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Mapping the Path of Ozone and Other Pollutants

This March, two Smith undergraduates will accompany Paul Voss, Smith College assistant professor of engineering, to Mexico City to launch a research project designed to track air pollution as it moves over central Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico.

Visit the project's Web site for updates and photos

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a three-year $300,000 grant to Voss to map the path of ozone, aerosol particles and other pollutants as they make their way out of the city of more than 18 million inhabitants.

While in the lab, Paul Voss (center) and research assistants prepare the satellite-controlled balloons that will be launched in March from Mexico City. Photographed are, left to right, project manager Tom Hartley; and engineering majors Pamela DeAmicis ’06, Jennifer Kirk ’08 and Indira Deonandan ’08. Photo by Jim Gipe.

Ten special helium balloons carrying sophisticated solar-powered instruments will track the pollution as it travels north. Each balloon measures about eight-by-three feet and is constructed of high-performance sail fabric and other lightweight material.

These Controlled Meteorological (CMET) balloons will be flown in pairs, with one traveling at about 15,000 feet above sea level and the other moving up and down thousands of feet above and below that height. An instrument, weighing about a pound, will hang from each satellite-controlled balloon and measure wind velocity, pressure, temperature and relative humidity.

Other researchers participating in the project include three additional Smith undergraduates, Rahul Zaveri of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Robert Talbot and Huiting Mao of the University of New Hampshire. Zaveri, an atmospheric scientist, has developed flight-planning software that enables mission aircraft to track the balloons. The University of New Hampshire faculty members are providing miniature ozone instruments for several balloon flights and supporting the data analysis.

Voss developed CMET balloons at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which has a patent pending on their design. Throughout the past few years, the balloons have been used in air pollution studies in the air space over New England, Canada and Texas. Additional studies are being planned for England and the Arctic.

The Mexico City project is pending approval from Mexico’s Federal Aviation Authority. Test flights will be conducted during the winter.

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