Measuring Weather with WindBorne Systems and CesiumJS
As climate change spurs more frequent, violent weather, accurate weather forecasts are becoming increasingly critical. WindBorne Systems is working to collect the data that no one else can reach. Their balloons fly hundreds of times longer than traditional weather balloons, and they visualize those flights in CesiumJS.
To this day, weather prediction relies on data from balloons. Nearly half a million are launched every year, each carrying sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and pressure. These balloons fly for about 2 hours until they get too high and burst.
WindBorne Systems has invented a new system to collect this data. Dynamic controls on their balloons allow them to adjust altitude in real time, releasing gas when a balloon gets too high and dropping ballast when it gets too low. Unlike traditional weather balloons, which burst 2 hours into flight, WindBorne balloons can stay aloft for more than 400 hours.
Over that time, a balloon may travel significant distances, both vertically and horizontally. In March 2022, one of their balloons circumnavigated the globe. During that flight, it successfully flew over the Alps and Himalayas, and also maneuvered to avoid Russian and Ukrainian airspace.
Despite flying without an engine, these balloons can have remarkable control over their flight paths, just by adjusting altitude. In fact, by adjusting a balloon’s altitude to fly in wind currents moving in a desired direction, WindBorne Systems is able to steer their balloons. The 3D nature of these flights makes CesiumJS the ideal visualization tool for tracking a balloon’s path.
Capturing these flights in 2D would offer very little insight, since altitude is just as important as latitude and longitude. The 3D view available in Cesium, however, provides the whole picture. CesiumJS was built for accuracy at global scale, from the WGS 84 ellipsoid to terrain to the atmosphere and sun position. That full picture of Earth's surface and atmosphere supports true 3D visualizations.
These balloons face extreme conditions: vicious lightning, high winds, and temperatures down to -80°C.
Last month, WindBorne Systems even sent a balloon into Hurricane Ian. With zero risk to human pilots, the balloons have a huge advantage over the manned aircraft that typically take measurements of hurricanes.
WindBorne Systems’ balloons provide access to areas like the Arctic and open ocean that are highly affected by climate change but are currently poorly observed. And providing better data about wind and other conditions will help protect lives and property against wildfires, cyclones, and other extreme weather.
To visualize your own data in Cesium, get started with a free Cesium ion account.