Some of Colchester High School’s Earth Systems Science students participated in real-time atmospheric research by launching two weather balloons at CHS on October 12.
Earth Systems Science is a required course for all CHS students, taught by teachers Heather Baron, Marijke Reilly, and Kara Lenorovitz, and it’s typically taken during students’ ninth-grade year. The course’s overarching goal is to develop students’ understanding of the earth as a large system composed of smaller, constantly interacting systems. Additionally, the course helps students to examine the role that humans play in shaping, changing, and responding to the earth’s dynamic systems.
CHS students who participated in the launches did so in collaboration with UVM research engineer Mike Fortney. Fortney has designed a microsensor (called a “cricket sonde”) that collects temperature, humidity, and air pressure readings with the balloons’ increase in altitude. It will allow students to compare their real-time data to that collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Fortney’s cricket sondes were used in the launches. The microsensors broadcasted their readings through a series of chirping sounds (hence the name). Typically, the signals can be picked up by radio within a range of approximately one hundred miles. The number and pitch of the chirps indicates the data’s type and value. The cricket sondes used in the launches were used in place of the routinely used radiosondes, which require sophisticated and expensive tracking and recording equipment.
This was a rare opportunity for our students; because costs and equipment for weather balloon launches are typically prohibitively expensive, students do not often have a chance to directly participate. The chance to take part in this hands-on research was arranged by teacher Kara Lenorovitz through her affiliation with UVM and Lyndon State College’s Satellite, Weather, and Climate program—a science education project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and run by Vermont state climatologist Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux. The students recorded and tracked the broadcasted data for further analysis in the classroom in order to facilitate their understanding of the structure of our planet’s atmosphere.
In both of the launches, balloons made of heavy-duty latex rose at approximately one thousand feet per minute. The balloons, carrying the aforementioned cricket sondes, were expected travel through the earth’s troposphere and reach as high as the lower stratosphere—approximately sixty thousand feet above the earth’s surface—within an hour of the launches. (Indeed, the second balloon launched did make it into the stratosphere, reaching an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet, whereupon it [expectedly] burst due to atmospheric pressure.)
The cricket sondes and their payloads were connected to model rocket parachutes to allow them to fall more safely back to the earth’s surface. While sensors allowing researchers to monitor weather balloons’ exact locations are often used, in this case, they were cost prohibitive. As such, the students calculated the balloons’ altitude by using air pressure measurements, and they analyzed weather data recorded by the weather station in Albany, New York, in order to better understand wind direction at the time of the launches. A description of the project along with a prepaid envelope were included with the payloads in the hopes that, if found, they will be returned to CHS, along with information about where and when they were found, in order to provide additional qualitative information about wind direction in the atmosphere. So keep your eyes peeled for those payloads!
For more information, please contact Kara Lenorovitz at (802) 264-5700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fun fact: Weather balloons were pioneered by French meteorologist Léon Philippe Teisserenc de Bort beginning in 1896, and it was he who determined the existence of the troposphere.
Keep current with CSD’s news and other education-related information by subscribing to CSD Spotlight. Enter an e-mail address into the field under E-mail Subscriptions in the upper right-hand side of this screen and click “Sign me up!”