ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2009

Near-Space Flight

View of Earth from ozonesonde.

Every week, ESRL sends balloons up to 100,000 feet into the atmosphere bearing ozone and water vapor instruments. The balloon borne instruments, released from several sites around the world, create long-term records of the concentrations and distributions of the two gases, which are important in terms of climate and Earth’s protective ozone layer.

On one flight from Boulder, CO this fall, engineers Allen Jordan and Emrys Hall (Global Monitoring Division) added a lightweight digital camera to the package. The stunning photographs captured the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space.

“We weren’t sure what we would learn,” Hall admitted, “but in some of the images, you can see smoke from a controlled burn.” The smoke might help researchers better understand the ozone and water data, likely affected by the fire.

The experience of adding the camera to the flight package may also help ESRL engineers better integrate a new instrument they’re hoping to begin flying regularly, soon: an Aethalometer, which measures the amount of black carbon in the atmosphere. Black carbon particles are air pollutants and also contribute to atmospheric warming.