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"Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets of the Skies" on BBC Knowledge

Photo Credit: BBC Knowledge

Photo Credit: BBC Knowledge

A team of scientists, pilots and skydivers travel across North America in a giant airship - the Cloud Lab - to find out more about the earth's atmosphere, one of the least understood parts of our planet.

The 100 kilometres or so of air above our heads is all that separates us from space. It’s in every breath we take and makes earth habitable.

Yet for all its centrality to the health of the planet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the atmosphere. For instance, at what altitude does life cease? What type of air is most likely to cause rain?

On a journey that takes in the swamps of Florida and the Gulf Coast, the vast deserts of Arizona and the spectacular Californian coast, Cloud Lab goes in search of the answers.

Cloud Lab – the airship – is a unique platform for exploring the atmosphere. It can maintain a stationary position, so the team can watch weather phenomena develop. It flies slowly and is exceptionally stable, making it the ideal base from which to conduct scientific experiments.

The team includes an entomologist, meteorologist and professional explorer. They scrutinise insect life, unravel the relationship between life and weather and explain how hurricanes form. The scientists also shed light on the creation of clouds and the relationship between diverse ecosystems and weather.

It’s fascinating work – and a better understanding of the atmosphere could help us in all sorts of ways, from predicting natural disasters, to improving crop yields and protecting wildlife.

BBC Knowledge is on Starhub Channel 407.