With over six decades of research experience in atmospheric science,
Joachim Kuettner has held the UCAR Distinguished Chair for Atmospheric
Science and International Research since 1994. Kuettner has led many
national and international field projects; most recently, he headed the
U.S. project office for the Mesoscale Alpine Project (MAP).
Today the NSF/NCAR research aircraft roam the world in an ever-
broadening series of field projects. In the last five years they have
supported about 35 different research programs with increasingly
sophisticated instrumentation, developed either in-house or by the on-
board experimenters. There are not many atmospheric researchers who have
not flown, at one time or another, on NSF/NCAR aircraft. They have
learned that you don't really know Earth's atmosphere until you have
experienced it personally in flight. For example, during the Monsoon
Experiment (1979), the Electra penetrated the monsoon front over the
Arabian Sea about two days before it reached India. Our colleagues from
India on board, who had devoted a lifetime to monsoon studies, were
almost delirious at seeing with their own eyes the inner structure of
the phenomenon of their life's work.
Forty years ago, the founders of UCAR and NCAR envisioned a series of
field experiments conducted jointly by the university community and
NCAR, using advanced observing facilities of proportions no department
could afford. They specifically urged the creation of a comprehensive
aviation facility devoted exclusively to basic research rather
thanas was customary at that timechartering available
military aircraft on a temporary basis. What was not yet fully
anticipated then was the expansion of this facility's use from a
national to a truly international scope. This happened when all member
countries of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) agreed to
implement GARP, the Global Atmospheric Research Program. Its first field
project, the GARP Atlantic Tropical Experiment (GATE) in 1974, was a
huge undertaking involving almost 4,000 participants from 70 nations.
NCAR played a vital role in this complex and difficult project. Among
the many worries that I had as the WMO-appointed head of GATE was the
daily deployment of the flexible observing systems, such as 13 aircraft,
for a host of competing scientific objectives. Should the decision
making be done in military fashion, by a "czar," or more democratically,
by a mission-planning team? Could such a team act in the short time
availableusually about one or two hours?
Just at the right time, we received an invitation from NCAR to simulate
the mission-planning process under scenarios, carefully prepared by Ed
Zipser and Dan Rex, containing various kinds of tropical surprises. Some
outstanding aviation-experienced scientists from the Soviet Union,
France, Germany and the United Kingdom were involved in this splendid
exercise. It resulted in the creation of a congenial and efficient
mission-selection team that set the standard for practically every
international experiment since.
NCAR's young and enthusiastic GATE team (including Ed Zipser, Peggy
LeMone, Bob Grossman, Bill Pennell, and others) cleared up the structure
and life cycle of the mysterious, short-lived tropical cloud clusters.
We had been puzzled by their huge size on satellite photos, their sudden
appearance at apparently random spots over the tropical oceans, and
their disappearance within about 12 hours. Through many research
flights, the NCAR group discovered that these clusters were nurtured by
squall lines that formed in certain phases of easterly waves, thus
providing spurts of tropical heat transport.
Field experiments continue to face a host of critical logistical and
operational problems. These are ably handled by JOSS, the UCAR Joint
Office for Science Support (under Karyn Sawyer, working with senior
planner and operations director Dick Dirks). Through many years of
experience, these experts have learned to operate throughout the world
while taking care of speedy data processing and distribution during and
after the field phase. Furthermore, in developing air- and ground-based
instrumentation, NCAR has attained some pioneering achievements, as
shown on the preceding pages. In almost 40 years of field experiments,
it appears that UCAR and NCAR have just about fulfilled, if not
exceeded, the visions and dreams of their founders.