Atmospheric physics is extremely important to life on Earth for Dr. Kimberly Strong, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, and this belief provides the motivation for her research. "It is essential that we understand what is happening in our atmosphere now, and how both natural causes and human activities may lead to changes in the future."
The goal of her work is to better understand the chemical and physical processes that are driving atmospheric change, particularly pollution in the troposphere and ozone depletion in the stratosphere.
" I believe that accurate and timely observations of atmospheric composition are essential to understanding three key issues facing atmospheric scientists: tropospheric air quality, the future evolution of the stratospheric ozone layer, and climate change."
Variety is the spice of an atmospheric scientist's life
There are many aspects to this field of research-developing instruments, taking measurements in remote regions like the Arctic, launching balloons to as high as 40 km above the Earth, data analysis, and even satellite missions-all with a view to unravelling the complex processes that occur in the Earth's atmosphere.
Given the many projects that Dr. Strong takes part in, the variety must be what keeps it interesting for this positively charged scientist:
She established the University of Toronto Atmospheric Observatory, where she is making regular measurements of tropospheric and stratospheric gases.
She is a co-investigator for the new Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory being set up at Eureka, Nunavut, to study the changing Arctic atmosphere.
She is co-investigator for the Canadian Space Agency's Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment satellite mission and co-leader of the validation effort.
She performs laboratory spectroscopy in support of atmospheric measurements.
She is Principal Investigator of the MANTRA balloon experiments (for "middle atmosphere nitrogen trend assessment").
Halfway round the world in nine days
The MANTRA project looks at the changing chemical balance of the stratosphere. The first balloon flight on August 24, 1998, got a lot of publicity when it made an exciting but unintended trans-Atlantic crossing and ended up in Finland. The systems that were supposed to separate the balloon from the gondola and parachute failed, and the balloon started to drift eastward. Other attempts were made to bring it down, but it eventually drifted beyond the controllers' radio range... and into the flight path of trans-Atlantic aircraft.
CF-18 jets tracked it for a while and tried to bring it down from its 12.5-km height. After making a spectacular journey through British, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Russian airspace, the balloon landed on September 2 near Mariehamn on the Aland Islands, Finland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea.
Colleagues from the Finnish Meteorological Institute recovered the payload. "The instruments suffered minor damage," Dr. Strong notes, "but all were reusable after their 9,000-km voyage. The devices that failed were also recovered so there could be an investigation to help prevent another 'Runaway Balloon from Saskatoon'."
A Strong support network
Dr. Strong is grateful for support and encouragement from family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and members of her research group throughout her career. She feels that it is a good time to be a woman in science in Canada "Atmospheric physics, in particular, offers an ideal combination of fascinating scientific questions and societal relevance, which I hope will attract more women to this field of research."
She is also active in public outreach. "I feel the work that my colleagues and I do may have an impact beyond the scientific arena. So I regularly participate in activities such as public lectures, laboratory tours for high school students, and media interviews on my research."