NCAR

Getting to know Anke Kamrath

September 21, 2017 | As part of a series of interviews with new leaders at NCAR/UCAR, Staff News recently chatted with Anke Kamrath. Anke was named the director of CISL earlier this summer after serving as interim director since September 2016. 

Staff News: You came to NCAR in 2009 after 22 years at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.  How did you end up in the field of supercomputing? 

Quantifying the benefits of cutting carbon

September 18, 2017 | Perhaps tens of thousands of studies have detailed the possible impacts of a changing climate: the amount of sea level rise we can expect by the end of the century, for example, or the regions of the world that will likely experience more severe droughts.But rarely do these studies outline the actual benefits that society would gain from emitting fewer greenhouse gases instead of more. Instead, they often compare what is likely to happen in a particular scenario — such as emissions continuing unabated — to what the climate was like in the past."Most studies don't give us a good sense of what we have to gain by mitigating. What are the benefits of capping warming at 2 degrees Celsius instead of 3, for example?" said NCAR scientist Brian O'Neill. "That's important information for policy makers because mitigation has a price, and you need to understand the benefits to weigh them against the cost."O'Neill and dozens of colleagues from NCAR and universities across the country have recently wrapped up a major effort to wrestle with this problem. The results from the project — the Benefits of Reduced Anthropogenic Climate changE (BRACE) — are published in a special issue of the journal Climatic Change.For BRACE, scientists explored what the world would look like through 2100 in two different scenarios: a business-as-usual emissions scenario with a temperature increase of about 3.7 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels and a moderate mitigation scenario where warming is reduced to about 2.5 degrees Celsius. By comparing the two worlds, they were able to calculate the benefits of moderate mitigation for a range of areas, from agriculture to health to extreme events.Additionally, the researchers looked at how different pathways of societal development — including population growth, economic growth, and technological development — might play a role or even outweigh the climate effects."It's important to analyze the effects of societal change alongside the effects of climate change," O'Neill said. "Societal change can matter as much as climate change. And in some cases, it matters more."The results of the studies vary significantly across sectors. When it comes to extreme heat, for example, the benefits of reducing emissions are clear and significant. In other areas, the findings are more nuanced. In agriculture, for example, the potential fertilizing effects of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ability of some farmers to adapt — by adding nitrogen fertilizer in regions where it isn't currently used, for example — could in some cases mute, or even cancel out, the benefits of mitigation.The BRACE project has studied the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a number of areas, including extreme heat, mosquito-borne diseases, droughts, tropical cyclones, and agriculture. (Photo collage, UCAR.)Natural variability or climate change?For the studies, the scientists relied on two sets of simulations from the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model. For each set — one representing a future with no mitigation and the other a future with moderate mitigation — the scientists drew from more than a dozen simulations. Having an "ensemble" of model runs allowed them to better estimate extreme events, which occur rarely by definition and are therefore difficult to capture with just one or two simulations. It also allowed them to distinguish the effects of human-caused climate change from natural climate variability.In many cases, the ensembles allowed the scientists to demonstrate a substantial benefit of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. One study found that extreme heat waves that today have just a one in 20 chance of occurring in any given year could become six to 20 times more common if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. In the moderate mitigation scenario, such heat waves would likely become just 2 to 4 times more common.Other studies of extreme heat showed similar benefits. For example, scientists found the likelihood that a single summer between 2060 and 2080 would be hotter than any in the historical record to be 80 percent if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. But that risk is cut in half, to 41 percent, with moderate mitigation.In some areas of study, however, natural variability still overwhelms the impact of climate change, making it difficult to measure the benefits of mitigation. This was true for several BRACE studies that looked at how tropical cyclones — and the damage they can cause — would differ between the two scenarios. The studies found that tropical cyclone damage (and number of storms) might actually increase if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, though the intensity of storms might also be lessened.However, the storm findings were not statistically robust, meaning the data were too noisy to detect a clear signal."Tropical cyclones are highly variable, so to show a real difference between the present and the future, we would need to run the model many more times to accurately describe how present and future storms are different," said NCAR scientist Andrew Gettelman, who led one of the studies.Still, there are several plausible explanations for why hurricane activity might decrease if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory. For example, uneven warming of the ocean basins could generate high-level winds, which make it more difficult for storms to form.However, storms might still be more intense due to increases in ocean temperature, and indeed Gettelman and colleagues found increases in frequency for the most intense landfalling storms, despite decreases in overall storm numbers.The BRACE researchers' work on this topic is made more difficult by the