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Geocaching for weather balloons!


E3Chief
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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?

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I've hear this idea before. I think it may have been in this forum. Probably a couple years ago now.

 

I'd think if it was added to the site it would be more appropriate to make it a separate count. Unlike a geocache weather balloon sondes are only going to be available to the FTF.

 

I like the idea though. Saves the taxpayers (us) a few bucks and has the potential, however slim, to add a bit more credibility to geocaching in the eyes of some other government entities.

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I think this sounds great!

particularly in the current financial climate.

Does anyone know if this happens around europe or the UK?

I think this would have to have a special icon as only the first to get there could claim the find, i also think a pre-log could be in order to warn people you are on the way. otherwise others could be hunting the cache before you have the chance to log the find maybe a day later.

 

I would imagine this would help the enviroment as well

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Not only do they track the balloons on the way to the ground they have predictive software that knows approximently where the balloon is going to land.

 

A couple of issues arise on the landing of the balloon. The balloons use ham radio to track the balloons. Once the balloon gets below a certain altitude if there are no ham radio repeaters nearby you sometimes loose the signal and then you only have a general idea about where the balloon lands.

 

If you are nearby you can use a hand held radio to get the exact location of the balloon. Short of that you can only get 'fuzzy' coordinates for the landing site.

 

Issue two comes from property issues. When our group launches a balloon we take great care to request permission from the property owner to retrieve the balloon. If the NOAA balloons were listed on the site I am fairly certain that FTF hunters would not be concerned about asking permission to retrieve the balloon. This would certainly cause some issues.

 

For more information about the group I work with you can look at our website. http://nearspaceventures.com/cgi-bin/index.cgi

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This would certainly cause some issues.

 

I agree. I would think that someone would have to review the last known position and decide whether or not it could even be submitted to the site.

 

Cool idea though :blink: If something like that could be counted seperately, kind of like the Benchmarks are.

 

BTW, there was a balloon launch, similar to the NOAA weather balloon idea, done as the final activity of Champoeg Event. It was quite the spectacle getting everything set up, and the flight was only a few hours. The "payload" ended up landing in some fairly remote area of the Mount Hood National Forest. Sounded like quite the adventure recovering that one :D

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This would certainly cause some issues.

 

I agree. I would think that someone would have to review the last known position and decide whether or not it could even be submitted to the site.

 

Cool idea though :rolleyes: If something like that could be counted seperately, kind of like the Benchmarks are.

 

BTW, there was a balloon launch, similar to the NOAA weather balloon idea, done as the final activity of Champoeg Event. It was quite the spectacle getting everything set up, and the flight was only a few hours. The "payload" ended up landing in some fairly remote area of the Mount Hood National Forest. Sounded like quite the adventure recovering that one :)

 

And the balloon launch from the Champoeg Event became a geocache at The Space Cache Experiment

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E3Chief,

First let me thank you for your service to our country. The E-3 is a grand old lady and you must be very proud of her. I like talking to aircrews, having crewed a UH-1 Huey many years ago in a galaxy far, far, away.

I am on board with your idea and feel free to contact me anytime if I can be of any assistance.

 

Semper Fi and a big oo-Rah! (or whatever you Air Force-types say! :) )

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Randomly placed geocaches by the US Government.

What a great idea.

 

You would think that there would be some sort of government reward for finding returning these things. Even $10 would be something to cover the extra trouble. Nobody would make a living chasing weather balloons but it is a little more incentive than just asking to send it in.

 

As for the permission from land owners, you could make an argument for having a need to retrieve government equipment.

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While this sounds like something a few geocachers might be interested in, since they can use their GPS to find it, I don't think these would be added to the geocaching website.

 

Why? Because only one person will be able to find each one, then they would be archived once they are logged as found. If NOAA set up a database on their own site, that would be useful to their retrieval.

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Maybe standard practice would be for a "replacement container" to be placed at the find site. But, then you'd end up with bad caches. Never mind.

Yeah, another issue there would be having proper permission to place a cache at the same location the weather balloon is found. And don't forget the saturation rules...although highly unlikely it's possible two of these weather balloons could land within 528 feet of each other.

