Three Southwestern University students recently learned to launch instruments on weather balloons that measure the concentration of ozone in the atmosphere. Mady Akers, Physics major, Morgan Engle, Mathematics major, and Crystal Webster, Environmental Studies major, all Class of 2018, along with Visiting Professor of Physics and Environmental Studies Rebecca Edwards joined students and faculty from St. Edward’s University, University of Texas El Paso, and New Mexico State University for a week-long workshop in El Paso.

The workshop covered every aspect of measuring ozone in the troposphere, the lowest level of atmosphere where we live. Ozone is considered a pollutant and respiratory irritant in this area. Studies have shown increased asthma attacks and other respiratory issues associated with high tropospheric ozone concentrations, but a reduction in ER visits for respiratory problems when regulation are in place. Ozone is also harmful to vegetation and causes significant agricultural losses each growing season.

This workshop provided a valuable, hands-on learning experience as part of SU’s SCOPE summer research program. Dr. Edwards explained, “This was an excellent opportunity for Southwestern students to learn more about instrumentation and data collection. Air quality is a natural bridge between the fields of physics and environmental studies, because it is an environmental problem strongly tied to the physical processes that govern our atmosphere. Our students are very interested in environmental policy. Understanding the physical principles behind these important environmental issues will enable them to work and advocate for effective science policy that will benefit the world.”

Students learned the process of preparing the ozonesonde instrument, which measures the amount of ozone in the air as it rises from the surface to the stratosphere on a weather balloon, for launch. They assembled the balloon train (the balloon, the parachute, and the instruments) and used a software package to predict where the balloon would fall once it pops.

The Southwestern team launched two of the more than ten balloons launched during the workshop. Data collected as part of the workshop and from subsequent launches this summer will become part of a database of ozonesonde profiles that researchers will use to understand and predict influences on tropospheric ozone in the State of Texas.

In addition to learning about the instruments and balloons, participants attended seminars on meteorology and air pollution and daily data discussions.

For additional information on the ozonesondes SCOPE summer research project contact Dr. Rebecca Edwards at