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March 2007

short takes

An overview of projects throughout the organization

NCAR to partner with World Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean. NCAR signed an agreement with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an institution of the World Bank, on February 14. Under the agreement, NCAR will provide technology transfer, training, computer infrastructure, and other tools for assessing weather and climate change impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region is increasingly suffering from economic, environmental, and societal losses due to climate-change–related weather events such as floods and droughts.

The idea was hatched when Lawrence Buja (ESSL/CGD) met two World Bank engineers at a conference in Bogotá, Colombia, while presenting climate change results from the Community Climate System Model. “As we talked, it became apparent that our two groups have very similar goals, basically to make the world a better place,” he says. “We saw a clear opportunity to apply NCAR’s expertise in climate change and regional modeling to assist the World Bank’s sustainable development programs in the region.”

Through collaboration with scientists in Latin America and the Caribbean, NCAR will share its scientific, educational, and technical expertise, as well as the organization’s weather and climate models and computer systems. The World Bank, in turn, will provide expertise on societal issues and financial support for the projects, as well as leverage its contacts in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As an example of how the agreement will benefit the region, Lawrence describes a chain of high-altitude glaciers associated with Peru’s Quelccaya Ice Cap. Below these glaciers lie watersheds with hydroelectric dams supplying nearby population centers with water and power; below the dams are large agricultural regions. As global temperatures rise, the glaciers are melting quickly and are expected to be depleted sometime in the next 5–10 years, leaving many thousands of people without reliable water and power.

The World Bank is helping Peru develop alternative energy and water sources. As a critical part of the planning and funding, Peruvian planners need an estimate of how soon the glaciers will disappear, which is where NCAR enters the picture.

“While NCAR doesn’t have the mission or personnel to look specifically at this question, the goal is to provide scientists from the region with training and access to our science and computing power, enabling them to address real-world problems such as this themselves,” Lawrence says.

If the pilot agreement is successful, he adds, it could be extended around the world. UCAR/NCAR programs and staff interested in taking part in the collaboration are encouraged to contact Lawrence (ext. 1330).

A new tool for emergency helicopter pilots. As part of RAL’s Aviation Digital Data Services (ADDS) program, Greg Thompson and colleagues have released a Java-based software tool for helicopter pilots in the emergency medical services community.

Emergency helicopter pilots typically fly at low levels (under 5,000 feet) on short-notice, short-distance missions. These routes can easily fall between weather stations, leaving pilots without weather data on a small enough scale to see conditions between, for example, an accident site and a hospital. “If Flight for Life has to take off and pick someone up where no weather data are available, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place not knowing what the weather is along the way,” Greg explains.

But with the help of RAL’s HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) Low Altitude Flight Tool, emergency personnel are no longer limited to data from weather stations. The software allows pilots to view additional, comprehensive weather data generated by RAL’s Ceiling and Visibility Product Development Team, with satellite imagery to fill in the gaps. They can even zoom in to see the location of a hospital. By showing pilots weather conditions between stations, the software may help them decide if it’s unsafe to fly.

“It really helps them with a no-go decision because they may see something that tells them not to take the flight,” Greg says.

Funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, HEMS has been running since November 1, 2006. It covers the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and parts of Canada and Mexico. According to Greg, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with emergency personnel even writing to describe how HEMS has helped their decision-making processes.

More about HEMS.

Applying WRF to West Africa. Postdoctoral researcher Benjamin Lamptey (ASP/RAL) recently returned from Ghana, where he set up a computer at the country’s national weather service for the specific purpose of storing weather data that RAL researchers will be able to access remotely.

Benjamin and colleagues in RAL are working to adapt the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) for use in West Africa. Since last year, the team has been gathering observational data, running the model in real time, verifying output, and making improvements.

One of their biggest challenges is obtaining timely weather reports from the region, as they are unable to get enough local, real-time data for West Africa from the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Telecommunication System. Benjamin is working with contacts throughout West Africa to have other nations send weather data to Ghana, where the computer he set up will serve as a clearinghouse, making it easier for the RAL team to get data in real time.

