A World-class Radar
NCAR’s CP-2 radar (foreground) collected
important atmospheric data for many years. (Photo by James
For three decades, NCAR’s CP-2 radar proved an important tool
for scientists studying hailstorms, tornadoes, wind shear, and other
hazardous weather events. It played a major role in the discovery of
microbursts, which can menace airplanes if undetected. By the mid-1990s,
however, researchers needed something more mobile, and they built
a new radar, called S-Pol.
But the older radar, which can distinguish snowflakes from raindrops
over 100 kilometers (60 miles) away, proved too sophisticated to scrap
and too expensive for any university to maintain. NCAR searched the
world for an agency that could take advantage of the CP-2’s advanced
capabilities and also provide NSF researchers with an opportunity to
team up on projects relevant to meteorology in the United States.
The perfect agency, it turned out, was the Australian Bureau of Meteorology
Research Centre. The bureau maintains a dense network of supporting
rain gauges and streamflow gauges in a hilly area prone to flash flooding.
The CP-2, which was shipped to the bureau in 2003, will perform double
duty, warning the public about flash floods and helping international
research teams answer questions about hydrology and meteorology.
The Future of Polar Ice
Polar ice fields cool the atmosphere by reflecting a high percentage
of solar radiation back into space. If global warming
shrinks Earth’s polar ice fields, more solar radiation will
be absorbed by land and sea surfaces, which could lead to even higher
NCAR scientists are collaborating with their colleagues across the
United States and overseas to improve the polar ice components of
the NCAR-based Community Climate
System Model, a powerful computer
tool for studying global climate of the past, present, and future.
Important goals include simulating the ebb and flow of sea ice over
the next two centuries, as well as examining alterations to higher-latitude
ocean currents and polar impacts on atmospheric conditions
NCAR scientist Marika Holland is one of the key researchers in the
effort. Working with Hugues Goosse of the Catholic University of
Louvain in Belgium, she is studying the natural variability of
Arctic sea ice to glean insights into human impacts on polar climate.
Her research indicates that sea ice will thin significantly over
the next century, and its surface area will eventually dwindle dramatically
in summer months.
This NASA satellite image, taken during
the Antarctic summer, shows drifting icebergs that have split
from the Larsen Ice Shelf. Such naturally occurring events
may become more widespread if Antarctic summer temperatures
increase. For a NASA animation of an ice shelf collapse, click here.
(Photo courtesy Landstat 7 Science Team and NASA Goddard Space Flight