Radiosonde Project

What is the Radiosonde Project?

Why use Radiosondes?

Who can participate?

When and where is this project?

What are the project milestones?

Fun Challenges of Radiosondes

What is the cost of using a Radiosonde?

Other involvement: We need your help!

Who can I contact for more information?


SLUWHAT: This is an opportunity to learn about our atmosphere’s response to a rare event. The US has not had a total solar eclipse cross the entire US, from Oregon to South Carolina, since 1918. The goal is to train participants in conducting surface upper air observations using radiosondes (the devices used by the NWS daily) at 4-5 sites across the country from August 19 – 22, 2017. The eclipse itself happens on August 21, 2017. These balloon-borne devices provide basic atmospheric measurements including temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and pressure. The eclipse gives us the opportunity to conduct the largest geographic campaign of balloon flights ever undertaken. The focus on increased spatial and temporal resolution of data for scientific and forecasting purposes is extraordinary. With cross agency collaborations we have the potential for this to be the largest geographic radiosonde campaign ever undertaken. For additional details, check out the SLU2016 Eclipse Meeting PowerPoint Presentation.


  • Public engagement. Total eclipses are rare and very impactful events. For those who have witnessed them, it is a memory they keep forever. The continental US hasn’t had a total eclipse since 1979 (northwest only). The NASA Space Grant network is in a unique position to engage the public in an awe-inspiring and educational way at a surprisingly small cost.
  • STEM pipeline development. Conducting radiosonde flights presents an amazing hands-on learning opportunity for students. Participation in these launches encourages students to follow STEM paths through college. The engaging STEM content resulting from this project is not limited to the time-frame immediately following the launch, but introduces a permanent dataset that can be analyzed by students, extending the impact of the flights to future classrooms as well.
  • Partnerships. We will develop several potentially long lasting partnerships with other federal agencies and with industry; an effort we hope will include a broad range of leveraged assets. It also gives students the unique opportunity to directly interact with experts in the field. We will incorporate a citizen science component for measurements such as in the assistance in collecting data for shadow band studies, the interference pattern of dark and light rings that appear on the ground immediately before and after an eclipse.


To share the solar eclipse and the project’s research objectives with K-12 learners and their families across EPSCoR states, the University of Montana Broader Impacts Group and Ameren Missouri, will lead a distance-learning experience with opportunities for both live engagement in libraries, museums, and other informal settings on August 21 and for pre-filmed, asynchronous engagement for teachers to incorporate into their classrooms during the academic year. This will include the capture of footage and interviews at the eclipse study sites throughout the day of August 21 and will create a video for K-12 teachers to use in their classrooms during the school year along with the activity-rich curriculum packet. Such activities can include having elementary and middle school students learn basic data analysis techniques using the surface solar radiation measurements taken on August 21st, 2017.

 There will be a high school component too that directly involves having students assist with the launching of the radiosondes. Undergraduate students will be trained as the primary field staff for radiosonde launches and will participate in the data analysis afterwards.

WHEN:  Surface upper air observations using radiosondes will be conducted at 4-5 sites across the country from August 19 – 22, 2017.Eclipse totality starts on the Oregon coast at about 1:20 PM Eastern on August 21, 2017 and ends about 2:50 PM Eastern on the South Carolina coast.

WHERE: Teams will be coordinated with both the large balloon launch sites and surface mesonets (mesoscale network environmental monitoring stations).SLU2016_Eclipse_Meeting1vancouver poster1JF

Project milestones:

– 2015: Fundraise, organize, and select participants

– December 2015: Distribute radiosonde systems

– July 2016: Hold workshop on best practices of data collection

– June 2017: Hold dry run with at least one flight per location

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FUN CHALLENGES: While radiosonde launches are done twice daily by the National Weather Service, carrying out a coordinated network of such flights among academic institutions from across the country presents a few challenges. These challenges are broad – technical, political, administrative – but provide interesting training opportunities for the student participants and make the project exciting and very worthwhile for the participating teams. Challenges include: precise timing of the launches for temporal resolution targets, collaborating with groups of mentors and students at locations spread across the country, making the necessary arrangements with NASA so that the data can be linked to the NASA eclipse (or main) web page, developing the infrastructure for data analysis by the undergraduate students, and developing the curriculum for the 7-12th grade students to be utilized after the event.radiosonde2

USE OF THE DATA: Possible interesting total eclipse experiments include but are not limited to: measuring temperature fluctuations, ozone fluctuations, and gravity wave development. Links to information and pictures about each team’s launch will be included online.

COSTS PER TEAM (for 20 flights): Due to the early phase of the project and the diverse situations for each team, the following numbers are very rough estimates.

  • Radiosonde ground station: $6,000 – $8,000
  • Radiosondes, balloons, helium/hydrogen, basic flight supplies: $5000
  • Travel to launch sites: $2,000

Total: $13,000 – $15,000/team. This estimate is based on eight radiosondes to be used during the eclipse at fifteen minute intervals. Two radiosondes will be extras during the eclipse in case of any technology errors and ten radiosondes will be used to prepare for the eclipse event. This total does not include faculty, staff, or student support, which is highly desirable.


Will you be within the path of totality? Would like to be involved or get your students involved in the Radiosonde project? We are looking for cloud based observations from locations across the path of totality during the eclipse. No previous experience necessary, only a scientific curiosity. This Introduction to Clouds chart and Cloud Reporting form will help document your observations. After you have made your observations on August 21st, 2017, please mail your recordings to:

Attn. Jen Fowler
Montana State University
Barnard Hall 264
Bozeman, MT 59717

CONTACT: If you’re interested in participating, partnering, or sponsoring, please contact one of the following:

  • Overall project concept, partnership, or national sponsorship: Angela Des Jardins, desjardins [at]
  • Coordination Team: Caitlin Nolby, cnolby [at]
  • Atmospheric Science Team: Jennifer Fowler, jennifer.fowler [at]

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