UCAR

In pursuit of the Southwest's monsoon

 About the ResearchAbout the ResearcherChris Castro is an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science, University of Arizona. Castro is a UCAR SOARS alumnus. (Photo courtesy University of Arizona.) Christopher Castro is proof of the value of a summer internship. Castro always had what he calls a passing interest in weather. He liked to watch the summer storms roll in from the west as a boy in Oklahoma, and on a trip to Arizona as a teenager, the monsoon rains "just fascinated the hell out of me," he says. But he never thought of his hobby as a career path; he was going to be a lawyer.Castro’s father was an animal diagnostic virologist, and his childhood was spent in a series of college towns with veterinary schools: Stillwater, Oklahoma; Davis, California; and State College, Pennsylvania. Castro chose Pennsylvania State University largely because, with his dad on the faculty, his costs were low. He enrolled as a pre-law major in 1993.‘Jumping into a pool without knowing how deep it is . . . was very risky’ A bend in the roadAfter his freshman year, his life took a different turn. He spent that summer at an internship in the civil rights office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "After working there, I couldn’t see myself in that profession. I did enjoy the people aspect, but law was not compatible with my personality."Now Castro needed a new career path, but he still wanted one that was relevant to the problems of today’s world. "I thought, why not do something that you’ve always had a passing interest in and that still has a connection to society?" He switched his major to meteorology, a decision he now compares to "jumping into a pool without knowing how deep it is. It was risky—very risky."A year into his new major, he had a very different kind of summer internship: UCAR’s Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science program, then in its second year. SOARS gives college students from underrepresented population groups the experience of life as a scientist. Each student, known as a protégé, comes to NCAR or another participating lab for research projects over the course of three summers, with intensive mentorship guiding the protégé toward graduate school and a science career.‘We have to start working to build up an educated and professional class of Hispanics in the physical sciences.’For Castro, the SOARS experience (along with his coursework) had the opposite effect of the law internship: "I got really passionate about climate and climate change." Castro went on to graduate school at Colorado State University, where his early brush with the summer monsoon grew into a research interest.Choosing a homeWhen he completed his Ph.D. in 2005, Castro says, "I had the opportunity of several jobs, including coming back to NCAR. I decided to come here [to Arizona]; I felt like this was where I was most needed. I had the opportunity to be the captain of the ship and to shape the ideas of my students instead of being in a big group and having someone tell me what to do. That’s the riskier path, but it’s more rewarding in the end."Also," he points out, "from the social perspective, a person like myself is important to have in a job like this. In Arizona, the population is already about 25% Hispanic, and that segment is the most rapidly growing. But I observe there is still a large socioeconomic and educational disparity between Hispanics and other ethnic groups. This can reinforce negative stereotypes and create barriers to educational opportunities. We have to start working to build up an educated and professional class of Hispanics in the physical sciences, and this is a goal of SOARS. If I can bring students of Hispanic background here, either from Arizona or from Mexico, that’s doing a little bit to fight that problem."Related LinksChris Castro's Home PageNovember 2007One-minute mentorAsk people what they actually do"Go and talk to people working in the field, figure out what they do," says Chris Castro. Any career requires more than just the ability to do the work. "It’s important to find not only something that you can click with in terms of your profession but a community that you feel comfortable with socially. The only way you get a sense of that is by going and talking with people."And don’t be afraid to take risks. "Sometimes you’re going to fail, but you’ll learn from your failures and grow more than if you always take the safe path. Your life may have more ups and downs. but it will be more rewarding in the end. That’s what defines successful people."Curious about a career in atmospheric or Earth System science? Career FAQs & Resources >