 

Of course, we could leave an obvious 'natural' sign at GZ...like a pile of sticks or rocks...so other geocachers would know it had been found and removed (got this idea from a traveling cache I found a few months ago).

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There used to be a site for this. You actually got paid around $10 for each one you returned. For the life of me I cannot remember the address. Basically the it stopped due to lack of funds. I don't believe that it was NOAA, I think it was a private company somewhere in Texas that provided remote communications.

 

HEY, now I remember Skysite

 

That site data looks pretty old...I saw stuff from 2005 and 06.

 

Still an active program?

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There used to be a site for this. You actually got paid around $10 for each one you returned. For the life of me I cannot remember the address. Basically the it stopped due to lack of funds. I don't believe that it was NOAA, I think it was a private company somewhere in Texas that provided remote communications.

 

HEY, now I remember Skysite

 

That site data looks pretty old...I saw stuff from 2005 and 06.

 

Still an active program?

 

Skysite is the website that i used when i was active in retrieving these. The guy running it was a subcontractor who worked for the company that made the units. He ended up moving on to another job and stopped running his business back around 2006 i think. I did find another person that subcontracted with the company and went out on a run for him but his area of coverage was 300+ miles from my house and i just didn't want to do all that driving all of the time. To my understanding, they still come down around my area, but i have yet to find out who is doing the retrieving (supplying the coordinates) around here. Anyways, i enjoyed making trips around Texas and Louisiana in an effort to retrieve these and i hope to someday do it again...

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I emailed - upperair@noaa.gov

They replied that they do not track the radiosondes to the ground and have no idea where they fall.

 

I guess they just throw them away now.

If that is the case then there needs to be some kind of public outcry and I'm not talking about your guess either.

Lack of edumacation.

I mean, they know where they fall, they may not know where they land but they know where they fall.

 

After pointing that put if they where to still tell me they didn't know where they fall, I would feel obligated to tell the public that obviously they are not tracking the things at all. Then start questioning how much the units truly cost and accusing them of taking kickbacks.

 

Can we get a copy of their reply?

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I emailed - upperair@noaa.gov

They replied that they do not track the radiosondes to the ground and have no idea where they fall.

 

I guess they just throw them away now.

If that is the case then there needs to be some kind of public outcry and I'm not talking about your guess either.

Lack of edumacation.

I mean, they know where they fall, they may not know where they land but they know where they fall.

 

After pointing that put if they where to still tell me they didn't know where they fall, I would feel obligated to tell the public that obviously they are not tracking the things at all. Then start questioning how much the units truly cost and accusing them of taking kickbacks.

 

Can we get a copy of their reply?

 

Sure, rock on. But keep the larger geocaching community out of it, okay? Call your congressman, write letters, etc., just don't represent yourself as speaking for the entire community, if you don't mind.

 

I happen to know a guy that knows a guy. I'll ask him if he wants to wander into this thread, or if he has any information that he could share.

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Growing up on a farm/ranch in eastern Colorado in the late 60s and early 70s, my father and I would occasionally find a sonde/balloon. Sometimes on our fields/pastures, some on neighbors. We'd be driving down a country road and see something odd in the distance, stop and walk out to it and collect what we could. They were easy to see since that part of the country is bare of trees and the land is relatively flat. Dad would send the sonde in and I had a parachute attached to a wooden hoop to play with. We probably found one or two a year. I don't recall all the details but I'm pretty certain the ones we found were launched from Denver.

 

With the proliferation of GPSr availability, if the data was posted somewhere, there's definitely an upside for savings some goverment revenue (i.e. taxes)

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Ladies ang gentlemen how irresponsible can you be? Surely, you're not suggesting that the "gubmint" turn loose a bunch of whackos with little electronic whizos running about the country trying to save money? Tsk...tsk... have you not thought of the ever present CARBON FOOTPRINT we would leave? What would AL say? What would Greenpeace say? :o:o:P:P:):D

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Ladies ang gentlemen how irresponsible can you be? Surely, you're not suggesting that the "gubmint" turn loose a bunch of whackos with little electronic whizos running about the country trying to save money? Tsk...tsk... have you not thought of the ever present CARBON FOOTPRINT we would leave? What would AL say? What would Greenpeace say? :o:o:P:P:):D

 

There's no need to introduce politics to the discussion.