As one of the most powerful mesoscale models in the world, WRF can be run at very high resolution, making it an ideal tool for countries to address their specific needs, such as application to water resources or agriculture. For example, a WRF forecast may help farmers in West Africa identify the best times to plant and harvest their crops.

The RAL researchers hope that forecasters and the applications community will use and evaluate the West African WRF system so they can get feedback on the model’s capabilities and make further improvements.

“By running WRF for West Africa, we’re showing its ability to provide weather information in support of decision making at relevant scales. This will appeal to the applications community and should attract more people to use WRF for very specific needs,” Benjamin says. “More people will get training in how to use it, and countries will become better equipped to run it.”

Mapping the structure of Sun-like stars. Satellite missions in the next few years are expected to provide a wealth of data about our galaxy and its numerous stars. This will create challenges for astronomers who attempt to map the structures of Sun-like stars by using asteroseismology—the study of seismic waves that propagate deep into the interior of pulsating stars and reveal information through variations in light and velocity. Astronomers currently study one star at a time by trying to match its pulsation data with output from computer models, which is a cumbersome and time-consuming process that may fail to keep up with new satellite data.

Travis Metcalfe (CISL/HAO) has developed a computational method known as a parallel genetic algorithm to enable scientists to rapidly map the structures of dozens or even hundreds of Sun-like stars. The algorithm is designed to probe the broad range of possible characteristics of a star, thereby enabling a scientist to create an optimal model of the star more efficiently. Travis is running the algorithm on the Blue Gene/L supercomputer at the Mesa Lab, a specialized machine that is perfect for this challenging application because it can run a large number of models simultaneously on more than 2,000 processors.

Gathering information about Sun-like stars throughout the galaxy will help scientists better understand the fundamental forces that power the Sun. Scientists also hope to learn about how stars like our Sun evolve over time, establishing a broader context for our understanding of solar physics.


UCAR’s Spanish translators, Marina LaGrave (EO) and David Russi (COMET).

UCAR offers more Web resources en español. EO and COMET have stepped up their efforts to translate more Web resources into Spanish.

Much of EO’s translation efforts to date have centered on Windows to the Universe, a multilayered guide to Earth and planetary sciences that accounts for more than half of the traffic on UCAR servers. Led by chief translator Marina LaGrave, EO has translated about 75% of the site into Spanish. Of the roughly 16 million users who visit Windows to the Universe each year, more than a quarter now head for the Spanish pages.

There’s also a fair bit of cross-visitation, according to EO director Roberta Johnson. “Because you can easily switch from English to Spanish or vice versa, there are people using the site to learn both languages,” she says. With this in mind, EO is translating and building glossaries and a dictionary to help bridge English and Spanish materials on the site and facilitate reading and language acquisition.

Meanwhile, COMET’s David Russi, the program’s first full-time translator, has produced Spanish versions of all of COMET’s top-level MetEd pages and has translated 15 modules. This summer, COMET will release a distance learning course on basic hydrologic science in both English and Spanish at roughly the same time. David has also translated two of COMET’s modules on the GOES-10 satellite, which was recently repositioned to monitor Central and South America.

Although most of COMET’s modules are intended for forecasters, they are popular as educational resources for college and even high school students eager to learn about topics such as rip currents and mesoscale convective systems.

Terminology is a particular focus of COMET’s translation efforts. The new Spanish language resource page available on MetEd provides access to external glossaries and dictionaries in Spanish and English. In addition, COMET is translating its own glossaries to help bridge English and Spanish materials.

Visit COMET’s Spanish language page.

Windows to the Universe in Spanish.

In this issue...

International Polar Year kicks off this month

Project BudBurst to debut
GLOBE at Night

Short Takes

Denise Stephenson Hawk joins SERE

An interview with Katy Schmoll

Mesa Lab a medieval castle?

Just One Look


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