relatively short historical record that exists for hurricanes. Though observations of landfalling hurricanes stretch back as long as people have lived near coasts, a comprehensive record of how many cyclones form across the globe's oceans only began at the dawn of the satellite era in 1979. With only a few decades of data to create a baseline, it's difficult to detect future trends, Gettelman said.Additionally, global climate models are typically run at a resolution that is too coarse for individual cyclones to form. While hurricanes do form in climate models when run at a high resolution, it is not yet clear that those storms are behaving in a way that matches what would happen in the real world.The societal effect Even if climate models could accurately simulate tropical cyclones, it might still be difficult to determine the benefit, at least in terms of decreased damage, that might be realized if greenhouse gas emissions were cut. That's because societal choices also play an important role. For example, in the study led by Gettelman, the researchers found that any potential changes in storms and the damage they cause were swamped by the projected increase in societal vulnerability: more people and more buildings are projected to be near coastlines, in harm's way.This societal effect also dominated the climate effect in other areas studied for the BRACE project, including heat-related mortality in Houston, and total population exposure to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries diseases including Zika, dengue, and chikungunya."When it comes to human health outcomes, climate change usually becomes an exacerbating factor," said NCAR scientist Andrew Monaghan, who led the study on Aedes aegypti. "Other important factors are governance decisions, socioeconomic development, and population growth trajectories."Monaghan and colleagues found that the amount of land that is climatically suitable for the mosquito to live would increase by 13 percent without any mitigation of greenhouse gases, compared to 8 percent in a moderate mitigation scenario. But the number of people who would be exposed to the mosquito would increase by as much as 130 percent as the population grows in regions where the mosquito can thrive.The societal effect may also be dominant in certain aspects of agriculture, according to the BRACE studies. Fertilizing or irrigating additional land could increase crop yields, for example. And crops that are particularly vulnerable to climate change could be replaced with hardier varieties.Agricultural uncertaintyThe BRACE studies that tried to quantify the agricultural benefits of mitigation also had to contend with another area of uncertainty: How much of a fertilizing effect will increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have on crop yield? Plants need carbon dioxide to grow, and greater availability of carbon dioxide can bolster crop yields. But there are other limiting factors at play, including available water, soil nutrients, and extreme heat.One BRACE study that included the fertilizing effects of increased carbon dioxide found that crop yields would grow by a global average of 11 percent if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory. By comparison, the global average would increase just 6 percent with moderate mitigation."We've already observed a massive ramp-up in crop yields from the 1960s through the current day, due to changes in fertilizer, crop varieties, management, and carbon dioxide levels," said NCAR scientist Peter Lawrence, who worked on the agricultural aspects of the BRACE project. "The big question is what happens as we move forward. We know that our models can accurately represent the relationship between increased carbon dioxide and increased plant growth. But there are a lot of processes our models don't capture, including flooding and the effects of heat waves while plants are flowering."Other agricultural studies in the BRACE project that looked at specific crops found net positive benefits from reducing greenhouse gases. For example, one study found that climate change would decrease potential maize yields in the future (relative to what they would be in the absence of climate change). Maize yields would decrease by a global mean of 27 percent if emissions continue unabated vs. 15 percent with moderate mitigation. Another study found that the exposure of crops to damaging heat above a critical threshold for growth would be reduced by about a third in the moderate mitigation scenario compared to the scenario with no mitigation.The agricultural studies highlight the stubborn uncertainties that persist when trying to determine how crops will be affected in a warming world. And while this makes quantifying the benefits of mitigation more difficult, it also helps set the direction for future research.O'Neill says he hopes all of the more than 20 studies published so far in the BRACE framework will inform the direction of future work, including what questions need to be asked and what kinds of model simulations would prove most useful for finding answers."Even though the BRACE project involved dozens of scientists to research a broad range of sectors, it is really just a start," said O'Neill.About the articleTitle: The Benefits of Reduced Anthropogenic Cliamte changE (BRACE): a synthesisAuthors: Brian C. O’Neill1, James M. Done, Andrew Gettelman, Peter Lawrence, Flavio Lehner, Jean-Francois Lamarque, Lei Lin, Andrew J. Monaghan, Keith Oleson, Xiaolin Ren, Benjamin M. Sanderson, Claudia Tebaldi, Matthias Weitzel, Yangyang Xu, Brooke Anderson, Miranda J. Fix, and Samuel LevisJournal: Climatic Change DOI: 10.1007/s10584-017-2009-xCollaboratorsArgonne National LaboratoryBrigham Young UniversityCity University of New YorkColorado School of MinesColorado State UniversityJohns HopkinsIndian Space Research Organization, IndiaLanzhou University, ChinaLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationStanford UniversityStony Brook UniversitySun Yat-sen University, ChinaSwiss Federal Institute of TechnologyTexas A&MThe Climate CorporationUniversity of ArizonaUniversity of Colorado BoulderUniversity of Illinois UrbanaUniversity of WashingtonWriter/contact:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer and Public Information Officer 

