UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

March 2003

Arctic temperatures in recent years have warmed dramatically, accompanied by thinner sea ice in the summer, thawed permafrost, decreased atmospheric sea level pressure, and warmer waters flowing into the Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic. Much of this change is associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO (in which a positive phase is characterized by anomalously high pressure over the Azores and low pressure over Iceland) and the closely related Arctic Oscillation (AO). Marika Holland (CGD) is using the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model to examine the Arctic climate and its response to the NAO/AO. The model results suggest that variations in temperature, pressure, and precipitation associated with the NAO/AO are common. However, the results fail to capture the sharp upward trend of the NAO/AO index over the last 40 years—suggesting that the increase may be associated with human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, rather than natural variability.

Crepuscular rays illuminate the melting ice of the Beaufort Sea. (Photo courtesy of NOAA.)

The North Atlantic Oscillation is the subject of an extensive new monograph, edited by Jim Hurrell (CGD) and scientists at several other institutions. The North Atlantic Oscillation: Climatic Significance and Environmental Impact is a multidisciplinary overview that brings together research by atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, paleoclimatologists, and biologists. The 12 chapters present research into the NAO and its environmental and societal consequences. Topics include the impact of human-caused emissions on the NAO, the complex responses of the North Atlantic Ocean to NAO changes, and the effect of climate fluctuations on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Some 42 specialists contributed to the monograph, which evolved from an American Geophysical Union Chapman Conference on the NAO that Jim organized in late 2000. The monograph is geared to several audiences, including scientists, students of climate and the environment, and interested nonscientists.

Jim Hurrell.

Weather has significant impacts on electricity consumption and the performance of electric power equipment. Utility companies rely on weather forecasts to ensure service, hedge risk in financial markets, and plan infrastructure expansion and damage recovery. To discuss ways of improving weather information for electric power operators, ESIG’s Jeremy Hackney brought together weather researchers, meteorological scientists, and representatives from the electric power industry in a November 2002 conference that was sponsored by the U.S. Weather Research Program. The workshop identified weather research needs for industry-specific decisions; patterns in the use of weather information in the energy sector; outside collaborators in industry, government, and academia; and near-term research goals. ESIG has posted the workshop report at www.esig.ucar.edu/ electricity.

GST’s UNAVCO facility has developed an interactive Web site to help researchers study various geophysical processes on Earth and other planets. By incorporating Global Positioning System data, the Web site provides users with a choice of base maps that focus on such features as global topography, sea-floor ages, and seismic hazards. Users can then overlay the maps with geographic and geophysical features, such as coastlines, political boundaries, volcanoes, stress axes, and tectonic plate motion, in order to better understand the interrelationships between geographical and geophysical processes. UNAVCO is creating special editions of the software for different target audiences, including students. The Web tool, known as the Jules Verne Voyager (named for French author and visionary Jules Verne) and accessible from http://jules.unavco.ucar.edu, uses a cluster of map- processing computers and nearly a terabyte of disk storage space. UNAVCO’s Lou Estey and Chuck Meertens helped develop the tools; DLESE’s Marianne Weingroff and Ryan Deardorff contributed to the student-oriented versions.

Amid mounting concerns about water resources in the western United States, ESIG, the University of Colorado School of Law, and the Natural Resources Law Center at CU have held the first meetings of the John Firor Water Sustainability Roundtable. The roundtable has two focuses. First, what would a practicable and equitable goal for water use in the year 2050 look like? Second, what policies would be needed to achieve that goal and what are the impediments? Participants from across the Intermountain West have also discussed using backcasting methodology for issues of environmental sustainability (working back from a future date to the present to ensure that a goal for that future date can be achieved). More information can be found at www.esig.ucar.edu/water.

Also in this issue...

Archives launching instrument collection

Vin Lally wins prestigious ballooning award

A smooth ride to Juneau:
RAP maps wind shear and turbulence at isolated airport

A special evening with an intimate of the atmosphere

Delphi Question: PTO, health benefits, and diversity training

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