Met dept in need of hydrogen to fly weather balloons

Kathmandu, July 2

After the arrival of necessary equipment, including radiosonde and balloons, from India last week, Nepal is now poised to operate radiosonde stations at the earliest. However, the country does not have hydrogen to fuel the flights of the balloons.

According to the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, India donated enough equipment to set up radiosonde stations through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Storm Project last week. Officials at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, however, are now worrying about the lack of hydrogen.

“Although we have a plan of action, and all required equipment to run radiosonde stations, we do not have hydrogen needed to fuel the flights of the balloons,” Dr Risi Ram Sharma, director general at the department, said, “The DHM is trying its best, but this may mean that we will have to halt all procedures of establishing this weather forecasting system.”

In other parts of the world, hydrogen is extracted from water by electrolysis, imported from other countries, or industrially produced. The DHM said it had been trying to import the gas from weather stations in either India or Bhutan.

The radiosonde is attached to a hydrogen-filled balloon, generally called a weather balloon, and the balloon lifts the radiosonde to altitudes exceeding 115,000 feet. During the radiosonde’s ascent, it transmits data on temperature, atmospheric pressure, and humidity to a sea, air, or land-based receiving station.

The meteorological equipment that arrived last week have been kept in the Meteorological Forecasting Division. The division said works on importing hydrogen from neighbouring countries are under way.

“At first we had held talks with Himal Gas Services to supply us the gas, but the organisation denied to do so,” Division chief Jagadishwor Karmacharya told The Himalayan Times, “We are now discussing the possibility of importing the gas through international gas suppliers, and are exploring other options as well.” He added that if importing doesn’t work, the division will have no option but to produce the gas by electrolysis.

The government has been preparing to fly radiosonde balloons by next monsoon in order to predict lightning strikes in the country, and improve the existing weather forecasting system.

The DHM plans to fly three balloons every day carrying a radiosonde GPS transmitter each that would pick atmospheric data and transmit it to the ground station. One balloon each would be flown from Dharan, Kathmandu, and Surkhet at 00:00 GMT (05:45 am Nepal time).

Retired senior meteorologist Rajendra Prasad Shrestha has advised the DHM to produce the gas in Nepal itself. “The best alternative would be to produce the gas here itself, that would mean there would be no halts and it would be easier in the long run too,” he said, adding, “If not, we need to step up to advanced forecasting system at the earliest whether through an open contract with other suppliers or otherwise.”

He added that Nepal could import hydrogen from Lucknow, Patna, Guwahati, and Delhi of India or from Bhutan. Eighteen radiosonde stations are currently in operation in India.

Globally, helium and hydrogen gases are used to fly weather balloons by meteorological organisations. Hydrogen is cheaper and easier to manufacture, but far more dangerous to work with.