JOSS/VSP

NCAR/UCAR hosts international atmospheric chemistry group

November 10, 2016 | Scientists at a recent international conference co-sponsored by NCAR|UCAR explored the latest research into such issues as urban air quality, the impact of drought on ozone, and the influence of emissions on climate.

Heliophysics school celebrates 10th anniversary

October 6, 2016 | For the past decade, hundreds of students from all over the world have come to Boulder for a week each summer to learn about connections between the Sun and Earth, including the physics of space weather.

Called the Heliophysics Summer School, the program is funded by NASA and managed by UCAR Visiting Scientist Programs (VSP).

Climate postdocs build community, stretch comfort zones

October 5, 2016 | It's early in a four-day program in Steamboat Springs, and 15 postdoctoral fellows in climate science are being nudged out of their comfort zones.

The night before, eight of the recently minted Ph.D.s jousted in a debate over whether planning for climate adaptation makes it less likely that individuals and communities will take action to reduce carbon emissions.

3D-printed weather stations fill gaps in developing world

BOULDER — Scientists have successfully installed the first wave of low-cost weather stations that are designed to provide critically needed information to farmers and other residents in developing countries. The stations are built largely with 3D-printed parts that can be easily replaced if they wear out in the field. They were created by weather experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its managing entity, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). The first five stations, newly installed in Zambia, are beginning to transmit information about temperature, rainfall, winds, and other weather parameters. These measurements and the resulting forecasts can provide weather information for local subsistence farmers deciding when to plant and fertilize crops. They can also alert communities about floods and other potential disasters. A newly installed weather station at the Salvation Army's College of Biomedical Sciences in Chikankata, Zambia. The sensor on the left (with the funnel) is a specially designed tipping bucket rain gauge; the vertical, vented cylinder on the vertical arm of the station is a radiation shield containing temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors; and the horizontal cylinder protruding out the back contains a single-board computer. A wind vane (left), solar light sensor (middle), and three-cup wind anemometer (right) are mounted on the upper arm.  The station is powered by a single solar panel and a backup battery. (©UCAR. Photo by Martin Steinson. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) "It’s a major opportunity to provide weather information that farmers have never had before," said NCAR scientist Paul Kucera, one of the project leaders. "This can literally make the difference when it comes to being able to feed their families." The scientists will next explore the need for low-cost weather stations in other developing countries. The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. National Weather Service. “The bottom line is that 3D-printing will help to save lives,” said Sezin Tokar, a hydrometeorologist with U.S. AID. “Not only can they provide countries with the ability to more accurately monitor for weather-related disasters, the data they produce can also help reduce the economic impact of disasters.” Lack of observations Like many developing countries, Zambia does not have detailed forecasts, partly because weather stations are scarce. The density of stations in Africa is eight times lower than recommended by the World Meteorological Organization. Building out a network can be prohibitively expensive, with a single commercial weather station often costing $10,000 to $20,000, plus ongoing funding for maintenance and replacing worn-out parts. To fill this need, UCAR and NCAR scientists have worked for years to come up with a weather station that is cheap and easy to fix, and can be adapted to the needs of the host country. The resulting stations are constructed out of plastic parts that are custom designed and can be run off a 3D printer, along with off-the-shelf sensors and a basic, credit card-sized computer developed for schoolchildren. Total cost: about $300 per station. Best of all, the host country can easily print replacement parts. "If you want a different kind of wind direction gauge or anemometer, or you just need to replace a broken part, you can just print it out yourself," said project co-lead Martin Steinson of UCAR. "Our role is to make this as accessible as possible. This is entirely conceived as an open-source project." Building out a network Working with the Zambian Meteorological Department and other agencies, Kucera and Steinson installed the first stations earlier this year—three next to radio stations that will broadcast the information to local communities, one by a rural hospital, and one by the headquarters of the meteorological department. The meteorological office will take over the project later this year, with a goal of building out a network of 100 weather stations across Zambia. They will also have the 3D printers, materials, and training to maintain or upgrade the network. The weather station measurements are accessible to local meteorologists and also transmitted over wireless networks in real time to NCAR. After all the weather stations have been installed, scientists will develop a system of one- to three-day regional forecasts for Zambia using the NCAR-based Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) computer model. The forecasts, in addition to helping farmers and other residents, can also alert the country to the threat of impending floods or other weather-related disasters. The system will ultimately be transferred to the Zambian Meteorological Department to run the forecasts. "The objective of the project is to transfer the technology so this will be run by Zambia," Kucera said. Once the technology has been established in Zambia, Kucera and Steinson will turn to other nations that need additional weather stations, such as in Africa or the Caribbean. In addition to improving local forecasts, the additional observations can eventually make a difference for forecasts globally because computer models everywhere will have additional information about the atmosphere. "We’re hearing a lot of interest in using this technology in other countries," Kucera said. "It’s really quite a return on investment." Writer:David Hosansky, Manager of Media Relations

Helping postdocs find their own path

| Postdoctoral researchers have a lot of specialized scientific knowledge. But transitioning into the next phase of life can be daunting.

