ucar Highlights 2007

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The UCAR President’s Council

Welcome to UCAR Highlights, our biennial portrait of the research, education, and service activities carried out by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) through the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the UCAR Office of Programs (UOP), and UCAR’s Office of Education and Outreach (EO). The National Science Foundation (NSF) is NCAR’s primary sponsor.

The quest to understand our planet’s atmosphere, and the entire Earth system that shapes and sustains it, has taken on new importance over the last few years as global population continues to grow and climate change unfolds. Against this backdrop of a planet and society under increasing stress, UCAR management and staff completed a new strategic outlook in 2007 (see box, below) after more than a year of interactions with the community we serve. The articles in this issue of Highlights illustrate how we and our national and international colleagues are contributing to these strategic goals. The goals themselves overlap, and so most of our activities and programs support several of the eight goals.

The UCAR President’s Council (left to right): Jack Fellows, vice president for corporate affairs; Tim Killeen, NCAR director; Richard Anthes, president; Katy Schmoll, vice president for finance and administration; Larry Winter, NCAR deputy director.

Warming of the global climate system is now “unequivocal,” according to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in 2007. The IPCC affirms that human-produced changes in greenhouse gases are “very likely” responsible for most of the warming since 1950. NCAR scientists are intimately involved in the IPCC process, with close to 20 scientists serving as coordinating, lead, or contributing authors. Many of the IPCC’s latest conclusions are based on exhaustive simulations from the Community Climate System Model (CCSM), a project led by NCAR with extensive university and agency involvement and primary support from NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy. The second section of Highlights, Winds of Change, offers many examples of the teamwork through which NCAR, university, and government scientists are unraveling the implications of climate change for hurricanes, floods, droughts, Arctic sea ice, and other phenomena. NCAR scientists are also part of the search for solutions, as society contemplates how to slow the pace of global warming, adapt to climate change, and mitigate the worst impacts.

In 2006 NCAR opened a state-of-the-art chemistry laboratory at its Foothills Lab complex. The $13 million addition includes ample space for instrument fabrication. More than half of UCAR’s 1,400-plus staff now work at the Foothills and Center Green campuses in northeast Boulder. The CG campus also includes a newly upgraded conference center, with an auditorium and breakout rooms designed to accommodate meetings of up to 300 people.

We cannot fully understand climate change without coming to grips with the underlying workings of the atmosphere, a central theme at NCAR from its earliest days. Much has been learned by NCAR scientists and their collaborators at universities and laboratories in the 47 years since the center was founded. Phenomena such as acid rain, ozone depletion, microbursts, and solar storms have been discovered and successfully analyzed. Great progress has been made in weather prediction and warnings of extreme events. The benefits—in lives and dollars saved and environments preserved—have been immense.

A significant part of NCAR’s program remains dedicated to core research, in which scientists pursue a multitude of paths that often lead to groundbreaking insights as well as societal benefits. NCAR is also investing in new initiatives, where a relatively small amount of seed money can launch a fruitful new line of inquiry. Several of these initiatives have grown to become major components of NCAR research over the last few years, with topics ranging from biogeoscience to the analysis of the water cycle on local to global scales (see page 20).

The last few years have seen a redoubling of UCAR’s efforts to cultivate a diverse, motivated, and well-trained work force. NCAR’s research staff includes more women and more members of underrepresented ethnic groups than ever before, although more progress must be made. Future leaders within the institution are groomed each year through UCAR’s intensive Leadership Academy. UCAR’s nationally recognized SOARS program (see page 7) has given more than 100 exceptional undergraduates the type of focused mentorship that greatly improves their odds of success in graduate school and afterwards. NCAR and UOP also provide a fertile training ground for dozens of postgraduate students, as illustrated in this report’s first section, A Community of Peers.

The new chemistry laboratory at NCAR’s Foothills Lab complex includes a research-oriented greenhouse for studying interactions between plants and the atmosphere.

One of UCAR’s longtime goals is to ensure that the work it manages serves society. UOP’s education activities, which are conducted through in-person training and workshops as well as in-depth materials on the World Wide Web, help convey the principles of atmospheric and environmental science to millions of students from kindergarten to college levels as well as to educators. NCAR social scientists analyze the risks posed by weather and climate hazards and work with a variety of fellow researchers and government officials to help improve public safety and wellbeing. By appearing in the news media and describing their work at congressional panels and briefings organized by UCAR, NCAR, and university experts play a vital role in public debate on climate change and other topics of keen interest to society.

As a national center, NCAR plays a special role in maintaining world-class facilities for use by the university community. A Gulfstream-V jet developed by NSF and NCAR is the nation’s newest and most versatile aircraft for environmental research (see page 39). A constellation of six microsatellites, successfully launched in 2006 after years of planning, is now providing unique atmospheric data to researchers and forecast centers around the world (see page 32). Hundreds of university scientists carry out simulations on the growing fleet of supercomputers housed at NCAR, and thousands of researchers and forecasters around the world make use of two models freely available through NCAR: the CCSM (see above) and an advanced version of the Weather Research and Forecasting model. UOP programs play a vital role in the university and professional world, from Internet-based software and support and real-time data distribution to graduate fellowships and computer-based learning modules.

Universities are literally the first word in UCAR and the foundation of the organization. We are indebted to NSF and to our university colleagues at campuses across North America and beyond—and our friends and collaborators at federal laboratories and elsewhere—who lend their vitality and intellect to our joint endeavors. UCAR remains a singular example of how researchers ranging across a complex, multidisciplinary field can work harmoniously toward a common goal. We share the pride of all of our partners in contributing to the solution of truly important problems facing the people of this planet.


Installed in late 2006, an IBM supercomputer dubbed Blue Ice—capable of 12 trillion calculations per second—nearly tripled NCAR’s capacity for sustained computing. Another doubling to tripling is expected in 2008. With demand from NCAR and university scientists outstripping the available space and power supply at the center’s Mesa Laboratory, UCAR is working with NSF on options for providing the computational resources needed for future research.

UCAR’s strategic goals

  • Support and enhance our university consortium

  • Conduct and enable a broad research program in the atmospheric and related sciences

  • Develop and employ increasingly capable observing systems that fuel discovery and understanding

  • Provide innovative and powerful information technologies, services and tools

  • Translate new scientific knowledge and technologies into societal benefits

  • Create, catalyze, and support world-class science education programs, resources, and communities

  • Develop and engage a diverse workforce

  • Cultivate an environment of organizational excellence where science and education programs thrive