From a threatened tree to environmental leadership

  About Teaching About the Teacher Waleska Rivera Rios shares her love for science with students at Ysleta High School in El Paso, Texas. She is an alumna of UCAR's SOARS program. (Photo courtesy Waleska Rivera Rios.)   One tree: that's what made Waleska Rivera Rios a scientist. No, make that one tree plus one school bus driver. At the age of 11, Rivera Rios was riding the school bus one day in her then-hometown of Carolina, Puerto Rico, when the bus driver took a detour past her own home. The driver casually pointed at a neighbor's tree and told the children that she was tired of sweeping its leaves out of her own front yard, so she was trying to kill it by pouring bleach on its roots. "At that moment, she became a witch to me," Rivera Rios recalls. That was when she realized that she wanted to work to help save the environment. "I have always kept that moment in my heart." The bleach-happy bus driver may have steered her toward environmental science, but Rivera Rios had other reasons to incline toward some kind of scientific career. Her mother is a nutritionist, and Rivera Rios enjoyed learning about biochemistry from her. Her father worked for Fisher Scientific and has always been interested in science. She grew up reading Popular Mechanics. Because of her science aptitude, her parents encouraged her to apply to University Gardens High School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a prestigious public school with a science and math focus. She passed the entrance test with flying colors and was admitted in 1994, graduating in 1997. ‘[SOARS] taught me to do research by myself and not be intimidated by those big words in journals.’   Award-winning school days Despite her aptitude for science, during high school, Rivera Rios's plan for saving the environment was to become an environmental lawyer. But when she learned that she would need a bachelor's degree to get into law school, the obvious choice of major was environmental science. "I didn't know much about it; I thought it was solely about protecting the environment." Rivera Rios was accepted at the University of Puerto Rico, but her parents learned that a private school, Universidad Metropolitana (a UCAR academic affiliate), offered a full scholarship. She took computer science and math classes at UMET in the summer before her freshman year. "I really liked being at school there. I had the chance to take courses that were going to count toward my degree, and I didn't have to pay." Her undergrad years were funded by a grant from NSF's Model Institutions for Excellence program. But she's also proud of winning another honor: first prize in a poetry contest at UMET. Some of her poems are inspired by her love of science and nature. Another prestigious award, the Gates Millennium Scholarship, made it possible for her to enter graduate school at the University of Texas at El Paso. ‘Education ties up with the commitment I feel to nature and the fact that I studied environmental sciences.’ While at UMET, Rivera Rios applied for and was accepted into UCAR's SOARS program (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science). Although she eventually made the decision to leave research for teaching, Rivera-Rios still looks back on her SOARS experience as "one of the most influential things to happen in my life. I am deeply, deeply grateful to SOARS. It taught me to do research by myself and not be intimidated by those big words in journals, it taught me to work in a group and ask questions when I need to, to communicate. I learned to write in English. We produced wonderful things." A natural choice When she eventually decided to become a teacher, El Paso was the natural choice of locale. "Ever since I left El Paso, I wanted to come back. When I was working on my master's, I fell in love with the desert. I have friends here, and I identify with the Hispanic community. The personal relationships with my students are very important to me, and I work in a school where the majority of students are Hispanic." She now sees her career in teaching as the natural outcome of her life journey. "Education ties up with the commitment I feel to nature and the fact that I studied environmental sciences. Ever since I was doing the B.S. degree, I felt that educating people was the best way to enrich awareness toward the damage we do to the environment." August 2007 One-minute mentor Articulate your dreams Determination is the key to success, says Waleska Rivera Rios. "As long as you make up your mind to do something, from the depth of your heart, you will reach that goal. You will do it. I make my students write about their dreams, what they want and where they want it, because once I did that myself, every single thing I wrote came true." Rivera Rios has an extra word of advice for Latinos and Latinas who might follow in her footsteps: "Whoever speaks more than one language opens many doors." She grew up speaking only Spanish, but she began teaching herself English by watching mainland TV and talking to herself in a mirror. By the time she was in college, "I didn't feel scared by the language, and I could take up opportunities like SOARS." Links for students interested in atmospheric and Earth system science: Career FAQs & Resources

