Icy celebrations for World Meteorological Day

14 March 2008

Weather observer holding helium-filled weather balloon
Weather observer Tom Delfatti, ready to release the balloon.
Photo: Todor Iolovski

Balloons are an important part of any celebration, but a balloon released in Antarctica yesterday was not your usual balloon nor indeed for any ordinary celebration!

Meteorological staff at Casey released a huge weather balloon from the nearby historic station Wilkes to commemorate World Meteorological Day.

Senior Weather Observer Tom Delfatti says that the Antarctic continent has a major effect on global climate systems.

"We released yesterday's balloon from an old balloon shed at Wilkes that is now usually covered in ice and snow over winter. It's humbling to reflect on the history of meteorology at Wilkes that is continuing now at Casey.

"Data that we collect here plays a part in generating the weather forecasts for people on mainland Australia. Historical data is also an important part of climate research into possible global climate change," he said.

"There have been weather observers in this area, doing similar work to what we do today, for more than 50 years. Even though we are quite isolated here in the Antarctic, our work influences the lives of people back home every day."

Observers at Casey station release two balloons every day, one in the morning and one at night. At Wilkes, which was in operation from 1957 to 1969, they also had weather observers that launched balloons twice a day.

"These balloons are important because they provide information about the atmosphere above Antarctica. The balloon is filled with hydrogen and a sensitive instrument package known as a radiosonde is attached which measures pressure, humidity and temperature.

"A Global Positioning System unit is also attached so that we can track the balloon and get information about the winds in the upper atmosphere," said Mr Delfatti.

Hundreds, if not thousands of balloons are launched almost simultaneously around the world, every day of the year. The information from the global network of balloons is fed into powerful computer models so that meteorologists can accurately forecast and model the upper atmosphere around the globe.

World Meteorological Day is celebrated by the worldwide meteorological community on 23 March each year. This day commemorates the entry into force of the World Meteorological Organisation Convention creating the Organisation, which is designated as a specialised agency of the United Nations System.

 
Weather observer preparing to release weather balloon in front of large balloon shed at Wilkes in 1961
Weather observer preparing to release weather balloon from Wilkes station, 1961.
Photo: W. Burch
Expeditioners prepare to release a weather balloon on front of the old balloon shed at Wilkes
Expeditioners prepare to release a weather balloon in front of the old balloon shed at Wilkes, 2008.
Photo: Todor Iolovski
 

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This page was last modified on 14 March 2008.