NCAR|UCAR hurricane experts available to explain storm behavior, potential impacts

BOULDER, Colo. — As Hurricane Harvey takes aim at Texas, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its managing organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), are closely watching the storm and testing high-resolution computer models.Hurricane experts are available to explain issues such as:How we can better predict the possible impacts of hurricanes, including wind damage, flooding, and subsequent spread of disease-bearing mosquitoes;How people respond to hurricane forecast and warning messages and how risk communication can be improvedWhether climate change is affecting hurricanes and what we can expect in the future;The importance of improving weather models to safeguard life and property.Antonio Busalacchi, UCAR president (please contact David Hosansky for interview requests)An expert on ocean-atmosphere interactions, Busalacchi has testified before Congress on the importance of improving the nation's weather forecasting capabilities to better protect life and property, bolster the economy, and strengthen national security. He has firsthand experience with storms along the Gulf Coast as a part-time New Orleans resident, and he is a member of the Gulf Research Program Advisory Board of the National Academy of Sciences.Christopher Davis, director, NCAR Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Laboratory, cdavis@ucar.edu, 303-497-8990Davis studies the weather systems that lead to hurricanes and other heavy rainfall events. His expertise includes hurricane prediction and how computer models can be improved to better forecast storms. His NCAR weather lab is running experimental computer simulations of Hurricane Harvey.James Done, NCAR scientist, done@ucar.edu, 303-497-8209Done led development of the innovative Cyclone Damage Potential (CDP) index, which quantifies a hurricane's ability to cause destruction, using a scale of 1 to 10. It can also be used to examine the damage potential for cyclones in the future as the climate warms.David Gochis, NCAR scientist, gochis@ucar.edu, 303-497-2809An expert in hydrometeorology, Gochis studies the causes of floods and how to better predict them. He helped develop pioneering software that is at the core of the National Water Model. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Water Prediction uses this model to provide a continuous picture of all the waterways in the contiguous United States and alert officials to potentially dangerous floods.Matthew Kelsch, UCAR hydrometeorologist, kelsch@ucar.edu, 303-497-8309Kelsch has studied some of the biggest U.S. flood events connected to hurricanes and tropical storms. He trains scientists and forecasters from around the world on emerging hydrology and weather topics.Rebecca Morse, NCAR scientist, morss@ucar.edu, 303-497-8172Morss studies the predictability of hurricane-related hazards, including storm surge and inland flooding, and hurricane and flood risk communication and evauation decision making.Kevin Trenberth, NCAR senior scientist, trenbert@ucar.edu, 303-497-1318Trenberth is an expert on the global climate system. He has been in the forefront of scientists examining the potential influence of climate change on the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes and the increased widespread flooding that they cause.Jeff Weber, UCAR meteorologist, jweber@ucar.edu, 303-497-8676As an expert on hurricanes and severe weather in general, Weber closely monitors the behavior of individual storms and the larger atmospheric and oceanic conditions that influence them.

