Ozone Levels Studied

When Hurricane Emily was in the Gulf weather balloons launched in Nacogdoches County detected clean air was blown in by the storm. A week later Rice University scientists returned and found ozone pollution levels are much higher.

"Hi, this is Gary Morris at Stephen F. Austin State University. We're five minutes from our weather balloon launch." Even with weather balloon launches the FAA is called. One of the last official steps for Morris, the lead researcher, before the experiment begins.

Helium inflates the balloon that will carry a payload set to collect samples of the air we breathe. "Inside the Styrofoam box we have a pump that will suck in air. As the balloon ascends we're going to measure the ozone conditions," said Morris.

Very briefly Morris stands like a balloon man on a street corner while final adjustments are made to data gathering devices. Then the moment comes. "Three, Two, One. Wow, it's rocketing up today. It's going up fast," exclaimed Morris. About one thousand feet per minute. The balloon is out of sight, but not out of range. A beeping sound is the sound morris listens for. "We just synched the instrument with the satellite to get the time and date, latitude and longitude."

A computer records the data. It indicates ozone pollution in Nacogdoches County is twice what it was last week. "Sixty parts per billion is considered good air quality by the EPA, so there's nothing to worry about here," explained Morris.

Ozone is formed when pollutants and sunlight react. Levels can change rapidly. Research assistant, Scott Hersey said, "Some of our data in Houston was kind of surprising. We actually saw the affects of forest fires in Canada and Alaska and they brought pollution down to Houston and it affected our ozone levels down there."

Shell, NASA and the Texas Commission On Environmental Quality are wanting to know more about the transport of ozone, something that can affect your lungs and respiratory system in several ways.

And be on the lookout for the Styrofoam box that's returned to earth by a parachute. The finder can follow the directions and get $30 dollars in return. The box launched Friday is expected to land near Alazan. Last week's payload went toward Cushing. It still hasn't been found.

For more information http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~ozone/