Weather Balloons

Weather Balloons

There has been much reporting in the mainstream media about the high altitude balloon that was shot down in the North American airspace on the 4th of February by the U.S. military, upon the orders from the U.S. President, Joe Biden. The balloon was at that time, according to the U.S. military, over American territorial waters off the coast of South Carolina.

The United States claimed that China is using balloons to spy on them. Does this really make sense? Is it an argument used against China to blame them for their proposing a peace plan initiative in the Russia-Ukraine conflict? Foreign specialists wonder. The Chinese, on the other hand, claim that this is a balloon used for the weather services to gather information about climate change.

It does not really make sense in our high-tech era to use scientific balloons to gather intelligence in a world where our cellphones, the internet and all information is easily accessible.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva, in a Twitter Statement on the 18 February this year, stated that weather balloons are an important part of the Global Observing System, which underpins weather forecasts and climate monitoring. Weather balloons have been used by generations of meteorologists. On the United States Weather Services website, we find more information, and we read the following:

“Twice a day, every day of the year, weather balloons are released simultaneously from almost 900 locations worldwide! This includes 92 released by the National Weather Service in the U.S. and its territories. The balloon flights last for around two hours, can drift as far as 125 miles away, and rise up to over 100,000 ft. (about 20 miles) in the atmosphere!

“Weather balloons, which are made of latex or synthetic rubber (neoprene), are filled with either hydrogen or helium. The sides are about 0.051 mm thick before release and will be only 0.0025 mm thick at typical bursting altitudes! The balloons, which start out measuring about 6 ft. wide before release, expand as they rise to about 20 ft. in diameter! An instrument called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon to measure pressure, temperature and relative humidity as it ascends into the atmosphere. These instruments will often endure temperatures as cold as -139°F (-95°C), relative humidities from 0% to 100%, air pressures only a few thousandths of what is found on the Earth’s surface, ice, rain, thunderstorms, and wind speeds of almost 200 mph! A transmitter on the radiosonde sends the data back to tracking equipment on the ground every one to two seconds. By tracking the position of the radiosonde, we can also calculate wind speed and wind direction. The radiosonde is powered by a small battery.”

As we learn from both the WMO as well as the United States Meteorological Services, these balloons are released almost simultaneously around the world. They all contribute to one common goal – make reliable forecasts, so that the scientific community worldwide can continue their work, in a time where climate change is intensifying, and we need more and more international collaboration.

The President of the United Nations General assembly, His Excellency Csaba Körösi, in his priorities for the 77th session of the General Assembly, stressed the need for strengthening partnerships and collaborations in science, technology and innovation as multipliers for the Sustainable Development Goals. He gave many examples and talked in particular about the role of WMO. We quote: “The World Weather Watch programme that laid the foundation to the current evolving niche programme of the WMO for sixty years, has connected and mobilized the global community for social benefits in the Earth system monitoring and measurements, data collection and processing, forecasting and prediction by integrated systems of aircraft, land stations, mobile instruments in the oceans and air (balloons, buoys, floats, etc.) satellites and other platforms.”

The President of the General Assembly, at the end of his speech stressed that “it is undoubtedly meaningful for countries to adopt a more rational and inclusive attitude towards scientific exploration and research involving mobile instruments (such as balloons, buoys, floats, etc.) at land, on sea and in air, as well as satellites and other platforms, in order to promote the healthy development of international science and strengthen cross border cooperation.”