Students and faculty members at the University of Winnipeg are gearing up to take part in a national experiment called the High Altitude Balloon Experiment.
The University of Winnipeg team, proudly named the UW Cloud Punchers, consists of six students from the Geography and Environmental Students Association (GESA), along with three members of faculty. Together, the team plans to launch a high-altitude, helium-filled balloon on April 24 at 8 a.m. to collect various kinds of atmospheric data and video footage in collaboration with scientific institutes across the country.
"From a certain perspective, it would be great for it to go up through, say, thunder or lightning clouds because those tend to have a lot of depth to them and it would allow us to see some really interesting things happening within the clouds," third-year student and GESA co-president, Adrienne Ducharme, said.
The balloon is expected to rise to approximately 30,000 metres before it bursts and begins to make a slow descent back to the earth’s surface with the assistance of a one-metre parachute. As the balloon travels through the upper atmosphere, it will measure barometric pressure, temperature, acceleration, ultraviolet/infrared/visible light, global time, angular rotation and
Using Google Earth, Ducharme researched different locations around the city as to where to launch the balloon from. There are certain regulations — for example, a balloon cannot be launched within a 10-kilometre radius of an airport, or near power lines. FortWhyte Alive was chosen as a suitable location within the city and the team plans to head out early in the morning, as the atmosphere should be a bit cooler.
The University of Regina has taken a lead role in the national initiative and provided the team with a web link to predict the path of the balloon 180 hours prior to the launch based on projected weather patterns and wind speeds.
"It will give us a good sense of where it might land or where we don’t want it to land," Ducharme said.
She mentions how both she and Danny Blair, acting Dean of Science & Principal of the Richardson College for the Environment, are quite nervous the balloon might "go over the border and land in, say, North Dakota, or something to that effect, if the upper winds are very fast."
Kimberly Thomson, a third-year student who shares the GESA president role with Ducharme, explained how a Styrofoam box will house all of the collection instruments and be attached to both the parachute and balloon with ropes.
"The reason it’s in a Styrofoam box is because it needs to be as water resistant as possible because we have no idea, it could land anywhere, it could land in a middle of a lake and we will need to swim out and get it," said Thomson.
The device will have a GPS tracker and the team will be able to follow its exact location through their smartphones.
Tabitha Wood, an associate professor of chemistry, says the experiment will enable the university to share its research with the general public in a very beautiful way. The footage the balloon collects will be shown at the University of Winnipeg’s Science Rendezvous festival which takes place May 9 at the Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex.
"It’s a free open house concept where publicly funded science research institutes in Canada invite the public in to see what research is going on in their facilities to try to enhance scientific literacy and make people aware of science in the world around them," Wood said.
Wood says her understanding is that the data will be quite novel. All participating institutes across Canada are supposed to launch the balloons in the third week of April, which will yield a wide-variety of data collected within a tight time frame to be compared across the country.
I’m hoping that we show the footage at the science rendezvous and that it’ll attract youth to want futures in science and they can see that is one facet of being a scientist," Thomson said.