NCAR

NCAR & UCAR Scientists Highlight Advances in Weather, Water & Climate Research at AGU 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – Scientists with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) will make dozens of presentations at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) during the week of December 12–16.Media Q&AThe Path Forward from Paris, One Year LaterUCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi, AGU President Margaret Leinen (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and Carlos Nobre (Brazilian National Institute of Science & Technology for Climate Change) - related to Union Session U23ATuesday, December 13, 4 p.m. - Moscone West 3000 (Press Conference Room)Note: The Moscone West Q&A follows Union Session U23A with these participants in Moscone North Hall E from 1:40-3:40 p.m.Selected Talks MONDAY | TUESDAY | WEDNESDAY | THURSDAY | FRIDAYFull calendar, special events& exhibitsNCAR & UCAR at AGU 2016>@AtmosNewsLive | #NCARscience MONDAY, December 12Getting Space Weather Data and More From 'Noise' in GPS Signals: The COSMIC MissionsWilliam Schreiner, UCARSA11A-04: Satellite Constellations for Space Weather and Ionospheric Studies: Overview of the COSMIC and COSMIC-2 Missions8:45-9:00 a.m., Moscone West 2016Climate Change, Lyme, Zika, and Other Vector-Borne DiseasesAndrew Monaghan, NCARGC12A-02: Assessment of Climate Change and Vector-Borne Diseases in the United States10:30-10:50 a.m., Moscone West 2020Extreme Rainfall Could Increase Fivefold Across Parts of the U.S. Later This CenturyAndreas Prein, NCARGC13H-04: The Future Intensification of Hourly Precipitation Extremes2:25-2:40 p.m., Moscone West 3003Building Resilient Cities and Ecosystems: Food, Energy, and Water SecurityPatricia Romero-Lankao, NCARU13A-05: Urbanization, Extreme Climate Hazards, and Food/Energy/Water Security2:54-3:12 p.m., Moscone West 2022/2024TUESDAY, December 13Carbon Dioxide's Opposite Effects in the Upper AtmosphereStan Solomon, NCARSA21C-03: Climate Change in the Upper Atmosphere8:30-8:45 a.m., Moscone West 20163D-Printed Weather Stations Aid Forecasting in Developing NationsPaul Kucera, NCARH23F-1637: Development of Innovative Technology to Expand Precipitation Observations in Satellite Precipitation Validation in Under-developed Data-Sparse Regions1:40-6:00 p.m., Moscone South - Poster HallScenarios for Reaching the Paris Agreement TargetsBen Sanderson, NCARGC24D-02: Pathways to 1.5 Degrees: New GCM Simulations for Scenarios Which Meet the Paris Temperature Targets4:15-4:27 p.m., Moscone West 3003WEDNESDAY, December 14Seeing Into Tornadoes and Hurricanes with High-Resolution SimulationsGeorge Bryan, NCARIN31F-07: Insights into Tornadoes, Hurricanes from High-Resolution Simulations9:30-9:45 a.m., Moscone West 2000A Weather Resiliency Toolbox for Communities and BusinessesJames Done, NCARPA32A-03: Tools in Support of Planning for Weather and Climate Extremes10:58-11:11 a.m., Moscone South 304Exploring Unanswered Questions in the Evolution of Prehistoric Climate - The Emiliani LectureBette Otto-Bliesner, NCARPP32A-01: Resolving Some Puzzles of Climate Evolution Since the Last Glacial Maximum: A Melding of Paleoclimate Modeling and Data11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Moscone West 2022/2024THURSDAY, December 15Novel Uses of Climate Information for Water Utility Planners David Yates, NCAR U42A-02: The Novel Use of Climate Information in Water Utility Planning 10:40-10:58 a.m., Moscone South 102What's In Wildfire Smoke? Jerome Barre, NCAR A42D-04: Quantifying Fire Emissions and Associated Aerosol Species Using Assimilation of Satellite Carbon Monoxide Retrievals 11:05-11:20 a.m., Moscone West 3004 <FRIDAY, December 16What's Causing Errors in Hurricane & Tropical Storm Forecasts? Chris Davis, NCAR A54F-06: On the Origin of Large Tropical Cyclone Track Errors 5:15-5:30 p.m., Moscone West 3012  Full calendar, special events & exhibit infoNCAR & UCAR at AGU 2016>@AtmosNewsLive | #NCARscience | #AGU16