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There's no need to introduce politics to the discussion.

Actually, there probably is. I would imagine that the reason NOAA isn't all that interested is that they've already budgeted for 100% loss of the transmitters, and don't think twice about replacing them all at our expense. Why would they go to any extra effort at all?

 

Ah well, guess it's a great deal for whatever company that makes them. Sure would like to know who knows who... The manufacturer loses money every time one of them is found and returned.

 

Anyway - no, it isn't geocaching, but it would be a fun exercise all the same. Since these things have serial numbers, the finders could use those for ID, and turn it into a proper competitive game, like piling up "finds" here at gc.com.

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I emailed - upperair@noaa.gov

They replied that they do not track the radiosondes to the ground and have no idea where they fall.

 

I guess they just throw them away now.

If that is the case then there needs to be some kind of public outcry and I'm not talking about your guess either.

Lack of edumacation.

I mean, they know where they fall, they may not know where they land but they know where they fall.

 

After pointing that put if they where to still tell me they didn't know where they fall, I would feel obligated to tell the public that obviously they are not tracking the things at all. Then start questioning how much the units truly cost and accusing them of taking kickbacks.

 

Can we get a copy of their reply?

 

Sure, rock on. But keep the larger geocaching community out of it, okay? Call your congressman, write letters, etc., just don't represent yourself as speaking for the entire community, if you don't mind.

 

I happen to know a guy that knows a guy. I'll ask him if he wants to wander into this thread, or if he has any information that he could share.

Exactly how am I bringing the larger geocaching community into this?

The only passable connection you could make is that this just happens to be geocaching forums.

Oh, and we all know that the "larger" geocaching community "participates" in the forums and abhors the mention of anything if it is not immediately preceded, containing or followed with some word associated with geocaching, don't we. :)

 

Yes I used passable on purpose.

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I emailed - upperair@noaa.gov

They replied that they do not track the radiosondes to the ground and have no idea where they fall.

 

I guess they just throw them away now.

If that is the case then there needs to be some kind of public outcry and I'm not talking about your guess either.

Lack of edumacation.

I mean, they know where they fall, they may not know where they land but they know where they fall.

 

After pointing that put if they where to still tell me they didn't know where they fall, I would feel obligated to tell the public that obviously they are not tracking the things at all. Then start questioning how much the units truly cost and accusing them of taking kickbacks.

 

Can we get a copy of their reply?

 

Sure, rock on. But keep the larger geocaching community out of it, okay? Call your congressman, write letters, etc., just don't represent yourself as speaking for the entire community, if you don't mind.

 

I happen to know a guy that knows a guy. I'll ask him if he wants to wander into this thread, or if he has any information that he could share.

Exactly how am I bringing the larger geocaching community into this?

The only passable connection you could make is that this just happens to be geocaching forums.

Oh, and we all know that the "larger" geocaching community "participates" in the forums and abhors the mention of anything if it is not immediately preceded, containing or followed with some word associated with geocaching, don't we. :)

 

Yes I used passable on purpose.

 

I didn't say that you were. I asked that you wouldn't.

 

All I'm saying is that somebody please not start writing letters that contain verbiage similar to "all us geocachers want to start hunting down weather balloons 'cause we're pretty sure that you're just throwing away money".

 

Be political and be an activist for your cause. Just don't put yourself out there as a representative of the larger community of geocacher. I'm not saying this because I think that you have or that you even would. I'm asking this because there are other members of these forums that seem to think they should be speaking for all of us inclusively. Don't do that. It's not cool, daddy-o.

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I emailed - upperair@noaa.gov

They replied that they do not track the radiosondes to the ground and have no idea where they fall.

 

I guess they just throw them away now.

