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Stephen A. Cohn, Terry Hock, Philippe Cocquerez, Junhong Wang, Florence Rabier, David Parsons, Patrick Harr, Chun-Chieh Wu, Philippe Drobinski, Fatima Karbou, Stéphanie Vénel, André Vargas, Nadia Fourrié, Nathalie Saint-Ramond, Vincent Guidard, Alexis Doerenbecher, Huang-Hsiung Hsu, Po-Hsiung Lin, Ming-Dah Chou, Jean-Luc Redelsperger, Charlie Martin, Jack Fox, Nick Potts, Kathryn Young, and Hal Cole

Constellations of driftsonde systems— gondolas floating in the stratosphere and able to release dropsondes upon command— have so far been used in three major field experiments from 2006 through 2010. With them, high-quality, high-resolution, in situ atmospheric profiles were made over extended periods in regions that are otherwise very difficult to observe. The measurements have unique value for verifying and evaluating numerical weather prediction models and global data assimilation systems; they can be a valuable resource to validate data from remote sensing instruments, especially on satellites, but also airborne or ground-based remote sensors. These applications for models and remote sensors result in a powerful combination for improving data assimilation systems. Driftsondes also can support process studies in otherwise difficult locations—for example, to study factors that control the development or decay of a tropical disturbance, or to investigate the lower boundary layer over the interior Antarctic continent. The driftsonde system is now a mature and robust observing system that can be combined with flight-level data to conduct multidisciplinary research at heights well above that reached by current research aircraft. In this article we describe the development and capabilities of the driftsonde system, the exemplary science resulting from its use to date, and some future applications.

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