With that challenge in mind, nearly 70 National Science Foundation geoscience postdocs from around the country received tailored career development services last week at a first-of-its-kind workshop hosted by NCAR/UCAR.

The 2 1/2-day workshop included expert-led sessions on career management, work-life balance, proposal writing, communication, job interviewing, and salary negotiation.

3D printers promise affordable weather stations for the developing world

July 22, 2015 | A well-knit network of weather stations is critical to making accurate regional forecasts and understanding the long-term impacts of a changing climate. But in parts of the developing world, working weather stations are few and far between. Fixing the problem could require significant international investment, extensive training of technicians, and a bevy of costly meteorological equipment—or maybe just a 3D printer, some off-the-shelf sensors, and a cheap, credit card-sized computer developed for school kids. Technologists Kelly Sponberg and Martin Steinson think the latter is a possibility for filling in the often substantial distances between high-tech weather stations in places like Africa, where the density of stations is eight times lower than recommended by the World Meteorological Organization. Sponberg and Steinson develop new tools for the meteorology community through the Joint Office of Science Support (JOSS), a program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Paul Kucera, an NCAR scientist, holds a wind direction gauge while checking connections and cables for a prototype 3D-printed weather station at a test site outside Boulder. The vertical, vented cylinder at right is a radiation shield containing temperature, humidity, pressure, and altitude sensors. The funnel on the left contains a specially designed precipitation gauge. The horizontal cylinder protruding out the back contains a single-board computer. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) In countries where resources are tight, it's been a long-term challenge to come up with the funds to pay for weather-observing equipment. Even when money is provided, sometimes by international organizations, it's not uncommon for a broken piece of equipment to stay offline since local technicians rarely have the training or specialized parts needed to come up with a fix. JOSS has been focusing on this problem for years. One past solution involved installing high-end consumer weather stations, each costing around $1,000. These relatively inexpensive installations were good enough to provide some basic observations, but they weren't customizable. When they started to fail, parts couldn't be replaced because the manufacturers had long since quit making them. So Sponberg and Steinson turned their attention to building a weather station that is affordable, made to order, and easy to fix. "It's the right time for something like this," Sponberg said. "There's an explosion of cheaper and cheaper sensors, cheaper and cheaper computing systems, and cheaper and cheaper manufacturing technologies, like 3D printers. All we had to do is bring it all together." Print it, use it, break it—print it again The result is the Micro-Manufacturing and Assembly (MMA) project. The idea is to print the pieces of the weather station—which would vary depending on what the national meteorological service in a particular country wants—plug in off-the-shelf sensors, and use Raspberry Pi, a tiny low-cost computer originally developed by a nonprofit foundation to teach basic coding, as the station's brains. The price of parts and materials is about $200 per weather station. Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development. As pieces break, or a country's meteorological service decides it wants to tweak or expand the station's capabilities, new parts can be printed and sensors can be easily upgraded. "This is an open source project," Sponberg said. "You can design the station and build it yourself, and, after a few years, if you decide you want the anemometer to work better or in a different way, for example, you have the tools to just print that yourself." For the last year, a prototype 3D-printed station has been put through its paces—enduring rain, snow, wind, and the sometimes unrelenting Colorado sunshine—at UCAR's Marshall field site south of Boulder. So far, the materials seem to be holding up well. Once the prototype has proven both sturdy and reliable, the plan is to begin deploying stations in the field, perhaps late this year. Determining where stations are installed, however, will be as important as how well the stations work. For a project to be successful, the local community has to support it, Sponberg and Steinson said. Getting buy-in from the local community requires understanding local needs and how better weather observations—which can ultimately create better local forecasts—can help meet those needs, they said. Involving the community in the design process is also essential. The team is focusing on Zambia for the initial location because they've worked there in the past and can tap into existing relationships to make sure the community is involved. "The community needs to value the weather observations and the weather station," Sponberg said. "The observation network will only survive if there's a human network behind it." UCAR's Martin Steinson examines a rain gauge, one of the key weather station components produced by 3D printing. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) Writer Laura Snider Contact David Hosansky Funder U.S. Agency for International Development

