History


UCAR History

NCAR History

HAO's History

Courtesy of NCAR's Digital Media Catalog

UCAR | NCAR | UOP

UCAR History

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) was created in 1960 as a nonprofit Colorado-based corporation that would receive and manage funds and administrative functions for NCAR. At its founding, UCAR had 14 member universities. Since then, UCAR's "scientific community" has grown to include 63 member universities (offering doctoral programs in the atmospheric or related sciences) in the United States and Canada, 20 Academic Affiliates (colleges and universities which grant bachelor's and/or master's degrees in atmospheric or related sciences), and 38 International Affiliates. Dedicated to the advancement of the atmospheric and related sciences, UCAR is governed by a Board of Trustees elected by the Members Representatives.

The UCAR mission is to support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the university community, nationally and internationally; to understand the behavior of the atmosphere and related systems and the global environment; and to foster the transfer of knowledge and technology for the betterment of life on earth.

<Back to top>

In 1986, UCAR's management duties expanded to include Unidata, a program funded by the National Science Foundation that enabled universities to acquire and use atmospheric and related data. As UCAR assumed management of additional programs that provided support to the research community, the UCAR Office of Programs (UOP) was formed to house them.

With its eight programs, UOP creates, conducts, and coordinates projects to strengthen education, research, and technology in the atmospheric and related sciences. It helps organize multi-agency experiments, supports satellite-based earth and atmospheric monitoring, provides real-time weather data for education and research, manages postdoctoral fellowship programs for federal agencies, links universities and operational forecast offices, and trains working forecasters and university instructors in the latest meteorological research.

The relationship between the universities and UCAR, NCAR, and UOP activities and programs is a mutually beneficial one: UCAR exists to enhance the capability of the universities, and the universities play an active role in the governance of UCAR and in carrying out its programs.

For more information about UCAR, NCAR, and UOP, please see the web site at http://www.ucar.edu.

<Back to top>


NCAR History

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) was designed by a small group of innovative scientists, most of them university faculty members, as a creative response to major challenge that faced the nation in the years between the 1930s and late 1950s. Departments of Meteorology had been established at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and other U.S. universities in the 1930s. Their goal was to investigate scientifically the physical principles that were thought to define the behavior of the atmosphere. Within a decade, military operations of World War II were unlike those of any previous wars-massive land, sea, and air assaults were highly dependent on weather conditions over vast regions from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific and from the poles to the tropics.

University meteorology departments grew rapidly as the military services sent weather officers to learn the fundamentals of meteorology. These officers' assignments ranged from daily weather forecasting to strategic planning for vast military operations like the D-Day invasion in Normandy. The military services also supported meteorological research to improve understanding of weather and climate. Military pilots on long-range bombing missions discovered the fast-moving, high-altitude rivers of air that came to be known as jet streams, now recognized as key elements in the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere.

<Back to top>

Despite the impressive training programs of the 1940s, the field of atmospheric science lost ground in the postwar years, becoming a sort of poor cousin to many other branches of science. Approximately 90% of American meteorologists in mid-century were employed by the federal government, mainly in weather forecasting rather than engaging in basic research on the fundamental problems posed by the atmosphere. The number of new people entering the field was woefully low. At the same time, meteorology boasted the smallest percentage of doctoral degrees of any scientific discipline.

In 1956, the National Academy of Sciences convened a committee of distinguished scientists to investigate the state of meteorology. Noting the size and complexity of atmospheric problems and the inadequate resources for solving them, the committee recommended an exponential increase in support for basic research. Coupled with new funding, the committee planned to establish a national institute (later called a national center) for atmospheric research to be operated by a consortium of universities with support from the National Science Foundation.

The mission of the institute would be to:

bulletbl.gif (72 bytes) Attack the fundamental problems of the atmosphere on a scale commensurate with their global nature.
bulletbl.gif (72 bytes) Aggregate the large-scale research facilities necessary for such an attack
bulletbl.gif (72 bytes) Provide a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach to these problems on a scale not possible in individual university departments.
bulletbl.gif (72 bytes) Preserve the natural alliance between research and education, without unbalancing university departments.

<Back to top>

In 1960, NCAR began operations in Boulder, Colorado, as a program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) managed by the nonprofit University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). At the time it funded the creation of NCAR, NSF itself had been in existence only ten years. NSF is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Information on the NSF celebration may be found on the web at http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/nsf50/start.htm.

Today, NCAR provides the university research and teaching community with tools such as aircraft and radar to observe the atmosphere and with the technology and assistance to interpret and use these observations, including supercomputer access, computer models, and user support. NCAR and university scientists work together on research topics in atmospheric chemistry, climate, cloud physics and storms, weather hazards to aviation, and interactions between the sun and earth. In all of these areas, scientists are looking closely at the role of humans in both creating climate change and responding to severe weather occurrences.

<Back to top>


HAO's History

Although the sun has been the most studied star in the heavens, little was known about the structure of its atmosphere or the role of its magnetic fields, or much at all about the fundamental motions of its surface or interior, until fairly recently. The past six decades have been productive ones for solar physics, and the High Altitude Observatory at NCAR has been a core contributor to that productivity.

In 1940, Harvard graduate student, Walter Orr Roberts, and his doctoral adviser, astrophysicist Donald Menzel, founded a small solar observing station high on the Continental Divide in Climax, Colorado. Here, Walt Roberts installed the Western Hemisphere's first Lyot coronagraph, an instrument that uses a metal occulting disc to block off the face of the sun, creating an artificial eclipse and rendering the corona visible. The solar corona, the very hot but extremely dim outer part of the sun's atmosphere, is of particular interest to scientists because its structure reflects the sun's global magnetic fields, providing a window for investigating fundamental solar processes.

<Back to top>

Roberts' assignment at the observatory was to last only one year, but, with the country's sudden entry into the war, he remained at Climax as sole observer, making routine observations of the solar chromosphere and corona. These coronal observations from Climax, with their implications for potential disturbance of terrestrial radio communications, became an essential to the war effort. From these small beginnings, the station evolved into the High Altitude Observatory (HAO) and grew substantially after the war. In the late forties, HAO's laboratory and administrative facilities were transferred to the University of Colorado and the gentler climate of Boulder. A second observatory was established at Sacramento Peak in Sunspot, New Mexico.

Throughout the 1950s, under Walt Roberts as director, HAO scientists modified coronagraphs, flying them in high-altitude balloons to better observe the corona without interference from earth's atmosphere. Starting in 1952, HAO inaugurated the first of numerous total eclipse field expeditions in remote locations around the world. Solar physics entered a new era of solar observations in 1961-this time from space. In that year as well, HAO formally became a division of a newly-established research institute in Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Roberts was appointed director of NCAR as well as president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which managed the center. The rationale for making an astronomical institution a part of an atmospheric research organization was sound. As Robert McQueen, director of the HAO division from 1979 to 1986, commented: "The radiative input from the sun is the driving force for all atmospheric motions. Anything that alters that radiative input in any way is important for understanding climatic variations and other large-scale changes in the terrestrial atmospheric system."

<Back to top>

Today's Observatory program includes numerical simulation of convection, radiation transport, and large-scale dynamics in both the solar and terrestrial atmospheres, plus observational programs to measure the Sun's output of magnetized plasma and radiation over the 11 year sunspot cycle of the Sun. This broad program draws it strength from a professional staff firmly grounded in basic physics, astrophysics, and atmospheric physics.

More information about HAO can be found on the web at http://www.hao.ucar.edu.

 

<Back to top>