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Controlled weather balloon ascents and descents for atmospheric research and climate monitoring
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Controlled weather balloon ascents and descents for atmospheric research and climate monitoring
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  • Description:
    In situ upper-air measurements are often made with instruments attached to weather balloons launched at the surface and lifted into the stratosphere. Present-day balloon-borne sensors allow near-continuous measurements from the Earth's surface to about 35 km (3-5 hPa), where the balloons burst and their instrument payloads descend with parachutes. It has been demonstrated that ascending weather balloons can perturb the air measured by very sensitive humidity and temperature sensors trailing behind them, particularly in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (UTLS). The use of controlled balloon descent for such measurements has therefore been investigated and is described here. We distinguish between the single balloon technique that uses a simple automatic valve system to release helium from the balloon at a preset ambient pressure, and the double balloon technique that uses a carrier balloon to lift the payload and a parachute balloon to control the descent of instruments after the carrier balloon is released at preset altitude. The automatic valve technique has been used for several decades for water vapor soundings with frost point hygrometers, whereas the double balloon technique has recently been re-established and deployed to measure radiation and temperature profiles through the atmosphere. Double balloon soundings also strongly reduce pendulum motion of the payload, stabilizing radiation instruments during ascent. We present the flight characteristics of these two ballooning techniques and compare the quality of temperature and humidity measurements made during ascent and descent.

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