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September 2004

short takes

An overview of projects throughout the organization

Russian fires

Studying satellite data on global air pollution levels, ACD’s David Edwards and a team of researchers at NCAR and other institutions noticed an unusual spike in carbon monoxide levels in late 2002 and early 2003 that affected the entire Northern Hemisphere. As they probed the matter, suspicions turned to Russia. That’s because massive peat fires smoldered near Moscow in the late summer and fall of 2002, and unusually intense Siberian wildfires broke out in the spring and summer of 2003.

During the peat fires, a pair of Russian colleagues working at the Obukhov Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Moscow took air quality measurements from Moscow and a nearby site. The research team combined the ground-based measurements with observations of atmospheric conditions from two instruments on the Terra satellite The instruments were the Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere, or MOPITT, which measures carbon monoxide (ACD has played the lead role in processing and analyzing carbon monoxide data), and the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, which measures aerosol optical depth. The results showed that smoke and pollutants from the fires had been carried over much of the Northern Hemisphere, affecting carbon monoxide levels as far away as North America.

David and his colleagues also looked at the impact of emissions from Siberia and other parts of eastern Russia. Massive fires in the giant boreal forests and on the tundra, often started by farmers, typically rage throughout the spring and summer. The 2003 fire season was particularly intense. Satellite data showed plumes from Asia following the jet stream, with high levels of carbon monoxide crossing the Pacific Ocean, reaching western Canada, and traveling down to the U.S. East Coast — evidence of the global impacts of large-scale fires.

The research will be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. For more information about MOPPITT, see www.eos.ucar.edu/mopitt/.

Pollutants in the atmosphere. In the spring of 2003, the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite detected a large number of fires in Siberia, especially in the Baikal region (top). These fires produced large amounts of fine carbon aerosol, also detected by MODIS, that spread over the Pacific Ocean but lasted only a few days (center). They also produced carbon monoxide, which was detected by the MOPITT instrument on the Terra satellite (bottom). This gas can last over a month, which allowed it to cross the Pacific Ocean and reduce air quality over North America before continuing on around the globe.

North American climate

ESIG’s Linda Mearns is helping to coordinate a three-year project to look at how climate change may affect the United States and Canada by the middle of the century. The project, known as the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP), will combine global climate computer models with higher resolution regional climate models to simulate climate from 2040 to 2070 in unusually fine detail. Linda is working with scientists at other institutions in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

NARCCAP’s goal is to zoom in on areas throughout the United States and Canada to help policy makers brace for likely changes, based on a range of levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that may be emitted by societies. It will use an ensemble of computer tools, including NCAR’s Community Climate System Model and the climate version of the Weather Research and Forecasting Model, to produce simulations with about triple the resolution of most projections of future climate.

The combination of models will allow scientists to incorporate relatively small topographical features, such as lakes and complex shorelines, that can have profound impacts on local and regional climate. An important research benefit is that scientists will be able to compare the results of fine-scale with coarser-scale modeling, which can help them adjust model results and more accurately predict future changes.

Historical weather data

Long-term historical collections of weather observations are critical for understanding climate and climate change. One important source of such observations comes from the logbooks of ships, whose captains took regular readings of air temperatures, winds, sea surface temperatures, and other data.

To bolster the collection of weather observations in its International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set, SCD has engaged in collaborative projects with Russia and China. SCD’s Steve Worley and Zaihua Ji, with Scott Woodruff of NOAA, are working with the All-Russian Institute for Hydrometerological Information in Obninsk to create digital records for millions of weather observations taken aboard Russian ocean research cruises. The data come from ship logbooks, some as early as 1937, and they reveal weather patterns in such remote regions as the Southern Ocean.

In China, the National Marine Data and Information Service of the State Oceanic Administration in Tianjin is planning to provide technicians to digitize paper records from U.S. merchant marine logbooks. The records, which date back to 1850–68, cover much of the world’s oceans. To reimburse the Chinese, SCD and NOAA will provide them with other digital data, such as global surface temperatures.

Records in the International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set are made available to researchers around the world. For more information about the database, see www.cdc.noaa.gov/coads.

Working with Alaskan Natives

Shannon McNeeley, a doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a visiting scientist in ESIG, is launching a community-based research project in Alaska to document Native American observations of climate change. Her goal is to glean climatic insights in a remote and little-studied region that has been significantly affected by warming temperatures. The research can also help scientists develop regional climate models.

Scientists have relatively little data about the rugged area along the Koyukuk River in Alaska’s interior, but native elders and hunters possess a legacy of observations of weather and the environment. Shannon, working with scientists at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is focusing her work on three communities. She is formulating a model for documenting native observations of climate change, and also assessing community needs and documenting adaptation strategies. In turn, Shannon is relaying research information to Alaska Natives on climate, weather, and environmental changes.

Also in this issue...

A COSMIC project

Up-the-Hill Races, more popular than ever

Hiking up, diving down

Clues in an ancient lakebed

Random profile: Inger Gallo

A computing ambassador

Warren Washington receives Vollum Award

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