Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The purpose of our trip

Now that I've posted a couple of general items, I suppose it is time to talk about why we're here in Antarctica in the late winter. As many of you know, one of my fields of research is stratospheric ozone chemistry and Antarctica is "ground zero" for studying ozone depletion as it is happening. In fact, the annual Antarctic "ozone hole" is beginning to grow overhead here as I type (well, not really that quickly, but definitely faster and faster as the days go on and as the amount of sunlight increases).

This year, there is a special project taking place from McMurdo Station to study the "ozone hole" - it is called Concordiasi and it is coordinated by colleagues from France (at Meteo France and CNES, the French Space Agency). The folks at CNES have developed a special type of high altitude research balloon - called a super-pressure balloon - that can carry a smallish payload to the stratosphere and stay aloft for a long time  (perhaps as much as 6 months!). We are privileged to be part of the team of scientists flying instruments on these payloads. My group will be measuring ozone - in the "ozone hole" as it is developing!

So, there is a group of 12 scientists and technicians from France who will be coordinating the balloon launches and gathering data back from the payloads (via satellite). And there are three science groups - ours, one from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, and one from the University of Wyoming. We'll  fly instruments together with the Wyoming folks (who will measure the cloud particles linked to ozone depletion). The NCAR group has a separate payload of so-called driftsondes, which are small devices to measure temperature, humidity and pressure profiles when dropped by parachute from the orbiting balloon gondola.

The bad weather here has delayed us a bit  - there is a lot of preparation work yet to be done, especially building the launch site out on the sea ice. But, we are aiming for our first launch to take place on 2 or 3 Sept, weather-permitting.

You can learn more about Concordiasi from this article published in the Antarctic Sun, which is the "local" newspaper.

Today's visual is a time-lapse video shot by my post-doc Lars, showing some of the French group unpacking and setting up their equipment.

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