Latest Task for Drones: Study Earth's Ozone Layer

Global Hawk will survey the tropopause

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 13, 2013 8:43 AM CST

(Newser) – Today's science vocab lesson: tropopause. It's the atmospheric boundary between the troposphere, where ozone exists as a harmful greenhouse gas, and the higher-up stratosphere, where the same gas plays an important role in protecting the Earth from the sun's UV rays. And that boundary region is about to get some attention from a drone. Later this month, NASA will begin a multi-year study during which an unmanned Global Hawk drone will fly into the tropopause, typically found about eight to 11 miles above Earth—to study how water vapor and ozone interact, reports LiveScience.

Scientists suspect that big storms sometimes push water vapor up into the stratosphere, where chemical reactions between water and free radicals may destroy the protective ozone. But because no one fully understands what goes on in the tropopause, scientists also don't know much much water vapor makes it into the stratosphere or what happens to it. The hope is that the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment will fill in those blanks.

A file photo of the Global Hawk, which will be used by NASA for scientific research, being unveiled at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
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