Two NCAR scientists honored by American Geophysical Union

BOULDER, Colo. — Martyn Clark, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), will be honored next week as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) for his exceptional contribution to Earth science.Clark is an expert in the numerical modeling and prediction of hydrologic processes. His current research includes developing new modeling methods to improve streamflow forecasts and better understand climate change impacts on regional water resources. Clark, who grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand, has authored or co-authored 135 journal articles since receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1998.NCAR Senior Scientist Martyn Clark (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)"This well-deserved honor reflects Martyn's eminent work in the increasingly critical area of water-resource prediction and management," said NCAR Director James W. Hurrell.Clark said he was delighted to see NCAR's hydrologic modeling recognized. "Hydrology is beginning to play a much stronger role in addressing important interdisciplinary science questions about Earth System change, such as how changes in the terrestrial water cycle affect biological productivity and how groundwater can buffer water stress in ecosystems and human societies. It's exciting to advance modeling capabilities in these areas."NCAR Senior Scientist Bette Otto-Bliesner. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Clark is among 60 individuals from eight countries recognized as Fellows this year; only one in one thousand AGU members receive this recognition in any given year. Nearly 40 percent of this year's fellows are from the 110 member colleges and universities of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which manages NCAR. This year's class will be honored next Wednesday at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.NCAR Senior Scientist Bette Otto-Bliesner, who was named an AGU Fellow last year, is being honored by her peers in the Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology Focus Group and Ocean Sciences Section by being asked to give the 2016 Emiliani Lecture. She will give the lecture next Wednesday at the AGU Fall Meeting on the topic of "Resolving Some Puzzles of Climate Evolution Since the Last Glacial Maximum: A Melding of Paleoclimate Modeling and Data."The AGU, dedicated to advancing Earth and space sciences for the benefit of society, is a not-for-profit, professional organization representing 60,000 members in more than 140 countries. 

Extreme downpours could increase fivefold across parts of the U.S.

BOULDER, Colo. — At century's end, the number of summertime storms that produce extreme downpours could increase by more than 400 percent across parts of the United States — including sections of the Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, and the Southwest — according to a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).The study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, also finds that the intensity of individual extreme rainfall events could increase by as much as 70 percent in some areas. That would mean that a storm that drops about 2 inches of rainfall today would be likely to drop nearly 3.5 inches in the future."These are huge increases," said NCAR scientist Andreas Prein, lead author of the study. "Imagine the most intense thunderstorm you typically experience in a single season. Our study finds that, in the future, parts of the U.S. could expect to experience five of those storms in a season, each with an intensity as strong or stronger than current storms."The study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor, and the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.“Extreme precipitation events affect our infrastructure through flooding, landslides and debris flows,” said Anjuli Bamzai, program director in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences, which funded the research.  “We need to better understand how these extreme events are changing. By supporting this research, NSF is working to foster a safer environment for all of us.”The figure shows the expected increase in the number of summertime storms that produce extreme precipitation at century's end compared to the period 2000 - 2013. (©UCAR. Courtesy Andreas Prein, NCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)A year of supercomputing timeAn increase in extreme precipitation is one of the expected impacts of climate change because scientists know that as the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water, and a wetter atmosphere can produce heavier rain. In fact, an increase in precipitation intensity has already been measured across all regions of the U.S. However, climate models are generally not able to simulate these downpours because of their coarse resolution, which has made it difficult for researchers to assess future changes in storm frequency and intensity.For the new study, the research team used a new dataset that was created when NCAR scientists and study co-authors Roy Rasmussen, Changhai Liu, and Kyoko Ikeda ran the NCAR-based Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model at a resolution of 4 kilometers, fine enough to simulate individual storms. The simulations, which required a year to run, were performed on the Yellowstone system at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.Prein and his co-authors used the new dataset to investigate changes in downpours over North America in detail. The researchers looked at how storms that occurred between 2000 and 2013 might change if they occurred instead in a climate that was 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer — the temperature increase expected by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.Prein cautioned that this approach is a simplified way of comparing present and future climate. It doesn't reflect possible changes to storm tracks or weather systems associated with climate change. The advantage, however, is that scientists can more easily isolate the impact of additional heat and associated moisture on future storm formation."The ability to simulate realistic downpours is a quantum leap in climate modeling. This enables us to investigate changes in hourly rainfall extremes that are related to flash flooding for the very first time," Prein said. "To do this took a tremendous amount of computational resources."Impacts vary across the U.S.The study found that the number of summertime storms producing extreme precipitation is expected to increase across the entire country, though the amount varies by region. The Midwest, for example, sees an increase of zero to about 100 percent across swaths of Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa. But the Gulf Coast, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico all see increases ranging from 200 percent to more than 400 percent.The study also found that the intensity of extreme rainfall events in the summer could increase across nearly the entire country, with some regions, including the Northeast and parts of the Southwest, seeing particularly large increases, in some cases of more than 70 percent.A surprising result of the study is that extreme downpours will also increase in areas that are getting drier on average, especially in the Midwest. This is because moderate rainfall events that are the major source of moisture in this region during the summertime are expected to decrease significantly while extreme events increase in frequency and intensity. This shift from moderate to intense rainfall increases the potential for flash floods and mudslides, and can have negative impacts on agriculture.The study also investigated how the environmental conditions that produce the most severe downpours might change in the future. In today's climate, the storms with the highest hourly rainfall intensities form when the daily average temperature is somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees C (68 to 77 degrees F) and with high atmospheric moisture. When the temperature gets too hot, rainstorms become weaker or don't occur at all because the increase in atmospheric moisture cannot keep pace with the increase in temperature. This relative drying of the air robs the atmosphere of one of the essential ingredients needed to form a storm.In the new study, the NCAR scientists found that storms may continue to intensify up to temperatures of 30 degrees C because of a more humid atmosphere. The result would be much more intense storms."Understanding how climate change may affect the environments that produce the most intense storms is essential because of the significant impacts that these kinds of storms have on society," Prein said.About the articleTitle: The future intensification of hourly precipitation extremesAuthors: Andreas F. Prein, Roy M. Rasmussen, Kyoko Ikeda, Changhai Liu, Martyn P. Clark, and Greg J. HollandJournal: Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE3168Writer:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer and Public Information Officer

