CW3E demonstrates balloon launch, discusses research with USC students at Wrigley Marine Science Center

March 22, 2022

USC students release a weather balloon under the supervision of CW3E Field Researcher Benji Downing at USC’s Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.

On Thursday March 17th, CW3E field team member Benji Downing led a discussion and balloon launch demonstration for University of Southern California (USC) students at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC). Part of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies (WIES), WMSC is a Catalina Island facility where faculty and students from USC and other institutions conduct hands-on study on the environment and sustainability. CW3E has partnered with WMSC since 2020. A RADMet station is deployed there (vertically pointing radar, disdrometer, and surface meteorology), and we also launch radiosondes from this location. Data are collected continuously with the RADMet and during atmospheric river (AR) events, or to support Atmospheric River Reconnaissance missions, with radiosondes. These data collection efforts support forecasting, advance scientific understanding, and provide critical information for model verification during ARs. This data collection effort supports Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations at Prado Dam, with funding provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers and Orange County Water District.

USC students were on the island for a spring break trip to learn about Wrigley Institute programs and research conducted at the science center by WIES and its partners, including CW3E. 23 graduate and undergraduate students from departments across USC joined the CW3E field team to participate in a weather balloon launch and learn about research being conducted at CW3E. Marcella Riddick, who studies social entrepreneurship, and Stevie Gray, a film major, worked together to set up the tripod and fill the balloon with helium, while Aries Wong, an economics and mathematics major, helped ready the sonde. A biological science major, Sophia Lee, held the balloon for launch.

Students were delighted to see the balloon launch and eager to learn about atmospheric modeling, data collection, and interpretation, and about CW3E and WMSC research efforts. Among the topics discussed were sensor networks and tools used for data collection, the importance of accurately forecasting extreme precipitation events, and how CW3E research supports improvements in this research area.

The demonstration highlighted the importance of collaboration between CW3E and WMSC and helped to cultivate interest about science in students from many different backgrounds and areas of study. CW3E is grateful to partner with WMSC on this important work.