UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

February 2004

An overview of projects throughout the organization

For the next year and a half, a group of RAP staffers will make regular trips to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to develop a customized forecasting, climatology, and hydro-meteorology analysis system that will help the desert nation manage its limited water resources. The project relies on much of the core technology from RAP’s four-dimensional weather forecasting program (4DWX). The scientists will set up a forecasting system for the UAE region that will gather and store measurements of wind, temperature, and other atmospheric variables for each hour of the day. Eventually they’ll have data stored from a long enough period of time that they will be able to average the output to produce a geospatial database of the region’s climate. Scientists and engineers in the UAE can then apply Global Information Systems (GIS) tools developed by RAP to this database to gain a better understanding of physical processes in the region.

“This system will consolidate years of recorded hydro- and meteorological observations, and provide the UAE government with an unprecedented capability to conduct water resource studies,” explains Scott Swerdlin, who’s providing program oversight. David Yates and Nancy Rehak are the project’s co-leaders.

Forest fires and other types of biomass burning may be a significant source of reactive nitrogen (NOy) chemicals in higher levels of the atmosphere, according to new research. David Knapp (ACD) is analyzing data taken from the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere during the 2002 Cirrus Regional Study of Tropical Anvils and Cirrus Layers—Florida Area Cirrus Experiment (CRYSTAL-FACE) and comparing them with models of plumes from North American wildfires. He has found ratios of NOy to ozone that are 50% higher than background levels. His research comes as several scientists, including Hans-Jurg Jost (Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California), are concluding that soot from boreal forest fires is reaching the stratosphere, with impacts on atmospheric chemistry, as well as potential impacts on global air quality and local climate.

NOy species, including nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, play an important role in the chemistry of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, interacting with each other to create various types of nitrogen molecules and reacting with longer-lived aerosols. These reactions can increase tropospheric ozone, a type of pollutant, as well as reduce the amounts of stratospheric ozone, which shields Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. David plans to collect more data to gain a better understanding of how fires can loft NOy so high into the atmosphere and to try to correlate the location of specific fires with stratospheric NOy.

As researchers learn more about the carbon cycle and its impacts on global climate, CGD’s Nan Rosenbloom and David Schimel are examining the implications of soil erosion on terrestrial carbon storage. Soil is a major reservoir of carbon, but scientists have only limited information about how landscape processes such as soil and water transport affect long-term carbon storage.

To analyze the impact of landscape-scale soil transport on the terrestrial carbon budget, Nan has developed a process-response landscape evolution model known as CREEP, which simulates the transport and deposition of soil particles. (CREEP stands for the Changing Relief and Evolving Ecosystem Project, but the term also refers to the gradual downslope movement of soil particles responding to gravity.) Nan and her colleagues, including Jennifer Harden at the U.S. Geological Survey and Jason Neff at CU, test the model by comparing spatial patterns of projected landscape carbon and a stable isotopic tracer (10Beryllium) against borehole measurements of carbon, radiocarbon, and 10Be from an undisturbed prairie site in western Iowa.

As they refine the model, the scientists hope to track the movement of organic carbon across an entire watershed as a step toward quantifying the basin’s ­carbon budget, including the portion carried out of
the system by rivers. More on CREEP.

Summer in Iowa may feel more like summer in Kansas within a few decades, and then get even hotter by the end of the century, according to Susanne Moser (ESIG). Susanne is the lead author of a report released in early January on the potential effects of climate change in Iowa. Sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the report found that climate change could raise daily maximum temperatures in Iowa by 5° to14°F (3° to 8°C) in winter and by a remarkable 9° to 22°F (5° to 12°C) in summer by the end of the century. This in turn is likely to shift the state’s seasonal precipitation and cause more frequent heat waves than seen during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. “Climate change will alter the character of Iowa’s landscape, and present unprecedented challenges to the environment, economy, and the people who live here,” Susanne said.

Iowa’s future: Climatic research indicates the Hawkeye State will get much warmer. (Based on data provided by Katharine Hayhoe ATMOS Research and Consulting.)

Susanne, her colleagues at the University of Illinois, and an independent research firm used two three-dimensional climate models, the HadCM3 model and the NCAR/Department of Energy Parallel Climate Model, to make the climate projections. They ran high, medium, and low emission scenarios, relying on standard emission scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They then integrated the model results with historical climate data for Iowa that extends back more than 100 years to put the state’s future climate in the context of its past. More information about the study.

EO has launched a Spanish version of the highly visited Earth and Sun sections of Windows to the Universe, its educational Web site for students, teachers, and the general public. Director Roberta Johnson says the translators, Marina LaGrave (EO) and Eduardo Araujo (NOAA), plan to complete the Mars section next, followed by outer planets and the universe. NSF is funding the translation.

Windows to the Universe brings together interdisciplinary science with the arts and humanities to cover the solar system, individual planets, geology, space, weather, the history of astronomy, and more. Last year some four million users explored the site’s text, images, sound, animations, games, and datasets. With three levels of content to choose from, it is geared to upper elementary through high school students. A section on mythology presents material about the Earth and sky from 20 cultures around the world, and there is also a special section devoted to art, books, and films related to earth and space science. Teacher resource pages include classroom activities, networking tools, and educational links.

Users can access the Spanish version from the site’s main page at www.windows.ucar.edu or visit it directly at www.windows.ucar.edu/spanish.

Also in this issue...

Hao Sunrise

Tom Windham soars to Washington

Random Profile: Mark Tschudi

CG auditorium draws large crowds

Staffers organize women's self-protection class

Staffers win AMS awards

New insights into solar output

Honoring veteran staffers

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