Inside the national assessment

May 22, 2014 | You’ll often find staff from UCAR’s Joint Office for Science Support working to keep field projects and conferences running smoothly. This month JOSS found itself in the spotlight with the release of the 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Meteorology across the Taiwan Strait

When two nations are at odds, scientists are sometimes among the first who can bridge the gap. During much of the Cold War, Walter Orr Roberts—the founding president of UCAR and first director of NCAR—maintained connections with a number of colleagues in the USSR and visited there often. Richard Anthes, who served as UCAR president from 1988 to 2012, was among the first U.S. scientists to visit China as tensions between the countries began to ease. Careful planning and some last-minute diplomacy were needed in 1989 to produce the first major meeting between atmospheric scientists from Taiwan and mainland China. As Anthes explains below, UCAR was a key part of the story. Rick Anthes • January 24, 2014 | I recently participated in the Hong Kong Meteorological Society’s 25th Anniversary Conference on East Asia and Western Pacific Meteorology and Climate, held in Hong Kong last November 2–4. It was an especially meaningful occasion for me, because in 1988–89 I helped organize and sponsor what would be the first open meeting between meteorologists from mainland China and Taiwan since the Communist revolution in 1949. Participants from two key Hong Kong meetings: (top) the International Conference on East Asia and Western Pacific Meteorology and Climate, held July 6–8, 1989, and (bottom) the Fifth Conference on East Asia and Western Pacific Meteorology and Climate, held November 2–4, 2013. The latter meeting also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Hong Kong Meteorological Society. Here are high-resolution versions of the 1989 and 2013 group portraits. (Photos courtesy Hong Kong Meteorological Society.) The meeting was held in Hong Kong, a neutral venue at the time because Hong Kong was still a British Crown Colony. (It was transferred to China on July 1, 1997.) As a nongovernmental, science-based, academic organization, UCAR played an important role in making this meeting possible under an extremely difficult political climate. My friend and colleague C.P. Chang, who was then a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, recently wrote a fascinating history of this first meeting: “The beginning of meteorological exchange across the Taiwan Strait – Recollection of an ice-breaking event two decades ago.” (See English translation [PDF]) C.P.’s essay provides a rare and unusually candid look into the politics and personalities of leaders of the meteorological communities on both sides of the strait at this time, and the courage of a few individuals to take risks in order to start building a bridge between the two scientific communities. Getting beyond “no” In the 1960s and 1970s, the political climate across the Taiwan Straits was extremely hostile. The visit of a delegation of the American Meteorological Society to China in 1974 was a milestone in establishing a somewhat normal relationship between U.S. and Chinese meteorologists. But contact between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese meteorologists was difficult because their meteorological societies were closely associated with government weather services. The Taiwanese government staff was strictly prohibited against contacting anyone from the mainland, and vice versa. In his essay, C.P. writes of one consequence of these hostilities: “In 1979, [Taiwan president] Chiang Ching-kuo issued the official directive of ‘three No’s’ policy for participants of international conferences or activities in which people from the mainland also participated: No contact, No negotiation, and No compromise. As encounters with mainland counterparts in international scientific conferences became inevitable, the three No’s policy had caused too many awkward moments for Taiwan scientists. Mr. Wang Chi-wu, National Science Council’s Vice Chairman in charge of international cooperation, tried to modify the directive to another rather amusing “three No’s” for scientists in international meetings only: No contact, No handshake, and No avoidance. Namely, Taiwan scientists should not have contact with mainland counterparts, yet they should not been seen as withdrawing. This of course created even more awkward situations so that most people ignored at least one of the three.” One meeting within another The July 1989 conference was the first organized scientific meeting of the two meteorological communities, but it was held under the cover of an international meeting on East Asia and Western Pacific meteorology and climate. Its origins go back to 1987, when internationally renowned professors Tao Shiyan and Ding Yihui (Institute for Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing) approached Patrick Sham (director of the Royal Observatory Hong Kong, now the Hong Kong Observatory) to explore whether the observatory might host the meeting. This proved impossible, since the government of Hong Kong was very much opposed to being involved in any activity between Taiwan and mainland China. However, Patrick Sham (who happened to be the first Chinese director of the observatory during the period of British rule), personally supported the idea of a rapprochement between the meteorologists of both sides. To enable and host such a meeting, the nongovernmental Hong Kong Meteorological Society was created, and the meeting was designed as a gathering of individual scientists, rather than national