Air Quality in Costa Rica

The following entry is something I wrote during my second weather balloon launch from Costa Rica. Because launches happen weekly every Friday morning, I have now participated in four launches here, going on five tomorrow morning.

January 27, 2017

The above picture was taken during my first ozonesonde launch here in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have participated in launches of ozonesondes before in Austin, as a member of the first team to launch balloons from St. Edward’s. A quick explanation of what we are launching is an instrument that is used to measure ozone attached to a weather balloon filled with helium. There is also a radiosonde attached which has a built in GPS and transmits the data back to the receiving antenna. More details beyond this rough introduction of what ozonesondes are and  where ozonesondes have been launched can be found at or Here in Costa Rica, they have been doing this for years, and they have these launches down to a science!

I didn’t have an opportunity to take any pictures at today’s launch. Due to the windy conditions, it was all 6 hands on deck to ensure the balloon didn’t hit the grass during gusts. With the strong winds present today, the balloon was bouncing all over the place. As the balloon was being filled, we also had a black bird with a bright yellow tail come swooping in awfully close to the balloon, which could have been bad if it had hit the balloon. (Due to the bird calls I heard in the background and recognized from our field course here in Costa Rica, I believe it was a Montezuma Oropendula- in case any bird enthusiasts were wondering). Maybe I’m exaggerating a tad, but the bird sure did seem very close to one of our heads. Even with the winds, we were able to successfully get the balloon and ozonesonde payload up into the air.

At my time of writing, the balloon is still ascending, already having observed a sharp notch in low ozone at less than 5km. This notch is a proxy for showing when there is a high spike in sulfur dioxide. Therefore today we can assume the balloon traveled through a plume of volcanic ash. (Below is the ozone profile from the launch). This directly relates to a large part of the research project I am conducting (which originated as research by Kelsey Larson, as a part of the Tropospheric Ozone Pollution Project). The research is aiming to determine whether high concentrations of sulfur dioxide are a result of a nearby active volcano or local/industrial pollutants. More to come in the future on this research and activities happening here in the lovely Costa Rica!

Ozone profile 2017-01-27

-Kelsey Emmons