Antarctic weather balloons give climate clues

January 25, 2009


 Meteorologist Tamsin Gray releases a weather balloon at the British Rothera research station on the Antarctic Peninsula to help record temperature and other data from the freezing air. Apart from helping predict the weather, the balloons are also giving scientists clues to global warming.

As you can see, it starts off about 2 metres across but how big it is when it reaches about 25 km above the ground?

a) it shrinks to the size of a tennis ball

b) it swells to the size of a double-decker bus

c) it drifts off into space unchanged

Gray, of the British Antarctic Survey, says that data from the atmosphere about 5 km above Antarctica are helping to confirm findings by the U.N. Climate Panel that greenhouse gases are warming the planet.

She says that layer is warming three times faster than the global average during winter, or about 0.75 Celsius over 30 years, which is what computer models predict if man-made emissions are to blame for raising temperatures.

“It’s confirming the theory that warming is caused by greenhouse gases,” she said.

The balloons are let off around Antarctica and are giving clues both to weather and to the long-term climate.

 …and the answer to the question is “b” — after it swells to the size of a double decker bus because of a lack of pressure high up in the atmosphere it pops and falls to earth, along with the small measuring device that is then lost on the ice.


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I believe that global warming is a serious issue right now in our society. We do not wish to live in a polluted world. If one part of the food chain dies out, then it will create a chain reaction, leading us to humans and causing us trouble.
Soem ways to go green and help get rid of global warming, is to…
1. i dislike people we all dislike people and therefore we hate the world and die

Posted by Easa | Report as abusive

“… which is what computer models predict if man-made emissions are to blame for raising temperatures. …”

What if man made emissions are not to blame?
What are these supposed green house gases?

Is there any data that the measurements conducted at this site can be readily replicated at other weather stations and observation sites around the world, or is this just a local phenomenon?

Are man’s creature comforts and conveniences necessarily what is best for mother earth?

Hasn’t life flourished with higher temperatures, even higher CO2 levels in the earth’s geological past?

What if the hypothesis that CO2 causes global warming is wrong? What cause the warming before the last little ice age?

CO2 is an absolute requirement for life on earth as we know it. Why then is it classified, misrepresented, as a pollutant?

Posted by Reality Check | Report as abusive

What if the hypothesis that CO2 does NOT cause global warming is wrong? What is the best course of action given uncertainties that may never be resolved to a certitude? Ignore CO2 emissions and possibly suffer extreme consequences or work on CO2 reductions and progress toward a cleaner, greener and renewable energy world? I vote for the latter.

Posted by Ray | Report as abusive

how is possible to create a conclusion from 30 years of data, especially when lower stratosphere data globally suggest a cooling for this period. That is satellite data for the last thirty years in the lower straosphere has revealed a cooling trend. Surely in comparison to this data, it would seem to be an anomalous area in the earths atmosphere.

Posted by Frank Miles | Report as abusive

Hi Frank, I don’t think the warming/cooling is necessarily an anomaly.

As I understand the findings, the lower stratosphere is above the layer of the atmosphere warmed by planet-hugging greenhouse gases. Since more heat is getting trapped close to the ground, the lower stratosphere shows a cooling.

That sounds a bit weird but imagine greenhouse gases as an extra insulating layer in the roof of your house — below the new layer (i.e. inside the house) temperatures will be higher than they were…But a thermometer placed on the roof outside would register a cooling because less heat is leaking out.

In the same way, greenhouse gases can make the planet’s surface hotter but at the same time cool the upper atmosphere.

Posted by Alister Doyle | Report as abusive

I know that global warming is a huge issue and I’m glad that you have done some research into the topic, but how do we try to fix it? I realize that if 6 billion people would get together in this attempt then it might work, but how?

Posted by Laura | Report as abusive