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May 2004

short takes

An overview of projects throughout the organization

After the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finished setting up a national network of Doppler radars in the mid-1990s, weather forecasters at the National Weather Service found themselves with an abundance of local radar data at NWS offices. The research community was not so lucky, though. It took weeks for their requests to sample some of the data to come through, and the archive’s reliability was spotty at best.

Now, thanks to data distribution software designed by Unidata, scientists can access the same data available to forecasters in a matter of minutes. In April, NOAA announced that a set of four high-capacity sites will redistribute real-time data from more than 120 radars. Three of the sites will offer the data to universities without restrictions and to the private sector on a cost-recovery basis. They’ll use Unidata’s Local Data Manager software to route the data to users via Internet2.

“This is a significant milestone for us and the culmination of many years of collaboration,” says Unidata director Mohan Ramamurthy. “It’s a great example of what can be achieved by creative partnership among academic, government, and private sector groups.” Further details >

A research team that includes NCAR staffers has been awarded a $2 million grant to develop a computer-generated system that will predict wildfire behavior and progression. The four-year project, called the Data Dynamic Simulation for Disaster Management and funded by NSF, will combine computing, satellite and sensor monitoring, mathematical theory, and meteorology. It will predict the direction of a fire and warn firefighters of sudden changes, such as wind shifts or an abrupt increase in intensity.

The project will include placing sensors around a wildfire that will continuously collect information about temperature, wind, ground moisture, and other factors. This information will be transmitted to a supercomputer, which will send maps and forecasts of fire locations to the front lines in real time, allowing a fire manager to see minute-by-minute predictions or anticipate where fire growth will occur along the fire line.

“There are many technological challenges involved in simulating phenomena that change very rapidly, and in quickly transmitting data from remote locations into a model running many possible scenarios on a supercomputer far away,” explains RAP’s Janice Coen. The team includes researchers at CU–Denver, the University of Kentucky, Texas A&M University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. More information on NCAR’s wildfire work >

The buildup of ice on airplanes in flight is a major wintertime hazard for small and commuter planes. NCAR scientists recently tested a new radar system designed to pinpoint water droplets in clouds that cause icing, and it may ultimately enable pilots to avoid dangerous areas.

The system, known as S-Polka, combines two existing radars that use different wavelengths: a powerful polarized radar, known as S-Pol, that operates at a frequency of 3,000 Mhz, and a polarized Ka-band radar that operates at 35,000 MHz. By studying the differences between the images that are reflected back to each radar, scientists hope to find tiny water droplets that are difficult to distinguish using either radar alone.

RAP’s Jothiram Vivekanandan and Marcia Politovich, along with other scientists and engineers, deployed the new radar system in March at NCAR’s Marshall field use. Researchers now are focusing on creating algorithms (mathematical procedures) that will identify and measure droplets within the radar images accurately. If all goes well, the instrument will undergo final tests in a couple of years and be considered for implementation at airports.

A Web site for data sets and preliminary results is currently under construction.


This graphic shows preliminary findings from the S-Polka system. By comparing the differences between the images from each radar, researchers can detect an area that may harbor water droplets (the shaded area at the bottom right of the “Z difference” image). (Courtesy Jothiram Vivekanandan.)

Also in this issue...

Shielding the Pentagon

Streamlining the NCAR Science Store

Wilmot “Bill” Hess

Cooling us off

Spring Fling

Mentoring Latina students

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