A favorable forecast for Kenyan students

November 30, 2016 | As scientists expand a program to provide critically needed weather observations in developing countries, they are forging a partnership with local schoolchildren and their teachers.The students and teachers are helping to oversee and maintain innovative weather stations, built largely with 3D-printed parts, at four schools in Kenya. By transmitting information about temperature, rainfall, and other weather parameters, the stations can help alert communities to floods and other potential disasters, as well as provide improved weather forecasts to local farmers, who are deciding when to plant and fertilize crops.NCAR scientist Paul Kucera describes the various components of the 3D-PAWS at the Sirua Aulo Maasai High School. (©UCAR. Photo by Kristin Wegner. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) The weather stations, known as 3D-PAWS (for 3D-Printed Automated Weather Stations), are built with components that can be easily replaced if they wear out in the field. They were designed by weather experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its managing entity, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)."In my 30 years of doing fieldwork, this is one of the best deployments I've ever had," said NCAR scientist Paul Kucera. "At every school, we were joined by hundreds of students and dozens of teachers who wanted to learn more about the weather stations and the value of these forecasts."The weather stations were installed as a partnership with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program, an international science and education initiative that encompasses tens of thousands of schools. This approach means that 3D-PAWS serves the dual purpose of educating students and improving forecasts."This is a great partnership to now extend our weather stations to schools," said Kristin Wegner, a project manager with the GLOBE Implementation Office, based at UCAR. "There is so much enthusiasm among the teachers and students because it's such a great learning tool as well as helping their communities."Students will learn about local weather and climate by comparing their weather observations to those taken at other schools using science protocols established by GLOBE. They can also assess the impacts of climate change on society and the environment, as well as see how the observations help with farming, flood prediction, and other applications.The installments took place during GLOBE's biannual Lake Victoria Learning Expedition, in which students and scientists from around the world explore the environment around the lake and discuss potential research collaborations. The expedition was coordinated by GLOBE Africa Regional Coordinator Mark Brettenny and  GLOBE Kenya Assistant Country Coordinator Charles Mwangi. Schools also received equipment donated from Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists.Needed: more stationsLike many developing countries, Kenya 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 inexpensive and easy to fix and can be adapted to the needs of the host country. The resulting 3D-PAWS 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.The total cost is about $300 per station. As the stations age, the host country can easily have replacement parts printed.Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. National Weather Service.Scientists installed the 3D-PAWS in Zambia earlier this year. Kenya is the second country to receive them."We're looking forward to installing more stations," Wegner said. "Additional schools are already asking about them."FundersU.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance U.S. National Weather Service.PartnerGlobal Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE)Writer/contact:David Hosansky, Manager of Media Relations

Days of record-breaking heat ahead

BOULDER, Colo. — If society continues to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate, Americans later this century will have to endure, on average, about 15 daily maximum temperature records for every time that the mercury notches a record low, new research indicates.That ratio of record highs to record lows could also turn out to be much higher if the pace of emissions increases and produces even more warming, according to the study led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).Over the last decade, in contrast, the ratio of record high temperatures to record lows has averaged about two to one."More and more frequently, climate change will affect Americans with record-setting heat," said NCAR senior scientist Gerald Meehl, lead author of the new paper. "An increase in average temperatures of a few degrees may not seem like much, but it correlates with a noticeable increase in days that are hotter than any in the record, and nights that will remain warmer than we've ever experienced in the past." The United States has experienced unusual warmth lately, as indicated by this July 22, 2016, weather map showing much of the country facing highs in the 90s and 100s and lows in the 70s. New research indicates that more record high temperatures may be in store. (Weather map by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Prediction Center.)The 15-to-1 ratio of record highs to lows is based on temperatures across the continental United States increasing by slightly more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above recent years, which is about the amount of warming expected to occur with the current pace of greenhouse gas emissions.The new research appears this week in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." It was funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR's sponsor. The study was coauthored by NCAR scientist Claudia Tebaldi and by Dennis Adams-Smith, a scientist previously at Climate Central and now at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.Hotter days  In a 2009 study, Meehl and colleagues found that the ratio of record daily high temperatures to record daily low temperatures has steadily increased since the 1970s as average temperatures over the United States have warmed. Computer models at that time indicated that the ratio could continue to increase during this century, although the research team looked into just one scenario of future emissions. The scientists also found that the models were overstating the ratio of record highs to record lows in recent years, compared to observations.By digging further into the issue and analyzing why the models differed from observations, Meehl and his co-authors have now produced a better calibrated projection of future record-breaking daily highs across the U.S. They based their projections on the average temperature increase over the continental United States, rather than on a particular scenario of future emissions.By about 2065, for example, U.S. temperatures will rise by an average of slightly more than 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F) if society maintains a “business as usual” increase in the emission of greenhouse gases. Under such a scenario, the ratio of record daily high temperatures to record daily lows will likely be about 15 to 1, although it could range anywhere from 7 to 1 up to 22 to 1, the study found.If temperatures increase even more this century, the ratio of record highs to record lows will jump substantially. For example, if temperatures climb more than 4 degrees C (7.2 degrees F), Americans could experience about 38 record highs for every record low. Such an outcome could occur if society does not make any efforts to mitigate the production of greenhouse gases."Every degree of warming makes a substantial amount of difference, with the ratio of record highs to record lows becoming much greater," Meehl said. "Even with much warmer temperatures on average, we will still have winter and we will still get record cold temperatures, but the numbers of those will be really small compared to record high maximums."If temperatures were not warming, Meehl said, the ratio of record highs to record lows would average out to about one to one.Instead, record high temperatures have already become a common occurrence in much of the country. The ratio of record highs to lows has averaged about 2 to 1 over the first decade of the 21st century, but there is considerable year-to-year variation. The ratio was about 5 to 1 in 2012, dropping to about 1 to 1 in 2013 and 2014, then almost 3 to 1 in 2015. The unusual warmth of 2016, resulting from both climate change and natural patterns such as El Niño, has led to 24,519 record daily maximums vs. 3,970 record daily minimums—a ratio of about 6 to 1.Precipitation and the warm 1930sA key part of the study involved pinpointing why the models in the 2009 study were simulating somewhat more daily record high maximum temperatures compared with recent observations, while there was good agreement between the models and the observed decreases in record low minimums. The authors focused on two sets of simulations conducted on the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model (version 4), which is funded by DOE and NSF and developed by climate scientists across the country.Their analysis uncovered two reasons for the disparity between the computer models and observations.First, the models tended to underestimate precipitation. Because the air is cooled by precipitation and resulting evapotranspiration — the release of moisture from the land and plants back to the atmosphere — the tendency of the computer models to create an overly dry environment led to more record high temperatures.Second, the original study in 2009 only went back to the 1950s. For the new study, the research team also analyzed temperatures in the 1930s and 1940s, which is as far back as accurate recordkeeping will allow. Because the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s were unusually warm, with many record-setting high temperatures, the scientists found that it was more difficult in subsequent years to break those records, even as temperatures warmed. However, even taking the warm 1930s into account, both the model-simulated and observed ratio of record highs to record lows have been increasing."The steady increase in the record ratio is an immediate and stark reminder of how our temperatures have been shifting and continue to do so, reaching unprecedented highs and fewer record lows," said Tebaldi. "These changes pose adaptation challenges to both human and natural systems. Only a substantial mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions may stop this increase, or at least slow down its pace."About the articleTitle: "US daily temperature records past, present, and future"Authors: Gerald A. Meehl, Claudia Tebaldi, and Dennis Adams-SmithJournal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

