Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

High-Flying Balloons Begin Tracking Emerging Hurricanes

05.09.2006
In a unique collaboration, U.S. and French researchers are launching large, specialized balloons into the stratosphere to drop nearly 300 instrument packages over wide swaths of Africa and the Atlantic Ocean. The packages, designed by scientists and technicians at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), will gather detailed data over the next month from critical regions of the atmosphere where some of the most dangerous U.S. hurricanes develop.

The first launch of a balloon with its gondola and instrument package—which are together known as a driftsonde—took place at Zinder, Niger, on August 28. Up to seven more driftsondes will be released from Zinder through late September, coinciding with the peak period for hurricane formation over the tropical Atlantic.

The eastern tropical Atlantic is out of range for U.S. hurricane-hunter aircraft, and forecasters have little skill at predicting which of the systems there will develop into hurricanes. Data from the driftsondes should help better characterize the conditions that either foster or suppress hurricane formation. Although scientists have tested driftsondes over the last few years, this is the first time they have used them in weather research and prediction.

After being launched from Niger, each balloon will drift from Africa toward the Caribbean at heights of around 65,000-70,000 feet, where light easterly winds prevail. Twice per day, each gondola will release an instrument known as a dropsonde that falls by parachute, sensing the weather conditions during its 20-minute descent and radioing data back to the gondola and then, by satellite, to the researchers. Scientists will control the process from an operations center in Paris. If a promising weather system develops, they can signal the gondola to release additional dropsondes as often as once per hour.

Monitoring the seeds of hurricanes

The Niger site was selected in order to study weak weather systems, called easterly waves, that serve as seedlings for hurricanes. Dozens of these waves move across Africa into the Atlantic between about 10 and 20 degrees north. A small number develop into tropical storms and hurricanes, some of which reach the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

"The driftsondes will provide a unique data set on the conditions that lead to Atlantic hurricanes," says NCAR scientist David Parsons, who is the U.S. coordinator for the project. "They float at a speed close to the movement of the easterly waves, so we can stay above these waves and monitor them from their earliest stages."

Each NCAR-designed gondola holds about 35 instrument packages, also designed by NCAR, all carried on ballooning systems designed by the French space agency (CNES). Development of the gondola and instrument packages was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's primary sponsor, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Small, light, and tough

In order to make the driftsonde concept practical, NCAR developed a highly compact instrument package, roughly the size of a small bottle of water but weighing only about 5 ounces. Called MIST (Miniature In-situ Sounding Technology), it weighs less than half as much as older dropsondes, which were designed at NCAR in the 1990s. Hundreds of dropsondes based on the original design are deposited by NOAA and Air Force aircraft into hurricanes each year.

"We needed a lightweight instrument package, because more weight means larger and more expensive balloons," says Parsons.

To build the driftsonde system, scientists, engineers, and machinists at NCAR and in France had to overcome many hurdles. Each driftsonde had to be robust enough to endure days of extreme stratospheric cold (averaging –80 degrees Fahrenheit) as well as the intense sunlight of the high, thin atmosphere. For the balloon deployment to be affordable and practical, the system also required low-cost, lightweight, off-the-shelf instruments capable of operating reliably in low pressure and in temperature extremes with very low power.

"The combined technological challenges of the driftsonde project are quite demanding," says Parsons.

Not just for hurricanes

Because of their flexible and relatively inexpensive nature, driftsondes may soon become a popular way to monitor and study many types of weather across the world's oceans and other remote regions.

"Future projects are being discussed for Antarctica and the western Pacific," says Philippe Cocquerez, the CNES project lead.

"It would take a fleet of research aircraft to gather the same data that we hope to obtain with these driftsondes," says Philippe Drobinski, the project's scientific co-lead from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The concept of using driftsondes to take measurements over remote but scientifically important locations around the globe came from THORPEX, a 10-year global program to accelerate improvements in the prediction of high-impact weather. The Niger launches this year are in conjunction with the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis, a $50 million long-term research effort initiated by French scientists to study the weather and climate over West Africa.

In addition to tracking potential hurricanes, the driftsondes will gather bird's-eye data on surges of hot, dry air that cascade into the Atlantic from the Sahel region of Africa. These surges carry huge amounts of dust as far west as Florida, influencing air chemistry, upper-ocean biology, and Atlantic weather systems.

David Hosansky | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucar.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>