McGill University sends balloons high above St. Lawrence River to study Quebec's climate change

·2 min read
McGill University sends balloons high above St. Lawrence River to study Quebec's climate change

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's … a weather balloon?

McGill University researchers and scientists have been busy launching weather balloons high above Quebec this year as part of an effort to better understand regional climate change.

"We have never had this before and this is a critical matter in understanding climate change," said John Gyakum, a professor in the school's atmospheric and oceanic sciences department.

These balloons are let go into the sky with a sensor attached. When one is floating in the air, data is being transmitted to a computer. It takes about two hours for data to be registered.

As part of this project, 43 balloons were flown over a six-week period between February and March. The study spanned the St. Lawrence Valley and included researchers from the Université du Québec à Montréal, the National Research Council and several U.S. universities.

The sensors attached to the balloons collected data during extreme weather to better understand the transitions between winter precipitation types, according to a news release by McGill. This research is also expected to make it easier to predict winter precipitation.

"We sample the atmosphere during periods of freezing rain, ice pellets, rain and snow and this has given us a great example of how to research some detailed conditions of the atmosphere," said Gyakum.

WATCH | Weather balloon launch in Mont-Saint-Hilaire:

All of this is possible because of McGill University's new Adaptable Earth Observation System (AEOS) research facility at the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., about 45 kilometres east of Montreal.

"What we have to do is study how we can mitigate, or how we can change what we are doing to stop the climate from changing at the pace that it's changing," said Susan Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill.

Hans Larsson, with the school's biology department, said drones will eventually be incorporated into the effort alongside balloons. The hope is to "really improve our efforts to rescue eco-systems before they collapse," he said.

The drones will be more environmentally sustainable as they can be reused, he said.

"It's both to get real time, quantitative data for environmental and ecological processes but also to be on the leading edge, pushing technologies to help us do more research," Larsson said.

Gyakum and Larsson say this project is adaptable and they are both hoping the research can be applied on a global scale to combat climate change.