International Consortium for Atmospheric Research

on Transport and Transformation (ICARTT)

Location and Date:

Long Island, New York in July/August 2004.


The Field Research Division launched 4 smart balloons as part of the International Consortium for Atmospheric Research on Transport and Transformation (ICARTT) study and New England Air Quality (NEAQ) study. Long Island was chosen as the release site for its rural coastal location away from air-traffic lanes,yet proximate to the source regions for East Coast pollution plumes. The smart balloons equipped with ozone analyzers were launched in Lagrangian experiments not only to track and measure ozone in the plume of pollution moving over the northeastern tip of Long Island, but also were used as a marker for the NOAA P-3 aircraft to return to the same plume for additional air quality sampling repeatedly over extended periods of time.


Observe the transport and transformation of pollution from the New England metropolitan area into Canada and across the Atlantic Ocean.


July 15th, Balloon 1 was launched and tracked for 21 hours. The flight was terminated near Kingman, Maine. The balloon was recovered in the very dense forest of northeastern Maine, nearly two days after it was launched. Recovery of Balloon 1 would eventually


Randy Johnson (FRD), right, and Steven Businger (Univ. of Hawaii), launch a smart balloon from Long Island, NY.
allow us to launch a fourth balloon later in the experiment. Position, altitude and ozone data were recorded and stored every ten seconds over the full period of time. Altitude control worked very well except for a short period of time north of Boston when the balloon encountered a rain storm. The sudden afternoon rain caused the balloon to descend from around 600 meters ASL level to below 100 meters ASL.

On July 20th, Balloon 2 was launched and tracked for 49 hours. The balloon flight was terminated five miles north of Prince Edward Island, Canada, when a rapid decrease in helium pressure was detected. A possible cause for the sudden decrease in helium pressure could have been a substantial leak in the cut down valve at the top of the balloon. The NOAA P-3 aircraft was able to return three times to the air parcel marked by Balloon 2 over its 49-hour flight.

Balloon 3 ended its atmospheric research mission after a 12-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean and traveled a total distance of over 5,000 miles. The transatlantic flight marks the first time a low-level balloon has drifted in air masses from one continent to another while continuously measuring ozone and meteorological conditions.

Balloon 4 traveled a similar path to that of Balloon 3 but its flight was terminated after 85 hours. A leak in the ballast portion of the balloon caused the balloon to use almost all onboard battery power in a vain attempt to maintain altitude. Therefore, the decision was made to ditch the balloon in the ocean while sufficient power remained to do so.

Path of the 4 smart balloons launched from Long Island, NY during ICARTT.

Results and Conclusions:

One of the balloons set what is believed to be both a time aloft and a distance world record for neutrally buoyant scientifically instrumented balloons. Quoting Dr. Robert Talbot, Chief Scientist of the NOAA funded Atmospheric Investigation, Regional Modeling, Analysis and Prediction (AIRMAP) Cooperative Institute, “Balloon flights were more successful than we ever imagined several months ago during the initial planning stages. It’s not only a question of understanding the intricacy of the chemistry, but the transport as well. These balloon measurements will not only improve our understanding of ozone distribution over the ocean, but will improve our ability to model and forecast it.” The balloon flights indicate that ozone concentrations over the North Atlantic may be much higher than have previously been thought. It will take additional flights over the Atlantic during the next few years to determine the persistence of the high ozone levels.


ICARTT website:

New England Air Quality Study website:


Richard Eckman, Ph.D
1750 Foote Dr.
Idaho Falls, ID 83402

Modified: March 1, 2011
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