Dino-killing asteroid could have thrust Earth into two years of darkness

BOULDER, Colo. — Tremendous amounts of soot, lofted into the air from global wildfires following a massive asteroid strike 66 million years ago, would have plunged Earth into darkness for nearly two years, new research finds. This would have shut down photosynthesis, drastically cooled the planet, and contributed to the mass extinction that marked the end of the age of dinosaurs.These new details about how the climate could have dramatically changed following the impact of a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid will be published Aug. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with support from NASA and the University of Colorado Boulder, used a world-class computer model to paint a rich picture of how Earth’s conditions might have looked at the end of the Cretaceous Period, information that paleobiologists may be able to use to better understand why some species died, especially in the oceans, while others survived.Scientists estimate that more than three-quarters of all species on Earth, including all non-avian dinosaurs, disappeared at the boundary of the Cretaceous-Paleogene periods, an event known as the K-Pg extinction. Evidence shows that the extinction occurred at the same time that a large asteroid hit Earth in what is now the Yucatán Peninsula. The collision would have triggered earthquakes, tsunamis, and even volcanic eruptions.Scientists also calculate that the force of the impact would have launched vaporized rock high above Earth's surface, where it would have condensed into small particles known as spherules. As the spherules fell back to Earth, they would have been heated by friction to temperatures high enough to spark global fires and broil Earth's surface. A thin layer of spherules can be found worldwide in the geologic record."The extinction of many of the large animals on land could have been caused by the immediate aftermath of the impact, but animals that lived in the oceans or those that could burrow underground or slip underwater temporarily could have survived," said NCAR scientist Charles Bardeen, who led the study. "Our study picks up the story after the initial effects — after the earthquakes and the tsunamis and the broiling. We wanted to look at the long-term consequences of the amount of soot we think was created and what those consequences might have meant for the animals that were left."Other study co-authors are Rolando Garcia and Andrew Conley, both NCAR scientists, and Owen “Brian” Toon, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.An illustration of an asteroid impacting Earth. (Image courtesy NASA.)A world without photosynthesisIn past studies, researchers have estimated the amount of soot that might have been produced by global wildfires by measuring soot deposits still preserved in the geologic record. For the new study, Bardeen and his colleagues used the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model (CESM) to simulate the effect of the soot on global climate going forward. They used the most recent estimates of the amount of fine soot found in the layer of rock left after the impact (15,000 million tons), as well as larger and smaller amounts, to quantify the climate's sensitivity to more or less extensive fires.In the simulations, soot heated by the Sun was lofted higher and higher into the atmosphere, eventually forming a global barrier that blocked the vast majority of sunlight from reaching Earth's surface. “At first it would have been about as dark as a moonlit night," Toon said.While the skies would have gradually brightened, photosynthesis would have been impossible for more than a year and a half, according to the simulations. Because many of the plants on land would have already been incinerated in the fires, the darkness would likely have had its greatest impact on phytoplankton, which underpin the ocean food chain. The loss of these tiny organisms would have had a ripple effect through the ocean, eventually devastating many species of marine life.The research team also found that photosynthesis would have been temporarily blocked even at much lower levels of soot. For example, in a simulation using only 5,000 million tons of soot — about a third of the best estimate from measurements — photosynthesis would still have been impossible for an entire year.In the simulations, the loss of sunlight caused a steep decline in average temperatures at Earth's surface, with a drop of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) over land and 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) over the oceans.While Earth's surface cooled in the study scenarios, the atmosphere higher up in the stratosphere actually became much warmer as the soot absorbed light from the Sun. The warmer temperatures caused ozone destruction and allowed for large quantities of water vapor to be stored in the upper atmosphere. The water vapor then chemically reacted in the stratosphere to produce hydrogen compounds that led to further ozone destruction. The resulting ozone loss would have allowed damaging doses of ultraviolet light to reach Earth's surface after the soot cleared.The large reservoir of water in the upper atmosphere formed in the simulations also caused the layer of sunlight-blocking soot to be removed abruptly after lingering for years, a finding that surprised the research team. As the soot began to settle out of the stratosphere, the air began to cool. This cooling, in turn, caused water vapor to condense into ice particles, which washed even more soot out of the atmosphere. As a result of this feedback loop — cooling causing precipitation that caused more cooling — the thinning soot layer disappeared in just a few months.Challenging the modelWhile the scientists think the new study gives a robust picture of how large injections of soot into the atmosphere can affect the climate, they also caution that the study has limitations.For example, the simulations were run in a model of modern-day Earth, not a model representing what Earth looked like during the Cretaceous Period, when the continents were in slightly different locations. The atmosphere 66 million years ago also contained somewhat different concentrations of gases, including higher levels of carbon dioxide.Additionally, the simulations did not try to account for volcanic eruptions or sulfur released from the Earth's crust at the site of the asteroid impact, which would have resulted in an increase in light-reflecting sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere.The study also challenged the limits of the computer model's atmospheric component, known as the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM)."An asteroid collision is a very large perturbation — not something you would normally see when modeling future climate scenarios," Bardeen said. "So the model was not designed to handle this and, as we went along, we had to adjust the model so it could handle some of the event's impacts, such as warming of the stratosphere by over 200 degrees Celsius."These improvements to WACCM could be useful for other types of studies, including modeling a "nuclear winter" scenario. Like global wildfires millions of years ago, the explosion of nuclear weapons could also inject large amounts of soot into the atmosphere, which could lead to a temporary global cooling."The amount of soot created by nuclear warfare would be much less than we saw during the K-Pg extinction," Bardeen said. "But the soot would still alter the climate in similar ways, cooling the surface and heating the upper atmosphere, with potentially devastating effects."Writer:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer

Eclipse science, then and now

 Eclipse Megamovie updatesAugust 22, 2017 | The Eclipse Megamovie project is gathering still images and video captured by the public to compile a nonstop view of the eclipse as it crossed the continental United States. There is still time to submit your images: the movie will expand with new ones as they are submitted at the Eclipse Megamovie website.August 15, 2017 | Scientists are eager to capture images of this year's eclipse — but that's nothing new. Researchers have been poring over images of total solar eclipses practically since there were images available to pore over. Thanks to the NCAR High Altitude Observatory (HAO), while you wait for Monday's Great American Eclipse of 2017, you can gaze at those same images, too. The solar scientists at HAO host an online gallery with 140 years of eclipse photos, starting in 1869. You can also see how modern processing techniques have unveiled previously hidden features of the Sun's corona within photos taken as early as 1901 and as recently as 2009.Miloslav Druckmüller selected images of differing exposures taken during the 1901 eclipse in Padang, Sumatra, and processed them with modern techniques. The result at right reveals useful details for studying coronal features. (Images courtesy NCAR HAO Eclipse Archive; freely available for media & nonprofit use.) The archive of research-quality images grew out of efforts at NCAR to find and copy the earliest photographic plates available and record details of precisely where they were taken. The researchers then added to the collection with images of eclipses captured by special coronagraph telescopes, first using film cameras and more recently digital ones, during scientific expeditions all over the world.Visit the HAO Eclipse Archive >Chasing the 2017 eclipseOn August 21, scientists from NCAR and other research organizations will be capturing as much data as they can from the total eclipse as it crosses the United States. In fact, to extend the maximum viewing time during totality beyond two minutes and 40 seconds, an NCAR research team will "chase" the eclipse with the NSF/NCAR HIAPER research jet, a modified Gulfstream V. Specialized instruments aboard the aircraft will take measurements of polarization and infrared heat in the solar corona for about four minutes.NCAR to take rare infrared measurements during solar eclipse>Video GallerySteve Tomcyzk (NCAR scientist) and Scott Sewell (NCAR engineer and Instrumentation Group manager) describe two of the forthcoming science experiments during the 2017 North American eclipse. (©UCAR. Watch on YouTube.)NCAR's High Altitude Observatory has been studying the Sun's corona since 1940, and contributes to advances in specialized telescopes for that purpose, including the Newkirk Coronograph in the 1960s and improvements that have followed. Because a total solar eclipse is even better than a coronagraph, HAO scientists have studied eclipses around the world for decades as well. Learn more about eclipses and HAO's research into the mysteries of the Sun in this short animated video. (©UCAR. Watch on YouTube.)After a short history of HAO, Mark Miesch (NCAR scientist) describes how citizen scientists can participate in the Eclipse Megamovie. He also talks about the Mobile Earth and Sun Observatory (MESO), which will be in Sutton, Nebraska for the eclipse. Eclipse eye safety and what to watch for round out this short video. (©UCAR. Watch on YouTube.)  More eclipse resources from the UCAR Center for Science Education>

Five NCAR researchers added to senior scientist ranks

August 15, 2017 | At its spring meeting in Washington, D.C., the UCAR Board of Trustees appointed five new NCAR Senior Scientists:

Eclipse science along the path of totality

BOULDER, Colo. — Leading U.S. solar scientists today highlighted research activities that will take place across the country during next month's rare solar eclipse, advancing our knowledge of the Sun's complex and mysterious magnetic field and its effect on Earth's atmosphere.Experts at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) provided details at this morning's press conference about the array of technologies and methodologies that will be used to obtain unprecedented views of the Sun on Aug. 21. The experiments, led by specialized researchers, will also draw on observations by amateur skywatchers and students to fill in the picture."This total solar eclipse across the United States is a fundamentally unique opportunity in modern times, enabling the entire country to be engaged with modern technology and social media," said Carrie Black, an associate program director at NSF who oversees solar research. "Images and data from potentially as many as millions of people will be collected and analyzed by scientists for years to come."Total solar eclipse over India in 1980. (©UCAR, High Altitude Observatory. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)"This is a generational event," agreed Madhulika Guhathakurta, NASA lead scientist for the 2017 eclipse. "This is going to be the most documented, the most appreciated eclipse ever."The scientific experiments will take place along the path of totality, a 70-mile wide ribbon stretching from Oregon to South Carolina where the moon will completely cover the visible disk of the Sun. Depending on the location, viewers will get to experience the total eclipse for as long as 2 minutes and 40 seconds. It will take about an hour and a half for the eclipse to travel across the sky from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic.NASA and other organizations are reminding viewers to take eye safety precautions because it is not safe to look at the Sun during an eclipse.For scientists, the celestial event is a rare opportunity to test new instruments and to observe the elusive outer atmosphere of the Sun, or solar corona, which is usually obscured by the bright surface of the Sun. Many scientific questions focus on the corona, including why it is far hotter than the surface and what role it plays in spewing large streams of charged particles, known as coronal mass ejections, that can buffet Earth's atmosphere and disrupt GPS systems and other sensitive technologies.Black noted that the moon will align exactly with the Sun's surface, which will enable observations of the entire corona, including very low regions that are rarely detectable. Obtaining observations from the ground is particularly important, she explained, because far more data can be transmitted than would be possible from space-based instruments."The moon is about as perfect an occulter as one can get," she said. "And what makes this an even more valuable opportunity is that everyone has access to it."In addition to training ground-based instruments on the Sun, scientists will also deploy aircraft to follow the eclipse, thereby increasing the amount of time they can take observations.An NCAR research team, for example, will use the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream-V research aircraft to take infrared measurements for about four minutes, helping scientists better understand the solar corona's magnetism and thermal structure. Scientists with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder will use visible and infrared telescopes on NASA's twin WB-57 airplanes in a tag-team approach, enabling them to get a unique look at both the solar corona and Mercury for about eight minutes. The goal is to better understand how energy moves through the corona as well as learning more about the composition and properties of Mercury's surface.Scientists will also study Earth's outer atmosphere during the eclipse. The ionosphere is a remote region of the atmosphere containing particles that are charged by solar radiation. Disturbances in the ionosphere can affect low-frequency radio waves. By blocking energy from the Sun, the eclipse provides scientists with an opportunity to study the ionosphere's response to a sudden drop in solar radiation.For example, a Boston University research team will use off-the-shelf cell phone technology to construct a single-frequency GPS array of sensors to study the ionospheric effects of the eclipse. This project could lay the foundation for using consumer smartphones to help monitor the outer atmosphere for disturbances, or space weather events, caused by solar storms. Another experiment, run by researchers at the University of Virginia and George Mason University, will use transmitters broadcasting at low frequencies to probe the response of regions of the ionosphere, while a Virginia Tech team will use a network of radio receives and transmitters across the country to observe the ionosphere's response during the eclipse.Citizen scientists also are expected to play a major role in taking valuable observations during the eclipse."This is a social phenomenon, and we have a significant opportunity to promote this and do all the science that we can," Guhathakurta said.The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse (CATE) Experiment by the National Solar Observatory, for example, will rely on volunteers from universities, high schools, informal education groups, and national labs for an eclipse "relay race." Participants spaced along the path of totality will use identical telescopes and digital camera systems to capture high-quality images that will result in a dataset capturing the entire, 93-minute eclipse across the country. And a project led by the University of California Berkeley will assemble a large number of solar images, obtained by students and amateur observers along the eclipse path to create educational materials as part of the Eclipse Megamovie project."As these projects show, the eclipse will place the Sun firmly in the forefront of the national eye," said Scott McIntosh, director of NCAR's High Altitude Observatory. "This is a unique opportunity to communicate the fact that our star is complex, beautiful, and mysterious. At the same time, it is more critical than ever to study it, as solar activity can pose significant threats to our technologically driven society." 