James Hurrell elected to AGU position

BOULDER, Colo. —James W. Hurrell, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has been elected incoming president of the Atmospheric Sciences Section of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). He will be formally installed as president-elect at the AGU's annual meeting in December."It is a great honor to be elected by peers throughout the atmospheric sciences community," Hurrell said. "This is a critical time for the atmospheric sciences as we seek to advance our knowledge of climate change, extreme weather events, air quality, and other issues that pose significant challenges to our society."NCAR Director James Hurrell. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)The Atmospheric Sciences Section studies the physics, chemistry, and dynamics of the atmosphere, particularly the two layers closest to Earth’s surface: the stratosphere and troposphere. These layers are crucial to life because they regulate planetary surface temperature, play an integral role in the world’s water cycle, and screen the planet from high-energy radiation. Much of the research focuses on global climate change, as well as monitoring fluctuations in the ozone layer and better understanding and predicting weather events and the effects of emissions from human activities."New ideas and approaches to AGU’s strategic challenges can be found in the collective wisdom of the organization's diverse membership," Hurrell said. "As president-elect, I am committed to eliciting those ideas and finding effective methods to further develop and implement the best of them." An NCAR senior scientist, Hurrell was named director of the center in 2013. He has contributed to numerous national and international science planning initiatives, including extensive involvement in the World Climate Research Programme, as well as the assessment activities of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also has served on several National Academy of Sciences panels, and he has provided briefings and testimonies to Congress on climate change science.Hurrell is a Fellow of the AGU, as well as of the American Meteorological Society and the Royal Meteorological Society. His personal research has centered on empirical and modeling studies and diagnostic analyses to better understand climate, climate variability, and climate change."Jim's vision and energy, along with his skill at drawing on insights from across the atmospheric sciences community, will enable him to make substantial contributions to AGU," said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). "The UCAR community is excited over Jim's election and looks forward to his leadership in this important position."

Indonesian fires exposed 69 million to 'killer haze'

November 16, 2016 | NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer is a co-author of a new study into the health effects of the 2015 Indonesian wildfires. This is an excerpt from a news release issued by Newcastle University.  Wildfires in Indonesia and Borneo exposed 69 million people to unhealthy air pollution, new research has shown.An image taken from space of smoke billowing from fires in Jambi Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The false-color image was made with a combination of visible (green) and infrared light so that fires and freshly burned land stand out. (Image courtesy NASA.)The study, published today in Scientific Reports, gives the most accurate picture yet of the impact on human health of the wildfires which ripped through forest and peatland in Equatorial Asia during the autumn of 2015.The study used detailed observations of the haze from Singapore and Indonesia. Analysing hourly air quality data from a model at a resolution of 10km – where all previous studies have looked at daily levels at a much lower resolution - the team was able to show that a quarter of the population of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia was exposed to unhealthy air quality conditions between September and October 2015.Estimating between 6,150 and 17,270 premature deaths occurred as a direct result of the polluted haze, the research team – involving academics from the UK, US, Singapore and Malaysia – said the study confirmed the extent of this public health crisis.Read the full news release by Newcastle University.About the articleTitle: Population exposure to hazardous air quality due to the 2015 fires in Equatorial AsiaAuthors: P. Crippa, S. Castruccio, S. Archer-Nicholls, G. B. Lebron, M. Kuwata, A. Thota, S. Sumin, E. Butt, C. Wiedinmyer, and D. V. SpracklenJournal: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep37074

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.

50 years ago: NCAR camera snaps game-changing eclipse picture

Nov. 8, 2016 | A half-century ago, a team of scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) trekked to a point 13,000 feet above sea level in a remote region of Bolivia. There they set up a massive new camera, designed and built by expedition leader Gordon Newkirk and team member Lee Lacey, and waited for a total solar eclipse to cast a shadow on the arid plateau.Once the moon and Sun aligned, Newkirk and Lacey pulled the trigger on their new device — a combination of telescope, camera, and innovative filter — and hoped for the best. They wouldn't know it until the film was developed, but on Nov. 12, 1966, the scientists had captured perhaps the finest picture of the solar corona ever taken up to that time.Lee Lacey, Gordon Newkirk, and Howard Hull, all of NCAR's High Altitude Observatory, pose with their new camera during the eclipse expedition to Bolivia. (©UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Astronomer Jack Eddy, a former student of Newkirk's, described the importance of the image in a 1988 publication of the International Astronomical Union: "[The] picture was worth a thousand words, and more, for it revealed associations that had never before been seen; oft reprinted, it guided a fresh understanding of the solar corona as the product of magnetic forces and the outward flow of the solar wind. It made the field lines that hold the corona together at once visible throughout the coronal form, giving to coronal physics what x-rays had once given to medicine."By the time researchers from NCAR's High Altitude Observatory (HAO) arrived in Bolivia in 1966, people had already been photographing solar eclipses for more than a century. But even the best picture could only reveal a portion of the solar corona. The problem was that the brightness of the solar corona drops off drastically as the corona extends away from the Sun's surface into space. So a photograph that was correctly exposed to capture the corona at the Sun's edge could not pick up any details of the outer corona.Newkirk's innovation was to create a radially graded filter, which blocked more light at the Sun's surface and increasingly less light toward the outer reaches of the corona. In effect, he balanced the brightness, allowing the entire structure of the corona to be captured using a single exposure. A major challenge, however, was that with no opportunity for a second chance, the exposure needed to be estimated correctly the first time so that the narrow band of brightness would reveal the details of the coronal structure."At just the right instant, [Newkirk] had to start the automatic programmer, which carried out a pre-determined sequence of exposures, with and without filters… , in the somewhat less than two minutes of totality afforded at the Bolivian location," read an article in the Fall-Winter 66/67 edition of the NCAR Quarterly. "Newkirk's greatest achievement, in the eyes of his colleagues, was that he did choose the correct exposure."The Newkirk White Light Coronal Camera, still on display in the lobby of the NCAR Mesa Lab in Boulder, became the workhorse of HAO eclipse expeditions in the decades that followed. The camera was used for eclipses in Mexico (1970), Kenya (1973), India (1980), Siberia (1981), Java (1983), the Philippines (1988), Hawaii (1991), and Chile (1994).Eclipse pictures taken by the Newkirk White Light Coronal Camera. Top row: Bolivia, 1966 (left), Mexico, 1970 (center), and Kenya, 1973 (right). Middle row: India, 1980 (left), Siberia, 1981 (center), and Java, 1983 (right). Bottom row: the Philippines, 1988 (left), Hawaii, 1991 (center), and Chile, 1994 (right). (©UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) HAO scientist Alice Lecinski worked with the camera on the eclipse expeditions in Hawaii and Chile. She said the camera endured the test of time because it was both simple and extremely useful."It's a very special camera and dear to my heart," Lecinski said. "For every eclipse, it worked like a champion. The thing that didn't always work was the weather."The telescopic camera was built on aluminum tripods that could be easily adjusted, and it didn't require a huge power source, unlike modern coronal cameras, so it could more easily be taken to remote locations."Its tripod structure is very clever," Lecinski said. "By making the legs longer or shorter, the camera can adapt to any latitude and any hour of the day that the eclipse occurs. It's a simple design and very elegant."By 1994, HAO scientists were also using a digital camera along with the Newkirk White Light Coronal Camera. Four years later, when HAO scientists traveled to Curacao to observe the eclipse, the Newkirk camera stayed home.The 1998 eclipse expedition ended up being HAO's last — until 2017. Next year, when a total solar eclipse will cut across the United States on Aug. 21, HAO scientists will again be watching with their instruments.Researchers Philip Judge and Paul Bryans are working on a project to measure the infrared light emitted by the corona, a property that has never been thoroughly surveyed before. The hope is to better understand how the Sun's magnetic field may be responsible for heating up the corona, which, puzzlingly, is millions of degrees hotter than the Sun's surface.The effort will include measuring infrared radiation from the ground and the air using instruments mounted in a trailer that will be driven up to Wyoming and onboard the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream V research aircraft. 

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