidly!) off into the troposphere

-There are some funny stories about civilians seeing radiosondes in the sky or falling and these sightings have led to many UFO and government conspiracy stories. So if you see one of these funny boxes in your backyard, be assured it is just a weather device.

-We are in a global helium shortage! Helium supplies are finite (as most of our other natural resources) and we are using it at a fast rate (again twice daily at over 800 sites worldwide, and these are no birthday balloons). There have been rumors of limiting uses of helium, so the next time you buy some party balloons, consider choosing air over helium.

Overall our class LOVED launching a real weather balloon, and I would recommend placing holding a giant balloon on your bucket list for sure.

EV431Air and our weather balloon.



Published by Nicole Gillett

I am a senior Environmental Science, Integrated major here at CC. Integrated means that I am studying both Environmental Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Ecology etc), and Environmental Policy. I believe this integration of disciplines is very important for applying environmental issues to the political world in which we live in. I hope to use this passion, and knowledge I have gained here at CC to find ways of uniting people and their environment so we are able to stop viewing our issues, world, and needs as separate from the plants, animals, and ecology which make up the life of this planet with us.