representatives. C.P. Chang at the November 2013 meeting. (Photo by Rick Anthes.) Because of the ongoing tensions, C.P. Chang could not take a visible lead in organizing or supporting the meeting from the U.S. side. He contacted me in 1988 to see if UCAR, as a nonprofit academic organization, would take this leadership role. C.P. knew that I had made several visits to both the mainland and Taiwan since 1982 and had good relations with leading meteorologists in both places. So I welcomed the opportunity to help with the meeting. I contacted Karyn Sawyer (now the director of UCP’s Joint Office for Science Support, JOSS). Karyn had extensive experience in international projects involving the mainland and Taiwanese meteorologists. She enthusiastically agreed to help, and her Joint International Climate Projects/Planning Office, the predecessor of JOSS, provided some crucial funding to the new Hong Kong Meteorological Society to support their organization of the meeting. Organizing a meeting between mainland and Taiwanese meteorologists back then was challenging enough in “ordinary” times, but the difficulties associated with this first meeting exploded with the June 4, 1989, incident at Tiananmen Square, which occurred just a month before the meeting was scheduled to occur. Already-high tensions rose even further, as all international exchanges were suspended by the mainland government and travel across the border between the mainland and Hong Kong border was banned. For a time it appeared certain that the meeting would have to be cancelled. Indeed, in late June mainland Chinese authorities officially notified Karyn that the meeting was postponed indefinitely. The easy path would have been one of graceful acceptance and regrouping to try again sometime in the future. But C.P. did not give up. He plunged into many lengthy negotiations by phone, often in the middle of the night, with Zou Jingmeng, administrator of the State Meteorological Administration (now the China Meteorological Administration), as well as other leaders in China. Many mainland scientists did not have home telephones, which made the process even more challenging. At first it looked as if these intensive negotiations had failed. But in mid-June, less than two weeks before the meeting was scheduled to begin, Karyn received word from the mainland Chinese that the conference was back on as scheduled. She immediately sent a telegram to C.P.: “Conference resumed, to take place 6 to 8 July as scheduled.” As C.P. recalls, “This was a big and certainly pleasant surprise!” Chi-ming Shun, director of the Hong Kong Observatory, and Rick Anthes (right), at the November 2013 meeting. Behind Anthes is a roster of previous directors of the observatory, which was established in 1883. (Photo courtesy Rick Anthes.) The meeting was very successful, leading to three more meetings that UCAR helped organize and sponsor, including one each in Hong Kong; Jungli, Taiwan; and Hangzhou, China. The proceedings of these four meetings were published by the World Scientific Publishing Company; the fourth one became the basis of the inaugural volume of the World Scientific Series on Asia-Pacific Weather and Climate, launched in 2000. Progress borne out of uncertain times The fragility of the times in China in the days after Tiananmen Square and the precarious nature of this meeting—the only external scientific meeting allowed by the Chinese government that summer—was illustrated by an anecdote shared at last fall’s 25th anniversary conference. One of the mainland participants told C.P. that when their delegation boarded the airplane from Beijing to Hong Kong to attend the 1989 meeting, they found that the plane was empty. The dozen of them were the only passengers for the whole flight. Despite the enormous change in the political environment in the region from 1989 to 2013, the interactions among the people attending the two meetings were remarkably similar.  Relations were not only cordial and respectful but, perhaps surprisingly, warm.  Difficult subjects were avoided; topics of conversation, as at most meteorological conferences, centered around science, families, personal interests, and of course the weather (Typhoon Krosa was affecting Hong Kong at the November 2013 meeting). During the 25th anniversary conference, the Hong Kong Meteorological Society awarded honorary membership to six scientists for their contributions to the successful organization of the 1989 conference and the establishment of the society. C.P. and I were the U.S. recipients. The others were Ding Yihui from mainland China, Ching-yen Tsay from Taiwan, and Patrick Sham and Chiu-ying Lam from Hong Kong.  A note of thanks I wish to acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of a number of people who created the historic meeting a quarter century ago. Positions are those as of July 1989. C.P. Chang (professor, Naval Postgraduate School) Zou Jingmeng (administrator, State Meteorological Administration) Tao Shiyan and Ding Yihui (professors, Institute for Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences) Patrick Sham and Chiu-ying Lam (director and senior scientific officer, Royal Observatory Hong Kong) Ching-yen Tsay (chairman, Atmospheric Sciences Department, National Taiwan University)  

AMS honors four staff members, board chair

October 9, 2012 | The American Meteorological Society tipped its hat to four NCAR and UCP staff members—and the head of UCAR’s Board of Trustees—last week with the announcement of the society’s 2013 award winners. All winners will be honored in January at the AMS Annual Meeting in Austin.

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