MAKING IT HAPPEN:
UCAR and NCAR support international field projects..
When scientists from the United States and several South American
countries converge in Chile in 2007 for an ambitious coastal climate
study, they will face massive logistical challenges. These include
working with customs officials to set up procedures for importing sensitive
research equipment, coordinating ship and aircraft movements, locating
inland sites for ground-based weather instruments, and archiving the
resulting findings in uniform data sets.
To ensure the field project runs smoothly, the scientists will rely
on a cadre of operations specialists from UCAR and NCAR. For a quarter-century,
these specialists—many in the UCAR Joint Office for Science Support (JOSS)—have supported research projects worldwide, from the rugged
Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean to the forbidding tundra
of the Arctic.
These projects have helped spur the development of modern atmospheric
science. Researchers from around the world, using networks of instruments
to observe atmospheric events, have learned about such complex issues
as the interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere, the role
of water vapor in the generation of storms, the far-flung movement
of pollutants, and the development of monsoons in Asia and the Americas.
“These field campaigns have been vital to understanding our atmosphere
and the entire global climate system,” explains NCAR’s
Karyn Sawyer, who has helped coordinate many of the projects. “Only
by going into the field and making systematic observations can scientists
confirm the accuracy of their models and gain insights into the many
components that drive weather and climate.”
The field experiment, known as the VAMOS Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land
Study, or VOCALS (VAMOS stands for Variability of the American Monsoon
Systems), will help scientists learn more about the impacts of stratocumulus
clouds on ocean temperatures and climate. This may lead to such societal
benefits as improved weather forecasts for much of South America.
Participants include scientists from Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay,
as well as from a number of U.S. institutions. Staffers in UCAR and
NCAR will oversee logistics during the next few years by coordinating
VOCALS planning meetings, making sure the field project runs smoothly
in 2007, and managing the resulting data sets.
“A project office is essential for centralizing and managing
the logistics of major field campaigns,” explains Carolina Vera,
an atmospheric science professor at the University of Buenos Aires
who co-chairs the VAMOS program. “This is particularly necessary
for experiments like VOCALS and other VAMOS projects that involve several
countries and investigate such important issues as the impacts of trade
wind cumulus clouds on global climate or the effects of low-level atmospheric
circulations on regional rainfall.”
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Our climate is driven by such diverse factors as clouds, sea-surface
temperatures, atmospheric chemicals, and ground vegetation. To
gain a full picture of the climate system, researchers in the field
generally have to deploy a battery of instruments across a wide
Supporting a large field experiment can be a decade-long commitment.
The experiments may involve two to three years of planning, months
of intensive fieldwork, and then years of follow-up monitoring and
data archiving and distribution. But the scientific payoff can be
In the early 1990s, for example, UCAR both supported and participated
in an especially large-scale field project near Australia: the Tropical
Ocean and Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment
(TOGA COARE). The project involved more than 700 scientists and other
specialists from 15 nations, who used satellites, weather balloons,
and specially equipped airplanes, ships, and buoys. It generated
a wealth of information that has helped scientists better understand
how the tropical waters of the western Pacific Ocean influence global
climate by releasing vast amounts of heat into the atmosphere.
Other projects have focused on narrower topics, including the effects
of dust, pollutants, and other particles on climate; the behavior
of major storms; the impact of mountains on storms, air flow, and
flash flooding; and the physical mechanisms of tornadoes and cyclones.
In addition to coordinating field projects, UCAR provides technical
support to several leading international organizations, and it handles
the logistics for hundreds of domestic and international science
conferences, workshops, and other events each year. The events bring
together researchers from dozens of countries. “These meetings
are an important mechanism for facilitating the exchange of information,” explains
Gene Martin, who directs UCAR’s meeting support services.
Trade wind cumulus clouds, which hover over tropical oceans
around the world, play an important part in the climate
system. But scientists lack data to show both how the clouds
affect the exchange of moist heat and chemicals between
the ocean and the atmosphere and why the clouds release
warm rain twice as quickly as theoretical calculations
To resolve these mysteries, researchers from NCAR, other
U.S. institutions, and more than a half-dozen other nations
converged on Antigua and Barbuda at the end of 2004 for
the Rain in Cumulus over the Ocean experiment (RICO). UCAR
handled the logistics, which involved three aircraft, a
ship, and dozens of airborne and ground instruments.
Among the challenges: using a ground-based radar to observe cloud structures
and immediately communicating that information via the Internet to a research
aircraft, and transporting 2 radars and 42 bottles of helium for weather balloons
along flooded and unpaved roads on a largely undeveloped island.
UCAR is also managing the data, which are expected to provide unprecedented information
about cumulus clouds and their impact on regional or even global climate. Scientists
expect to spend about five years analyzing the findings. “The data are
amazing in their variety and wealth,” says Bjorn Stevens, an NCAR affiliate
scientist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was
one of RICO’s principal investigators.
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