The University of Washington’s Earth and Space Sciences team led by Research Associate Professor Michael McCarthy returned to Sisters Eagle Airport last week to continue their balloon-based research. They conducted a successful balloon launch on Monday morning.

The goal of these balloon flights is to measure electrical properties of the atmosphere — specifically, the electric current flowing between the extreme upper atmosphere and the ground.

“This current system has long been thought to be primarily driven by global thunderstorm activity,” Todd Anderson of UW Earth and Space Sciences reported. “Measuring this current is best done far from pollutants and weather effects near the Earth’s surface, so we use a high-altitude balloon to carry instruments well into the ozone layer. By measuring this electric current at high altitude, and simultaneously monitoring thunderstorm activity with a global lightning detection network, we can test this idea with higher accuracy than previous work.”

Launch services were orchestrated by Steven Peterzen of ISTAR along with Steven’s wife Francie Peterzen managing the helium flow and their son Kyle Peterzen inflating the balloon. Steve and Francie Peterzen are Sisters residents. Steven has worked across the world with high-altitude balloon projects.

The launch took place under mostly clear skis and mild morning temperatures. Peterzen reported that winds were unpredictable which caused concerns with developing crosswinds; however the launch went smoothly and all systems worked 100 percent.

The 79.02-foot tall by 89.38-foot diameter polyethelyne balloon achieved a maximum altitude of 123,461 feet before settling to a float altitude of 116,500 feet.

The balloon and payload climbed to altitude easterly and then shifted to a westerly trajectory over the Cascades towards the Pacific Ocean.