NCAR to take rare infrared measurements during solar eclipse

July 20, 2017 | Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) plan to use the total eclipse on Aug. 21 to comprehensively measure, for the first time, the infrared radiation streaming out from the Sun's corona. The results could help researchers better understand the structure and evolution of the Sun's mysterious and chaotic magnetic fields. When the moon slides directly between the Earth and the Sun, turning day to twilight for a few precious minutes across a swath of the United States, NCAR scientists will point specialized instruments — mounted onboard a research aircraft as well as deployed on the ground — directly at the Sun. With the blinding light from the Sun's face temporarily blocked, the instruments can characterize how certain wavelengths of infrared radiation are affected by the Sun's magnetic fields."The Sun has never been properly surveyed in the infrared," said NCAR scientist Phil Judge, who is leading NCAR's research effort. "So the Aug. 21 eclipse offers us an almost ideal opportunity to observe something entirely new."NCAR will use the August 2017 total solar eclipse to comprehensively measure, for the first time, the infrared radiation streaming out from the Sun's corona. (The pre-2017 eclipse image shown here is courtesy NASA).NCAR will be using four main instruments to study the Sun during the eclipse: two spectrometers that measure emissions of infrared radiation and two cameras that will image light in the near infrared and visible spectrums. The images from the cameras will provide valuable reference data that the scientists can use to benchmark their infrared measurements.The experiments are a few among many being funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA to allow scientists in the United States to take advantage of the solar eclipse to expand their understanding of the Sun.Chasing the eclipse in the sky The Airborne Infrared Spectrometer (AIR-Spec), built by colleagues at Harvard, will observe the eclipse from onboard the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream-V (G-V) research aircraft.The G-V will start its flight in southeast Missouri and then position itself to chase the eclipse at more than 500 miles per hour across southwestern Kentucky before landing in Tennessee. The flight will stretch the amount of time the eclipse would be visible from 2 minutes and 40 seconds for someone on the ground in Kentucky to about 4 minutes.The G-V will be flying more than 40,000 feet above the ground."The airplane gets the instrument above the clouds and the weather," Judge said. "It also gets it above the water vapor in the atmosphere, which can be a problem for observing in the infrared spectrum." But mounting an astronomical instrument that must be aimed very precisely on an airplane, which can bounce around as it travels through turbulent air, is also a challenge. For this experiment, Harvard doctoral student Jenna Samra has led the construction of a stabilizing pointing platform, which will be useful long after the eclipse is over because it will allow a wide range of telescopes to be used onboard the G-V in the future.In preparation for observing the eclipse, the research team has flown practice flights, chasing the moon on occasions when it travels across the sky on the same trajectory as it will during the eclipse."This is a one-shot deal. If you get it wrong, you don't get another opportunity for years," Judge said. "So we have worked to be as prepared as possible."Observing the eclipse from the ground Before the G-V lifts off in Missouri, NCAR scientists under the eclipse path in Wyoming will also be attempting to observe the Sun's corona. Scientists plan to drive three instruments from Boulder, Colorado, north to Casper Mountain in Wyoming.Like the AIR-Spec instrument flying on the G-V, the spectrometer on the ground is designed to observe light in the infrared spectrum, and scientists hope the measurements will complement and validate those taken in the air. The spectrometer, originally built by NCAR scientist Jim Hannigan as a prototype for another scientific mission, is being repurposed to study the eclipse. Researchers have spent months tuning the instrument to optimize its ability to capture the faint infrared emissions coming from the solar corona."We know the instrument works, fundamentally — it acquires a signal in the infrared," said NCAR engineer Scott Sewell. "But will it be sensitive enough to measure what we think are probably pretty small emission lines from the Sun? That's the question. We have explored different amplifying materials, and we plan to test it on the Moon, but we'll have to wait until Aug. 21 to know for sure."The research team — which includes students Alyssa Boll (Colorado School of MInes) and Keon Gibson (Jackson State University) as well as NCAR scientists Paul Bryans and Steve Tomczyk — will also set up two cameras in Wyoming on sophisticated tripods designed for telescopes.The two cameras are a thermal infrared camera on loan from the FLIR Corporation and a PolarCam from 4D Corporation that captures wavelengths of light visible to the human eye. The images, taken at  the same place and time as the measurements from the infrared spectrometer, will provide a reference dataset to put the infrared findings in context.In addition, the scientists will take three other spectrometers to Wyoming that are on loan from Avantes, Inc. The researchers will use these instruments to observe the flash spectrum of the chromosphere as well as to measure infrared radiation. If the NCAR measurements of infrared light reveal important clues about the structure of the Sun's magnetic fields, the experiments could help build a case for funding the construction of a coronagraph that can measure infrared emissions.Coronagraphs are telescopes that essentially create permanent eclipses by blocking the Sun's face with an artificial disk. While there are coronagraphs installed across the globe, including at NCAR's Mauna Loa Solar Observatory in Hawaii, none currently measure emissions in the far infrared. "The eclipse allows you — through a quirk of nature — to study for a brief period that far, far piece of infrared," said Scott McIntosh, director of NCAR's High Altitude Observatory. "If the results are interesting, it could justify the expense of building a dedicated coronagraph."Writer/contact:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer

