January 19, 2006

Balloons to Help Scientists Clear Cloudy Picture

CANBERRA -- Scientists from 10 countries will release 1,000 weather balloons in Australia's northern city of Darwin over the next month as part an international experiment to try to find out the nature of tropical clouds.

The Tropical Warm Pool International Cloud Experiment involves scientists from Australia, Europe, the United States and Japan and aims to find out how the high-altitude cirrus clouds are formed and break up.

"Cirrus are ubiquitous in the tropics and have a large impact on their environment, but the properties of these clouds are poorly understood," the organisers said in a statement.

The experiment will see weather balloons launched from five sites every three hours over the next month. Measurements of heat and water exchange will then be taken from satellites, planes, ships and ground stations within a 250 km (155 mile) radius.

"This is an exciting international weather experiment that will provide valuable information to ultimately improve weather and climate forecasting," said Greg Hunt, Australia's junior minister with responsibility for the Bureau of Meteorology.

Organizers of the experiment said the information would help them better understand what impact cirrus clouds have on tropical climates and how they can better forecast the intensity of tropical storms.