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

April 27, 2017
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.

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.