August 12, 2013 | With Congress on its August break, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) stopped by the Mesa Lab on August 8 for an afternoon briefing arranged by the UCAR President’s Office. The senator was brought up to speed on several projects of keen interest, including UCP’s COSMIC program.
In a short press conference before the briefing, UCAR president Tom Bogdan introduced Udall, who voiced his support for COSMIC-2, a follow-up to the highly successful COSMIC mission. As was the case with the original project, COSMIC-2 will launch a constellation of microsatellites that intercept GPS signals and use them to infer characteristics of weather and climate around the globe. With twice as many satellites, COSMIC-2 has the potential to gather up to ten times as many atmospheric profiles—more than 10,000 per day—and provide significant benefits for weather prediction and climate monitoring.
Taiwan is providing half of the estimated $420 million needed for COSMIC-2, provided that U.S. agencies pick up the remainder. The U.S. Air Force is budgeting $140 million, with NOAA projected to cover the remaining $70 million. Thanks in large part to the support of Udall and Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), the U.S. Senate’s spending plan for FY 2014 currently includes a $4 million “down payment” toward NOAA’s portion of COSMIC-2.
Although the U.S. House has yet to finalize its FY14 budget, and the House and Senate versions will need to be reconciled, Udall expressed optimism that COSMIC-2 will make the cut. “It’ll help keep us in the forefront of weather and climate science,” he said.
Tom thanked the senator for his support of COSMIC-2 as well as other research and technology initiatives. “We are very grateful for Senator Udall’s watchful eye and steadfast support during his decade and a half tenure in Congress,” Tom said at the press conference. “From the beginning of his service and continuing through today, Senator Udall has been a dependable ally and champion to the Colorado research and high-tech community.”
Following the press conference, Udall was briefed on the project by UCAR president emeritus Rick Anthes, one of the original COSMIC principal investigators and now a senior adviser on the project. Anthes noted that, as with the original COSMIC, UCP’s primary role will be to host the data center where incoming observations are processed, distributed, and archived.
UCP is one of only a handful of sites in the world that can do the type of data processing needed for COSMIC-2, Anthes said. The data will not only feed into operational weather prediction models but will also serve as a gold standard for assessing Earth’s changing climate. “It is the world’s most accurate and precise thermometer from space,” said Rick of the COSMIC system.
RAL deputy director Bill Mahoney then gave Udall an overview of the lab’s efforts to improve renewable energy efficiency through highly specific weather predictions for wind turbines and solar arrays. The wind energy forecasting techniques developed with support from Xcel over the last several years have now led to more than $20 million in net savings for the company and its ratepayers. With the help of the improved forecasts, Xcel can ramp down its use of traditional power plants more often with more confidence, said Bill: “It’s a real success story.”
Bill also showed Udall a simulation of last year’s High Park Fire near Fort Collins. The animation was created by MMM’s Janice Coen and colleagues using CAWFE, the Coupled Atmosphere–Wildland Fire Environment model (NCAR/U.S. Department of Agriculture). “It captures the behavior of the fire very nicely,” said Bill. Researchers are working to identify users interested in supporting an operational version of CAWFE and a testbed where improvements can take shape.
Expressing his support for all three projects, Udall and his staff stayed at NCAR beyond their scheduled departure time in order to view the wildfire animation and also get details about dropsondes from EOL director Vanda Grubišić.