Geocaching for weather balloons! in General geocaching topics Posted September 26, 2009 Today, I went up to the Anchorage, AK NOAA office. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are responsible for most of the weather forcasting in this country. One of the things they do, is launch weather balloons. I wanted to take a tour, so I E-mailed them last night, and they called this morning and asked if I wanted to take a tour! I had the day off so I headed up there! I really wanted to see a weather balloon launched since I'm working on a project involving a weather balloon, but that's unrelated to my idea. Each weather balloon has a weather sonde attached to it. It's a styrofoam box about the size of a three back of macaroni and cheese. Inside, it has instruments to measure temperature, air pressure and humidity. It also has a GPS inside for tracking the sonde so they can measure wind speed and direction. The weather balloons rise to an altitude of 100,000 to 120,000 feet. Eventually, the balloon bursts due to the low pressure and the balloon expanding. Then, the sonde parachutes back to earth. Each NOAA location, launches two weather balloons a day. There are about 100 NOAA locations in the United States alone. They all launch two balloons a day at the same time. They launch at 3am and 3pm here in Alaska. In California, it would be 4am and 4pm. Denver would be 5am and 5pm and so on. All over the nation, at the same time, there are 100 weather balloons going up. 200 every day. All of the information gets plugged into a huge computer somewhere and they use it to predict weather. Each weather sonde costs NOAA around $150. Inside each one, is an envelope with instructions on how to mail it back to NOAA. They like to get them back due to their cost. They can reuse most of them. I did the math, and figured that it costs NOAA about $10 million every year just for weather sondes alone. The thing that really struck me during this meeting, was when the guy told me that they track the sondes all the way back to Earth and they have the GPS coordinates for where they land. Only problem is, is they don't have the man power to go out and track down 200 sondes every day. As it stands right now, they only get back about 20% of the sondes. Here in Alaska, they only get back about 3% of them due to how remote most of Alaska is. That means over $8 million in lost sondes for NOAA every year. I'm sure that in the lower 48 though, there are plenty that are easily accessible and are in areas where nobody would go unless they were looking for something! I already sent the suggestion to some of the NOAA offices. The director at the office here in Alaska, seemed pretty excited about it. I suggested that they get the coordinates and put them on the Geocaching website! Of course, this would take some software development and cooperation with Groundspeak. 200 sondes a day would be quite a bit of stuff popping up every day. Perhaps they could drop off the site after a couple of months if nobody finds them. A lot of sondes drift out to sea, land in lakes, and really remote areas. But a lot of them don't and would be easy to find by Geocachers. I think it would be a win win situation for NOAA and for the Geocaching community. NOAA gets their sondes back thanks to the free labor, and the Geocaching community gets a new and exciting thing to go out and search for with their GPS! Even if the NOAA only got an additional 5% of their sondes back, that's half a million dollars they could save every year. And by "they", I mean the taxpayers! What do you guys think?