Public Release: 

CU Researchers Head For Amazon Armed With Research Balloon, Kite

University of Colorado at Boulder

CU Researchers Head for Amazon Armed With Large Balloon, Kite
Contact: Detlev Helmig (303) 492-6535
John Birks, 492-7018
Jim Scott, 492-3114

July 3, 1996


A University of Colorado at Boulder research team armed with a large balloon and kite will begin testing the skies over a remote part of the Amazon Basin in northern Peru next week for greenhouse gas and ozone levels.

The researchers will measure the exchange of greenhouse gases between rain forest vegetation and the atmosphere, said research associate Detlev Helmig of CU-Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. They will chart levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide -- greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming -- with instrument packages attached to the tethers of the unmanned balloon and parafoil kite.

The team also will look for hydrocarbons like isoprene that are emitted from vegetation as well as anthropogenically released hydrocarbons like propane. In addition, they will measure levels of tropospheric ozone, a form of pollution that results when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons react with light.

Other research team members include chemistry and biochemistry department Chair John Birks, CIRES research Professor Ben Balsley, chemistry and biochemistry assistant Professor Cathy Rowlen, CIRES postdoctoral researcher Ty Smith and graduate students Mike Jensen, John Bognar and Laura Kuck. The team will stay at a remote pump station owned by Petro Peru, an oil company.

The far western edge of the Amazon, which is relatively pristine, will give the research team "good baseline data on undisturbed jungle," said graduate student John Bognar. The researchers hope to take their balloon and kite to Brazil next year in areas that have been heavily burned for comparisons of atmospheric gas activity.

In May, the team shipped more than 1,700 pounds worth of equipment to Piura, Peru. The equipment was trucked across the Andes and airlifted by helicopter to the research site on the Maranon River at the edge of the Amazon rain forest.

The balloon, which is about 10 feet in diameter and 30 feet long, will be floated up by tether more than one mile over the Amazon rain forest in Peru.

The parafoil, which has been flown in experiments on Christmas Island and in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to heights of five miles, will be raised about one mile high during initial testing. The researchers also plan to tow the kite behind a motor boat on the Maranon River, said Jensen, who designed a special "wind tram" that flies up and down the Kevlar kite tether carrying an instrument package.

Tethered kites and balloons provide the opportunity to gather "vertical profiles" of the lower atmosphere for extended periods at a relatively low cost. Balloons are better suited for low-wind situations, while the kites are better in high wind conditions.

The researchers are particularly interested in charting the emissions and absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the Amazon rain forest. The trees absorb carbon dioxide during the daytime through photosynthesis and can release the compound at night through vegetative decay.

The instrument packages on the balloon and kite include a special cartridge sampling system developed by Helmig to collect chemical signatures of greenhouse gases and hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. The cartridges and flasks of air collected during the project will be returned to Boulder for analysis.

Other instruments on the balloon and kite tethers will measure wind speed and direction, as well as solar intensity.

The project is funded by CIRES and a consortium of chemical companies around the world known as CHEMRAWN. Much of the equipment was purchased using a $50,000 grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation in New York.

Located on the CU-Boulder campus, CIRES is a joint institute of the university and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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