USS Utah, Pearl Harbor (Credit: Dan Wolfe, CIRES)

“Balloonatics” set out for Tropical Pacific Ocean

February 16, 2016
by Dan Wolfe (CIRES)

PACIFIC OCEAN — The fourth major platform has finally joined in on the El Niño Rapid Response (ENRR) project. The NOAA Research Ship Ronald H. Brown (call sign WTEC) left Ford Island about noon today after some show and tell with the PBS film crew. Balloon launches and ships always make for good footage! Ford Island — for those of you who haven’t been to Oahu — is where all the ships were sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor 74 years ago. Not more than 100 yards from where the NOAA ships dock is the USS Utah Memorial: a sobering reminder of those times.

We will be launching rawinsondes from the ship as we piggyback on the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) cruise. TAO is the array of buoys extending along the equator with instrumentation to measure both above and below the ocean surface. The ship and its crew provide a platform for servicing and maintaining the TAO buoys — which in turn maintains the high quality data necessary to understand this region of the famous “El Niño and La Niña” we hear so much about. On this cruise, NOAA National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) technicians will restore data to the 140°W/125°W portion of the TAO array. Thirteen buoys will be replaced with new systems altogether.


Our job will be to provide thermodynamic and wind profiles for the field campaign as we transit the 140°W and 125°W lines launching weather balloons 6–8 times a day for 30 days.

Piggybacking on our work is Dr. Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech. It’s not unusual for multiple scientists to take advantage of ships traveling to data-sparse regions around the world. Dr. Cobb will be collecting water samples for her research on PALEOCLIMATE and CLIMATE change, measuring water isotopes and tracers of the global water cycle past and present, in these samples.

For those of you who want to track our progress go to: