ARL News

ARL Smart Balloons used Successfully in the Northeast


August 5, 2004

The ARL Field Research Division in Idaho Falls has been the nation’s principal provider of atmospheric tracer technology for decades. Constant-level balloons (“tetroons”) were used in many past studies, to keep track of where the air carried pollutants. As time progressed, modern electronics packages were added as payloads to these tetroons. For some time, they have been able to report their location automatically. In a recent development, the electronically augmented tetroon capability has been improved greatly. The new capability is referred to as the “smart balloon.” This is also intendended to reveal the path followed by air pollutants, but in a manner that replicates their motions through the atmosphere with far better fidelity. The development of the new smart balloons has been primarily supported by NOAA and by the US Navy. In recent years, the systems have been used to explore the inflow of air into hurricanes. In the last month, they have been used to reveal the path of polluted air from New England across the northern Atlantic. The first flight was tracked for 24 hours before it was intentionally grounded in northern Maine. The second was tracked for about 48 hours before it, too, was intentionally brought down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence north of Prince Edward Island. Additional flights are planned.

More information: