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Additional American Research Projects

Looking at Tropical Pollution


As large sections of the Amazon rain forest disappear, researchers are studying the effects that its vegetation has on the world's atmosphere. (Photo by Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The rapidly expanding industrial and agricultural sectors in Brazil are having dramatic impacts on air quality. Although factories are commonly associated with pollution, farming activities can emit harmful particles into the air. For example, sugar cane growers burn their fields prior to harvesting and small farmers often set fires to clear land.

NCAR is working with a team of Brazilian researchers to learn more about the impacts of such activities and how air quality can be better protected. Scientists at the University of São Paolo are measuring nitrogen deposition on the ground at several sites in Brazil to glean insights into how much pollution is being pumped into the air. NCAR scientists are using the data to refine a computer model that tracks the movement of air pollutants, which can be transported for thousands of miles in the atmosphere before returning to Earth.

Air quality in the tropics is a major concern for societies worldwide. “The changes to air quality in the tropics are happening faster than anywhere else in the world, and are projected to increase over the next 100 years,” explains NCAR scientist Elisabeth Holland, a collaborator on the Brazilian project. “There’s a growing body of evidence that this is a global problem that affects even relatively pristine areas.”

By studying the types of nitrogen and carbon molecules that are found in the atmosphere and accumulate in the soil and water, scientists can infer whether they were emitted by industrial processes or by the burning of forests and crops. This will help Brazilian officials decide how best to safeguard air quality and the environment as a whole. In addition, computer models will help determine whether other countries are affected by Brazilian emissions.

Thinking Continentally, Forecasting Locally


Climate conditions in Mexico can affect storms in the United States. (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR Digital Image Library.)

When summer storms sweep across the Mexican border into the United States, they are detected by National Weather Service radars, analyzed for water content, and tested for other properties that indicate the potential for severe weather. Even so, the local weather resulting from the North American monsoon remains highly variable and difficult to predict.

To learn about how climate conditions south of the border cause organized thunderstorm systems, NCAR scientists are working with the Mexican weather service and other collaborators on the North American Monsoon Experiment (NAME). The goal is to fill in data gaps and, perhaps, eventually improve forecasting of the monsoon and the rainfall anomalies it spawns across much of the continental United States.

NCAR and Mexican researchers are taking hundreds of measurements in Mexico and the United States, using a network of ground-, ship-, and aircraft-mounted radars and other instruments. They expect to glean insights into how monsoon storms become organized and what factors are most critical in controlling the storms: surges of moisture from the deeper tropics, for example, or temperature differences between land and sea.

Mexican collaborators come from a wide variety of institutions, including the Mexican Institute of Water Technology, the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education in Ensenada, the University of Sonora, and the country’s national weather service.

Training Forecasters in Latin America

comet class

Meteorology students at the University of Costa Rica.

(Photo by Vilma Castro, University of Costa Rica.)

Meteorologists in Latin America are often at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring new forecast techniques. Education centers in the region generally lack access to real-time atmospheric data, and their Web connections are too slow, in many cases, to download training materials.

A UCAR initiative known as MeteoForum aims to strengthen Latin American forecasting. UCAR engineers have established a computer system at the World Meteorological Organization’s regional training center in Costa Rica to receive and disseminate real-time data for educational purposes. They are also setting up systems at training centers in Argentina, Barbados, and Brazil.

In addition, UCAR meteorologists have transferred some of their Web-based training modules to other media, such as compact discs, so that Latin American teachers without fast Web connections can use the modules. UCAR is collaborating with Latin American educators to translate the text into Spanish.

Thanks to improved training and the sharing of information, Latin American meteorologists can better alert society about the likelihood of a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster. The forecasts are especially helpful for farmers and the energy and travel industries.

MeteoForum involves a number of organizations throughout the Americas, including the University of the West Indies, University of Costa Rica, University of Buenos Aires, the National Weather Service of Argentina, the Federal University of Para in Brazil, and others. Funding comes in part from the U.S. National Weather Service and the Meteorological Service of Canada. In time, the program may be expanded to encompass other regions of the world where local forecasters could benefit from better training.

Collaborations in the Americas

On the Trail of Urban Pollution

A Continent’s Climatic Future

Looking at Tropical Pollution

Thinking Continentally, Forecasting Locally

Training Forecasters in Latin America

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