If that is the case then there needs to be some kind of public outcry and I'm not talking about your guess either.

Lack of edumacation.

I mean, they know where they fall, they may not know where they land but they know where they fall.

 

After pointing that put if they where to still tell me they didn't know where they fall, I would feel obligated to tell the public that obviously they are not tracking the things at all. Then start questioning how much the units truly cost and accusing them of taking kickbacks.

 

Can we get a copy of their reply?

 

Sure, rock on. But keep the larger geocaching community out of it, okay? Call your congressman, write letters, etc., just don't represent yourself as speaking for the entire community, if you don't mind.

 

I happen to know a guy that knows a guy. I'll ask him if he wants to wander into this thread, or if he has any information that he could share.

Exactly how am I bringing the larger geocaching community into this?

The only passable connection you could make is that this just happens to be geocaching forums.

Oh, and we all know that the "larger" geocaching community "participates" in the forums and abhors the mention of anything if it is not immediately preceded, containing or followed with some word associated with geocaching, don't we. :)

 

Yes I used passable on purpose.

 

I didn't say that you were. I asked that you wouldn't.

 

All I'm saying is that somebody please not start writing letters that contain verbiage similar to "all us geocachers want to start hunting down weather balloons 'cause we're pretty sure that you're just throwing away money".

 

Be political and be an activist for your cause. Just don't put yourself out there as a representative of the larger community of geocacher. I'm not saying this because I think that you have or that you even would. I'm asking this because there are other members of these forums that seem to think they should be speaking for all of us inclusively. Don't do that. It's not cool, daddy-o.

Quoting me in in order to get your point across came off as an accusation.

Personally I would never site geocaching in anything political, unless it was in defense of the activity, but in such a case I guess it would already be sited.

Besides, if you cant back up the usage of "we" in political communication then the strength of its impact can only be measured by how hard it hits a wast basket. "I" by its self or preceding "my family and" or "my friends and" is much more powerful 'till you have an actual organization to back up the usage of "we".

 

Just one of the many considerations that have to be made if ya wanna get a letter past an intern. :D

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Quoting me in in order to get your point across came off as an accusation.

Personally I would never site geocaching in anything political, unless it was in defense of the activity, but in such a case I guess it would already be sited.

Besides, if you cant back up the usage of "we" in political communication then the strength of its impact can only be measured by how hard it hits a wast basket. "I" by its self or preceding "my family and" or "my friends and" is much more powerful 'till you have an actual organization to back up the usage of "we".

 

Just one of the many considerations that have to be made if ya wanna get a letter past an intern. :)

 

I quoted you because I was addressing what you said as to how it could have been interpreted. Sorry if that came across as confrontational, or accusatory.

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Quoting me in in order to get your point across came off as an accusation.

Personally I would never site geocaching in anything political, unless it was in defense of the activity, but in such a case I guess it would already be sited.

Besides, if you cant back up the usage of "we" in political communication then the strength of its impact can only be measured by how hard it hits a wast basket. "I" by its self or preceding "my family and" or "my friends and" is much more powerful 'till you have an actual organization to back up the usage of "we".

 

Just one of the many considerations that have to be made if ya wanna get a letter past an intern. :)

 

I quoted you because I was addressing what you said as to how it could have been interpreted. Sorry if that came across as confrontational, or accusatory.

I sincerely appreciate the apology.

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Quoting me in in order to get your point across came off as an accusation.

Personally I would never site geocaching in anything political, unless it was in defense of the activity, but in such a case I guess it would already be sited.

Besides, if you cant back up the usage of "we" in political communication then the strength of its impact can only be measured by how hard it hits a wast basket. "I" by its self or preceding "my family and" or "my friends and" is much more powerful 'till you have an actual organization to back up the usage of "we".

 

Just one of the many considerations that have to be made if ya wanna get a letter past an intern. :)

 

I quoted you because I was addressing what you said as to how it could have been interpreted. Sorry if that came across as confrontational, or accusatory.

I sincerely appreciate the apology.

 

Now give us a big hug.

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