UCAR collaboration with The Weather Company to improve weather forecasts worldwide

BOULDER, Colo. — The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) today announced a new collaboration with The Weather Company, an IBM business, to improve global weather forecasting. The partnership brings together cutting-edge computer modeling developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with The Weather Company's meteorological science and IBM's advanced compute equipment."This is a major public-private partnership that will advance weather prediction and generate significant benefits for businesses making critical decisions based on weather forecasts," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. "We are gratified that taxpayer investments in the development of weather models are now helping U.S. industries compete in the global marketplace."UCAR, a nonprofit consortium of 110 universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences, manages NCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation.With the new agreement, The Weather Company will develop a global forecast model based on the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS), an innovative software platform developed by NCAR and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.The Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) enables forecasters to combine a global view of the atmosphere with a higher-resolution view of a particular region, such as North America. (@UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)MPAS offers a unique way of simulating the global atmosphere while providing users with more flexibility when focusing on specific regions of interest. Unlike traditional three-dimensional models that calculate atmospheric conditions at multiple points within a block-shaped grid, it uses a hexagonal mesh resembling a honeycomb that can be stretched wide in some regions and compressed for higher resolution in others. This enables forecasters to simultaneously capture far-flung atmospheric conditions that can influence local weather, as well as small-scale features such as vertical wind shear that can affect thunderstorms and other severe weather.Drawing on the computational power of GPUs — graphics processing units — such as those being used in a powerful new generation of IBM supercomputers, and on the expertise of NCAR and The Weather Company, the new collaboration is designed to push the capabilities of MPAS to yield more accurate forecasts with longer lead times. The results of NCAR's work will be freely available to the meteorological community. Businesses, from airlines to retailers, as well as the general public, stand to benefit.Mary Glackin, head of weather science and operations for The Weather Company, said, "As strong advocates for science, we embrace strong public-private collaborations that understand the value science brings to society, such as our continued efforts with UCAR to advance atmospheric and computational sciences.""Thanks to research funded by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, society is on the cusp of a new era in weather prediction, with more precise short-range forecasts as well as longer-term forecasts of seasonal weather patterns," Busalacchi said. "These forecasts are important for public health and safety, as well as enabling companies to leverage economic opportunities in ways that were never possible before."About The Weather CompanyThe Weather Company, an IBM Business, helps people make informed decisions and take action in the face of weather. The company offers weather data and insights to millions of consumers, as well as thousands of marketers and businesses via Weather’s API, its business solutions division, and its own digital products from The Weather Channel (weather.com) and Weather Underground (wunderground.com).This webpage was last updated on July 5, 2017.

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