Weather Balloon Launch Demonstration with SIO60 Students

May 17, 2023

Students of SIO60 and instructors Kate Ricke and Drew Lucas joined CW3E Lead Engineer Douglas Alden and Lab Assistant Ali Wolman for a balloon launch demonstration on Wednesday morning April 5th at Scripps Pier. Built in 1988, the modern Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier houses numerous environmental monitoring stations and enables small boat and scientific diving operations. CW3E has a permanent weather station installed to observe atmospheric conditions. Weather balloons, referred to in the weather community as radiosondes, are also launched from the pier during the rainy season to observe atmospheric rivers (ARs).

The class took a field trip to the pier on a clear, sunny day to participate in a weather balloon launch demonstration and learn about CW3E’s research. SIO 60: Experiences in Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences is a class in which students gain exposure to the people & technology involved in conducting atmospheric & marine research. Douglas introduced the class to CW3E’s methods of data collection in studying ARs and applications of our research.

Students learned about AR Reconnaissance (AR Recon), a Research and Operations Partnership (RAOP) to study ARs led by CW3E with partners including the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command, NOAA, and others. Students also learned about Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO), another RAOP CW3E is working on with water managers to support reservoir operations through improved weather and water forecasts.

Douglas and Ali introduced students to equipment & sensors, including the small, lightweight radiosondes which transmit atmospheric pressure, temperature, moisture & GPS data from which winds are derived. Students followed along as the radiosonde was prepared and the balloon was filled with helium. Student volunteers held onto the balloon, radiosonde & parachute & released them after a countdown by the class. During the demonstration students were actively engaged and asked thoughtful questions.

Education is a CW3E core value and the Center appreciates the opportunity to connect with UCSD students and share our work. CW3E hopes continued demonstrations with students from UCSD and other programs will increase student access to and interest in STEM and environmental research.

Skew-T Log-P diagram from the launch displaying temperature (red line), dew point (blue line), winds, and water vapor flux (black line; right plot) throughout the atmosphere.

SIO60 students assisted with the weather balloon launch demonstration. Students shown here observing while 3 volunteers are holding the radiosonde, parachute & weather balloon before launching.