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May 2006

At the helm of ESSL

Guy Brasseur
Guy Brasseur. (Photo courtesy Max Planck Institute.)

As a new NCAR associate director and the first permanent head of the Earth and Sun Systems Laboratory (ESSL), Guy Brasseur wants to enhance interdisciplinary research while maintaining a focus on traditional science.

“ESSL is the natural place to enhance more integrated research across divisions,” he says. “But we should not neglect fundamental science.”

Guy has long-established ties with NCAR, having served as ACD director from 1990 to 2000. He subsequently became the director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, until NCAR tapped him this year for the ESSL position following an international search.

A large lab, ESSL brings together four divisions—ACD, CGD, MMM, and HAO—as well as the Institute for Integrative and Multidisciplinary Earth Studies, a new institute. Its research focus extends from the bottom of the oceans to the Sun and beyond, and incorporates such vital research areas as climate change, the interactions of chemicals in the atmosphere, hurricanes and other storms, and the impact of solar events on the upper atmosphere.

NCAR combined the divisions into ESSL as part of its 2004 reorganization to help facilitate broad, interdisciplinary initiatives. (For more on the reorganization, see the Staffnotes article on reorganization.)

In a recent interview, Guy outlined several goals for interdisciplinary work. Among the lab’s key projects:

  • Studying the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere. The boundary region between the two lowest layers of the atmosphere is a critical area for understanding climate, atmospheric dynamics, and chemistry.

  • Tracking the water cycle. Scientists want to better understand Earth’s hydrologic cycle by improving measurements of water vapor and learning more about sources and sinks, thereby improving predictions of clouds and precipitation in weather and climate models.

  • Modeling the Sun-Earth system. The Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM) will study the atmospheric response to changes in radiative output from the Sun. “We are extremely well-placed here to do an end-to-end study, all the way from the Sun to where people live,” Guy says.

Guy stresses the importance of focusing on both models and observations. “We have to insure a good balance between experimental observational work and modeling work,” he says. “Models must constantly be confronted with the real world. Most of the large discoveries are made by people who use models and observations at the same time and find discrepancies, and try to find out why.”

He’s also hoping to collaborate with SERE to develop links between research into natural systems and social systems. Science, he believes, should be kept relevant to society. “We have to translate research findings into something that makes sense to society,” he says.

A distinguished background

A native of Belgium, Guy holds two engineering degrees and a doctorate in aeronomy from the Free University of Brussels, where his Ph.D. dissertation dealt with the effects of nitrogen oxides on stratospheric ozone. He completed his postdoctoral work at the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, where he worked on advanced models of photochemistry and chemical transport in the middle atmosphere.

Between 1977 and 1981, Guy shifted gears, serving as an elected member of the Belgian House of Representatives and as a delegate to both the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, France, and the Western European Union in Paris.

Guy’s community leadership posts have included serving as editor in chief of the Journal of Geophysical Research–Atmospheres and as chair of the International Atmospheric Chemistry Project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. He is a former chair of the IGBP’s Scientific Committee, which promotes Earth system science at the international level, with particular focus on the developing world. Guy is also a past president of the Atmospheric Sciences Section of the American Geophysical Union.
“I’ve been privileged to lead the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology for six years,” he says. “It’s great to return to NCAR now, because this center is in a unique position to develop an interdisciplinary and integrative research program focusing on Earth system science.”

• by David Hosansky and Bob Henson

On the Web

ESSL homepage

In this issue...

Notes from the field: Turbulence and pollution

Terrorism and climate change

New program is a star

Peter Gilman wins Hale Prize

At the helm of ESSL

New Digital Image Library

Just One Look


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