Boaters re­cover float­ing mys­tery

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­

CEN­TRE­VILLE — Two un­sus­pect­ing boaters stum­bled across a most un­usual dis­cov­ery ear­lier in July while boat­ing along the Ch­ester River. Les and Carol Davis from Mary­del were an­chored in waist deep wa­ter when they ob­served a float­ing box that looked “bomb like.”

It was a very strange thing to see float­ing to­ward the beach, said Les Davis, so he de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate the white sty­ro­foam pack­age wrapped in tape with wires and rope pro­trud­ing. For­tu­nately for Davis, the box turned out to be an air sam­pler sent out by re­searchers at Howard Univer­sity in Washington, D.C.

Carol Davis said on closer in­spec­tion they dis­cov­ered pa­pers on the box that de­scribed its con­tents and pur­pose. Ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion in­cluded on the pack­age, the box, which is the size of a small dis­pos­able cooler, is sent into the at­mos­phere on days when a Code Or­ange or Code Red is in ef­fect and car­ried ap­prox­i­mately 16 miles up into the at­mos­phere by bal­loon to col­lect data. When the bal­loon pops, a para­chute de­ploys and the box lands.

Dr. Ri­cardo Sakai from Howard Univer­sity is the pro­fes­sor the Davises reached when they called to let the univer­sity know they had re­cov­ered the air sam­pler. They said Sakai was very pleased to be able to re­cover the de­vice, as the com­po­nents in­side are re­us­able. He shared that a sim­i­lar air sam­pler had been re­leased and landed in Prince Ge­orge’s County. Some­one called 911 to re­port the sus­pi­cious look­ing box, and Sakai said the bomb squad ar­rived and det­o­nated the air sam­pler.

The let­ter at­tached to the box stated, “This sen­sor was launched from Howard Univer­sity Beltsville Cam­pus as part of a study by the Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment and the NOAA Cen­ter for At­mo­spheric Sciences to better understand the pro­cesses lead­ing to poor air qual­ity over the re­gion.”

The sen­sor, or air sam­pler, is used to de­ter­mine the con­cen­tra­tion of ozone gases present, ex­plained the let­ter. It fur­ther stated, “[the sen­sor] con­sists of a DC mo­tor, bat­ter­ies, cir­cuit board and two elec­tro­chem­i­cal cells. The mo­tor may still be op­er­a­tional when found, thus ac­count­ing for the hum­ming sound that might be per­ceived ... bat­ter­ies may give off a strong odor when re­cov­ered.”

Ad­di­tional sen­sors lo­cated in the box are used to mea­sure air pres­sure, tem­per­a­ture and rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity and trans­mit to the ground sta­tion in Beltsville via the ra­dio trans­mit­ter.

Units were an­tic­i­pated to land 10 to 100 miles from the launch site in Beltsville.

The in­for­ma­tion gath­ered from the data col­lected is shared with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment.

Carol Davis from Mary­del holds the air sam­pler she and her hus­band, Les, re­trieved from the Ch­ester River.


Top view of the air sam­pler re­cov­ered by Les and Carol Davis while boat­ing in the Ch­ester River.

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