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Winter 1997

Member profile: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

by Anatta
UCAR Communications

Azure sky. Ocean swells massaging the shore. Salt air and sunshine. Exotic vegetation. How does anyone get any work done here? That's the obvious question for a visitor to Scripps Insitution of Oceanography (SIO), whose campus stretches along the beach and into the hills of La Jolla, located about 16 kilometers north of San Diego.

In fact, an impressive degree of initiative and groundbreaking research happens in this highly seductive setting. The acclaimed faculty and the crosscutting research--even more than the beach--attract graduate students to SIO to earn Ph.D.s in oceanography, marine biology, and earth sciences.

The Scripps campus. (Photo courtesy of SIO.)

Although the site was chosen for field work by a University of California (UC) Berkeley professor in 1903, during most of its early history SIO was affiliated with UC Los Angeles. It became part of UC San Diego when esteemed oceanographer Roger Revelle established the new campus in La Jolla in the 1960s.

Oceanography is intrinsically interdisciplinary, and SIO teamwork is common both on solid ground and aboard its ocean-going vessels (currently four ships and a research platform). Even so, some SIO staff prefer the more traditional, focused path to knowledge. Either way, SIO disciplines fall into general study areas of chemistry (both geological and marine), geophysics, climate sciences, biological oceanography, and applied ocean sciences. According to deputy director Tom Collins, "Our name is a bit misleading. We study everything from the center of the earth out to the sun, including asteroids."

The teamwork approach extends outward as well. Just in time for this year's well-hyped El Niño onset, the new International Research Institute for Climate Prediction was born April 1. IRI shares faculty and resources from both Scripps and Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. IRI grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and a 1995 International Forum on Forecasting El Niño. The United States confirmed its commitment to the meetings' shared vision of a seasonal-to-interannual climate prediction program by providing initial support for an IRI core facility. Ongoing discussions with interested countries and organizations are expected to lead to a fully multinational IRI.

The institute is already distributing seasonal-to-interannual climate predictions several months in advance to a global network of agencies and policy-makers to help them avoid or reduce the human and economic devastation caused by extreme weather. Director Antonio Moura expresses a true faith-in-science vision: "Armed with climate predictions, policy-makers around the world and in the United States will have opportunities to curtail crop failures, famine, epidemics, storm and flood damage, ecological destruction, and mass migrations." The greatest benefit is expected for vulnerable regions, particularly in the tropics, where most of the world's population resides, and for key economic sectors dealing with climate-sensitive goods and services.

The institute is currently posting two types of forecasts at its Web site. SST forecasts for the tropical Pacific are produced by three coupled models: one from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), the hybrid coupled model (HCM) developed by Nicholas Graham and Tim Barnett at Scripps, and the Cane-Zebiak model from Lamont-Doherty. A blended SST forecast is generated from the three SST forecasts and used in global climate models.

The climate forecasts issue from the NCEP model, the NCAR community climate model (CCM3), and the ECHAM, the atmospheric general circulation model from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which is based on a model developed at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Regional probability distributions accompany the climate forecasts.

Graham, director of the Experimental Forecast Division of the IRI, has initiated research using a regional atmospheric model together with climate forecasts. The regional spectral model (RSM) was developed at NCEP by Henry Juang and Masao Kanamitsu. SIO's Shyh Chen originally experimented with the model to make high-resolution synoptic foreasts over the western United States. Chen and Jack Ritchie (SIO) have now configured the model to work with output from the climate models used for season-to-interannual climate forecasts. RSM is easily implemented over any global region and at any spatial resolution down to about 10 kilometers. The goal is to use the regional model to improve precipitation forecasts in areas where topographic features are poorly resolved in the climate models.

Besides modeling and forecasts, SIO scientists are busy with global partnerships on the observational front. SIO's Center for Clouds, Chemistry and Climate (C4) is coordinating the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX), scheduled for the springs of 1998 and 1999. C4 director V. Ramanathan and Paul Crutzen, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and a 1995 Nobel laureate in chemistry, are heading the experiment.

The Roger Revelle, one of Scripps's research vessels. (Photo courtesy of SIO.)

The international experiment will measure the cooling effect of sulfates and other aerosols on regional climate over decades or longer. The Indian Ocean was chosen as the site because the Indian subcontinent and surrounding nations are already plentiful sources of aerosols from industrial and auto emissions, biomass burning, and soil dust, and because scientists expect sulfur dioxide levels to keep pace with Indian population growth. The two major field studies (1998 and 1999) will be based at island stations in the Maldives and Mauritius.

Called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the targeted area near the Equator is a mixing zone of highly polluted air from the continent with pristine air from the southern Indian Ocean. Researchers hope to learn whether the ITCZ is transporting sulfates and other aerosols from the Indian Ocean around the globe, and to use the resulting data for improving tropospheric chemistry models. They will also assess the extent of solar absorption at the surface and in the troposphere, including the ITCZ cloud systems, and plug this information into coupled ocean-atmosphere models.

Another ambitious effort at Scripps is a collaboration with the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC) to standardize global ocean observations, including California coastal measurements. How the different parameters relate to each other is a big question for scientists now attempting to use the data. SIO and SDSC are experimenting with ways to consolidate existing data by putting them into similar grids and measurement units, ultimately to paint a broad picture wherever possible. There is still little coordination among the many agencies and institutions that observe the world's oceans; Scripps is helping to coordinate future observations as well as integrating past measurements.

Another community effort spearheaded at Scripps is a new Geoscience Information Center, which recently made its debut on the World Wide Web. The center offers a centralized location for geoscience news from newspapers, magazines, and other media; a data base to search Web pages by major categories; a directory of 70,000-plus geoscientists worldwide; a biobliography of geoscience publication references; a calendar of meetings; virtual classrooms; and a list of jobs.

Applied research at Scripps has included providing data for cleaning up oil spills, isolating a chemical from a rare species of coral that may be a potential drug for fighting breast and ovarian cancer, and developing a new high-resolution map of the world's sea floors. SIO also provides ocean data for boaters along the California coast.

UCAR members' representatives from Scripps

Edward A. Frieman
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0225

Richard C.J. Somerville
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Director, Climate Research Division
9500 Gilman Drive, Dept. 0224
La Jolla, CA 92093-0224

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Apr 4 14:43:58 MDT 2000