Fifty years ago, a historic balloon launch that changed the way we see the ozone layer

CIRES scientist Patrick Cullis releases a weather balloon carrying an ozonesonde from NOAA's Marshall Mesa on the 50th anniversary of the first ozonesonde launch from the research site near Boulder, Colorado, in 1967.
CIRES scientist Patrick Cullis releases a weather balloon carrying an ozonesonde from NOAA's Marshall Mesa on the 50th anniversary of the first ozonesonde launch from the research site near Boulder, Colorado, in 1967. (Theo Stein/NOAA)

MARSHALL MESA, Colo. - From atop this grassy mesa in 1967, scientists with the federal Environmental Science Services Agency carefully launched a weather balloon carrying a new instrument that could measure ozone levels from the ground to the very edge of outer space — and radio the data back to a ground receiver.

What started out as a modest research project driven by scientific curiosity provided the agency that would later become NOAA with some of the first insights into how ozone, a trace gas that blocks the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays from penetrating through the stratosphere, was distributed in the atmosphere. The instrument — an early version of today’s ozonesonde — helped NOAA develop knowledge and expertise that became vitally important when the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered 15 years later.

Read on: How one NOAA scientist turned his invention into a scientific standard.