OGDEN, Utah – A group of Weber State University students have received a grant from NASA to do some light dusting — of the stratosphere.
WSU’s High Altitude Reconnaissance Balloon for Outreach and Research (HARBOR) team has received a $25,000 grant from NASA to monitor atmospheric dust over the Wasatch Front. In particular, the researchers are trying to learn more about stratospheric aerosols, an important but poorly understood aspect of Earth’s climate.
“We’re pretty excited to be taking measurements that nobody else is taking,” said John Armstrong, assistant physics professor. “What is their distribution? What is their source? These are some of the questions we hope to address in our research.”
Armstrong said he first learned of the grant in October, but actual funding didn’t arrive until January.
The grant will help fund seven part-time students involved with the project this semester. The project got underway in January and will continue into the flight season of 2010.
Initial work will take place on the ground, but eventually the project will include sending the HARBOR into the atmosphere to collect samples.
The stratosphere is the second major level of Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere, the lowest level of the atmosphere and the one responsible for weather phenomena. Nearly 99 percent of the aerosols in the atmosphere exist in the troposphere. NASA would like to know more about the aerosols in the stratosphere, in an effort to better understand their role in shaping the planet’s climate. Stratospheric aerosols are both natural and man-made.
“Aerosols are the unanswered question in climate change,” Armstrong said. “They need to be characterized before we know their effects in detail. This research will help nail that down.”
WSU’s HARBOR project is a high altitude balloon system designed to be a near-space platform for student and amateur research projects in science and engineering. A latex, helium-filled balloon carries instrumentation that gauges air pressure, temperature and other scientific measurements from Earth’s atmosphere. When the balloon reaches the upper level of the atmosphere it bursts and a parachute deploys, carrying the craft back to earth. The balloon device is equipped with a command and telemetry system that continuously signals its position, helping students locate the device once it lands. The landing site and exact flight track vary for each flight.
Armstrong said he hopes they will secure additional funding for this research beyond the end of spring semester.
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