Kirk Beckendorf, July 7, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 7, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude- 42 30.79 N
Longitude- 70 33.32 W
Air Pressure 1011.28 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface NW
Wind Speed at surface <10 MPH
Wind Direction at 1 Kilometer- WNW
Wind Speed at 1 Kilometer <10 MPH
Wind Direction at 2 Kilometers W
Wind Speed at 2 Kilometer 10 MPH
Cloud cover and type Clear

Science and Technology Log

We hear a lot about the hole in the ozone layer and that the ozone layer is being destroyed, however, in a lot of areas we also hear that the ozone levels are often too high. How can we have too little and too much at the same time?

A number of the scientists on board are studying ozone. I spent a large part of today with one of them, Anne Thompson. Anne is a chemist who works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. While on the BROWN she plans to launch an ozonesonde once a day. Like the radiosondes they are carried high into the atmosphere by a helium balloon. However, the balloon has to be a lot larger because it lifts a bigger package. Anne has a radiosonde and a GPS riding piggy back on the ozonesonde. All three instruments will be packaged and duct taped together. Preparing the sonde is a tedious and time consuming task. Many steps must be performed to insure that the device runs correctly and measures accurately. It will need to detect the amount of ozone in parts per billion. The steps must be completed on a set time table; some must occur a few days and others a few hours before release. Filling and launching the balloon is the fun and easy part (it also makes the best pictures) but it must be done correctly to protect the balloon and to make sure that the balloon is filled enough, but not too much.

Today’s launch, ascent and data collection went flawlessly. The ozonesonde was released at 10:05 AM ET. It was really cool because the computer was immediately receiving signals from the sonde. In real time we watched as the ozone levels were instantly graphed by the computer as the balloon ascended. It rose at a rate of 4-5 meters/second. At first the amount of ozone was at an acceptable level but once the balloon reach about 3 kms, ozone levels increased and but then dropped. This was a layer of ozone pollution. Another layer of pollution was detected at about 6 kms. Once the instruments reached about 17 km, the graph showed a major increase in the amount of ozone. This was the good ozone layer. About 2.5 hours after launch when it was 38.6 kms (about 23 miles) high, the balloon popped and everything fell back to Earth still collecting data.

As part of this study five other sondes were released on land. The data from all 6 launches have already been used by the computer modelers. They have made their predictions of where the ozone polluted layers of air will be three days from now.

So how can there be both too much and not enough ozone? The simple answer is: when the ozone is way above the Earth’s surface, like that measured at 17 +kms, by today’s ozonesonde, the ozone will block some of the sun’s UV rays which can be harmful to life on Earth. If there is not enough ozone in that layer, too much of the harmful UV rays get to the Earth’s surface.

However, too much ozone can be harmful for people to breathe, especially for those people who have asthma or other breathing problems. If there is too much ozone close to the Earth’s surface, like the layers measured at 3 and 6 kilometers today, the ozone gas can threaten people’s health.

Questions of the Day

What is the speed of the ozonesonde in miles per hour?

At what altitude do airliners generally fly?

In which layer of the atmosphere is the “good” ozone?

In which layer is the “bad” ozone?

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