Field project support at UCAR

S-Pol radar

NCAR’s S-Pol radar scans severe convection during the TRMM/Brazil program. (Photo by Scott Ellis.)

Suppose your scientific interests required a set of direct and diverse observations of the atmosphere and its interactions with the ocean, land, or ice surfaces in a remote area of the world. How would you go about developing a field program to make the required measurements and provide data for yourself, your students, and colleagues? Many scientists over the years have turned to the Atmospheric Sciences Division (ATM) at NSF and scientists, engineers, and other staff at UCAR, NCAR, and UOP to support the design and execution of field campaigns.

Observations of the atmosphere at many spatial and temporal scales are essential to advancing our understanding and prediction of weather, climate, and other aspects of the Earth system. While satellites have come of age over the past two decades, providing global data that are extremely useful in research and operations, there remains a strong need for observations made from surface and airborne platforms, including in situ and remotely sensed measurements. These are essential for understanding phenomena and processes such as clouds and cloud systems, precipitation, aerosols, fronts, tropical cyclones, turbulence, and transports and exchanges of heat, water vapor, chemicals, and momentum throughout the atmosphere. Similarly, detailed observations are needed to understand the other components of the Earth system—the hydrosphere, biosphere, and cryosphere.

To help meet the scientific needs for observing Earth, ATM invests many millions of dollars annually to conduct and support field campaigns. Logistical, operational, technical, and cyberinfrastructure support are essential to the successful completion of these field programs. For more than 40 years, UCAR has honed its capabilities to provide comprehensive field project support to assist NSF and the community in carrying out these complex campaigns across a broad spectrum of projects and objectives.

To facilitate discussions and planning for how field program support should continue to evolve as programs become more complex, data streams grow, and information technology capabilities increase, I recently appointed a UCAR-wide committee (chaired by Al Kellie, director of NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory) to carry out an assessment of how UCAR currently supports field programs from start to finish.

I was surprised by the breadth and depth of support that occurs throughout the organization. The assistance provided by NCAR's Earth Observing Laboratory (formerly the Atmospheric Technology Division) and UOP's Joint Office for Science Support (JOSS) is well known; however, many other parts of UCAR also provide essential support to the community. The complete report is available on line (see "On the Web"); below is a summary. (As I write this article, parts of JOSS are moving into EOL, as discussed on page 4. This organizational change will not affect the type or quality of support UCAR provides to the community.)

From fiscal year 1999 through 2004, NSF facilities were deployed in 56 field campaigns, six of which were in the "large" category (see next paragraph). A link to a list of all 56 programs appears in "On the Web." The total number of researchers supported in these projects is estimated to be more than 3,000, and each project extends over five or more years. Thus, there is considerable overlap among the different field programs—hence the need for ongoing facilities to provide continuous support to the many programs that are in one stage or another.

The figure below shows a timeline for a generic large NSF field program, assuming a deployment in FY07. (NSF defines large programs as those receiving field facility support of more than $1 million from the NSF Deployment Pool; small programs are those with allocations of less than $1 million.) Planning begins more than three years before the field phase. Proposals from the community are reviewed, approved, and funded; site surveys are conducted and the site is set up; the field phase is carried out; and the project enters a long (decade or more) phase of data management, analysis, and dissemination of results to the community. For many projects, UCAR support extends through all of these phases, involving a variety of groups and programs.

The UCAR support for the field work and subsequent data analysis and management includes the following:

  • EOL provides direct facility support for EOL-managed NSF facilities; JOSS provides planning and coordination services, data management, forecasting and other types of user support. EOL and JOSS share the responsibility for field operations, site surveys, foreign relations, security, and safety.

  • Cyberinfrastructure support, which includes communications, real-time data streams, and integrated displays, as well as post-project data management and archiving, is provided by EOL, JOSS, CISL, and Unidata.

  • NCAR's Atmospheric Chemistry Division, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division, and Research Applications Laboratory lead, participate in and support certain specific programs. The High Altitude Observatory provides direct facility, user, and cyberinfrastructure support of fixed, long-term observatories around the world, such as the Mauna Loa Observatory.

  • Finally, all of these categories and organizational units are supported by general UCAR administrative services, including Human Resources, Contracts and Sponsored Agreements, Travel, Office of General Counsel, and Safety and Site Services, including shipping and handling.
Education and outreach are increasingly important parts of field programs. Many field programs offer opportunities for students to participate as operators of ground-based or airborne sounding systems. Examples include NAME (the North American Monsoon Experiment), BAMEX (the Bow Echo and MCV [Mesoscale Convective Vortex] Experiment) and IHOP (the International H2O Experiment). Students help with preparations, field work, and data collection and processing. UCAR Communications provides field support with press releases, open house events, and photographic documentation. Information technology advances are enabling virtual participation in field programs, with students and researchers from remote sites around the world experiencing the collection and analysis of observations in real time.

Advances in information, data management, and communications technologies are revolutionizing the real-time conduct of field experiments, such as providing real-time data displays and experimental model forecasts at the operations center. Recent programs like BAMEX and RICO (the Rain in Cumulus over the Ocean experiment) made use of a coordinated approach to field networking and integrated displays, using Unidata's visualization software (Integrated Data Viewer) and cyberinfrastructure developed jointly by JOSS, EOL, and Unidata.

Zebra display package

Using the Zebra display package from the Earth Observing Laboratory, this graphic merges satellite and NEXRAD radar imagery, aircraft flight tracks (yellow, pink and while lines), and the locations of mobile profilers and balloon launchers during the Bow Echo and MCV Experiment (2003). (Illustration courtesy EOL.)

After the field phase, data are archived at various locations in UCAR. The Community Data Portal (see "On the Web") provides a comprehensive entry point for information across UCAR.

Field campaigns will remain important to the atmospheric sciences for the indefinite future. However, their nature will evolve due to a variety of challenging scientific and technological requirements as well as new capabilities.

  • As observing platforms such as HIAPER (the High-Performance Instrumented Aircraft for Environmental Research) become more powerful, and the capability to measure different properties and constituents of the atmosphere increases, the need for an even more versatile, responsive, and integrated support system will increase.

  • Satellite observations will provide essential large-scale information on the environment in which field campaigns are embedded.

  • High-resolution mesoscale and microscale models will play increasing roles in experiment design, real-time support, and post-campaign analysis, including data assimilation.

  • Autonomous platforms will carry remotely reporting instruments into environments difficult to reach by conventional means.

  • Field campaigns will become increasingly interdisciplinary, involving chemists, meteorologists, climate scientists, hydrologists, oceanographers, and biologists, and the components and objectives related to education and outreach will increase.
As field work evolves, so will UCAR's support of it. Providing cost-effective, top-quality, end-to-end support of these complex campaigns—with multiple scientific and educational objectives in different parts of the world—will remain an important part of the UCAR mission in support of NSF and the community.



Also in this issue:

Reflective research

Observation transformation: The new EOL

Ten years of SOARS

Climate affairs

ESMF: Plug-and-play modeling

New ESSL head

Catarina up close: Brazil's bizarre storm

Science Bit: The case of the disappearing lakes

President's Corner


Field program support Field projects list NCAR Community Data Portal