Waleska Rivera Rios

  About Teaching About the Teacher Waleska Rivera Rios shares her love for science with students at Ysleta High School in El Paso, Texas. She is an alumna of UCAR's SOARS program. (Photo courtesy Waleska Rivera Rios.)   By the time she entered graduate school, Waleska Rivera Rios had beaten the odds. A Puertorriqueña from a family with few financial resources, she began winning awards and scholarships in middle school. Her outstanding academic work eventually earned her a place in a high school with a math-science focus, and on graduating she received a full scholarship at Puerto Rico's Universidad Metropolitana. After finishing her B.S. degree in 2001 she went on to complete a master's degree at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2004. In 2005, she was on her way to earning a doctorate in environmental science from the Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico, funded by the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship. So when she left the research world to teach science at a poverty-stricken high school in El Paso, Texas, the decision was not made lightly. A taste of teaching "I had the opportunity to teach for over a year at the college level as part of the master's program at UTEP and independently while I was doing my Ph.D. work," Rivera Rios explains. "I loved the interaction with the students, I loved how I felt teaching, and when I did it well, I loved the rewarding sensation of hearing someone say, 'I was inspired by something that you taught us.' "At the same time, I was not liking the Ph.D. work in environmental science. I was having trouble finding some interesting research that I could be engaged with, and I felt within myself that I wanted to do something different." She left school and took a job as an environmental consultant, a career goal since undergraduate days, but soon was ready to move on. "I realized that I really wanted to be teaching." Besides the fulfillment it gives her, teaching enables Rivera Rios to pass on her deep-rooted commitment to improving Earth's environment—the commitment that led her toward a science career in the first place. "I think that many people make bad decisions about the environment out of ignorance. Educating people is the best way to create a culture of awareness toward the damage we make to the environment. I also think that fresh minds, such as young students, are often more flexible and receptive than older ones, and that it's good to start early with them." Daunting challenge, wonderful feeling In 1998, while Rivera Rios was an undergraduate, she met Thomas Windham, at that time the director of UCAR's SOARS program (Signficant Opportunities in Atmospheric Science and Research). He encouraged her to apply. Although her degree work in environmental science focused on chemistry, not weather, "I was always interested in hurricanes, and I was interested in helping the people of Puerto Rico [which is often struck by hurricanes], if I could." She was accepted at SOARS, where she worked with NCAR's William Randel on analyzing the thermal variability of the tropical tropopause. As a SOARS protege, Rivera Rios worked with NCAR scientist William Randel on a rich set of data showing variations in temperature high above the tropics in the layer of the atmosphere between the troposphere and stratosphere known as the tropopause. An overview of their published findings is available on Randel's website. (Illustration courtesy Willliam Randel, NCAR.) She found the work daunting at first: "When you receive some data from a huge database, you have to be brave to dip into it." Randel, who has mentored a number of SOARS protégés, explains, "The first summer, it usually takes a while for protégés to get their feet on the ground and learn how to use the computers. The project Waleska and I did was learning how to use new GPS data, so we had to play with the computer on these data files. It took a fair amount of spinup for her to get comfortable." During the following academic year, Rivera Rios continued to work on the data. Randel says, "We got a nice project done and published a paper together. She got a good feeling for what it's like to be a professional scientist." Looking back on that project, Rivera Rios admits, "To be honest, even to this day I don't understand it completely, because it was so complicated. I didn't have much math, but when they told me what I needed to produce, I tried. I did deliver to the expectations they had, and that is a wonderful feeling." You can take the woman out of the lab, but you can't take the lab . . . At Ysleta High School in El Paso, Rivera Rios is both teacher and role model to her students. "I work in a school where the majority of students are Hispanic, and it's a low-income school. [The young people] think they cannot get far. I am able to tell them: I did it, and perhaps under even harsher circumstances than you. "When I see someone who has scientific tendencies I tell them, You have the face of a scientist. They don't think of themselves that way." Rivera Rios takes promising students to visit the lab of a UTEP professor she's stayed in touch with since her work there. Besides a tour, they do some hands-on science. "I know that's going to impress them." It may have been something of a baptism by fire, but her research experience formed Rivera Rios, as a person and as a professional. "The rigor of the process of science influences everything I do. It made me realize that if you work hard for something you can reap some fruit for that. I learned to do research by myself and not be intimidated by those big words in journals. It taught me to work in a group and ask questions when I need to. One of the most wonderful things," she adds, was improving her written English. "That raised my own standards." She brings all those experiences with her into the classroom daily. "Having done research is what permits me to be a science teacher."

Translating Earth system science into Spanish

Update Marina LaGrave is now the CEO of CLASE—Centro Latinoamericano para las Artes, Ciencia y Educación, which focuses on improving the quality of and expanding access to all levels of education, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (June 2010). Marina LaGrave (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin.) Diversity has always surrounded Marina LaGrave. Her immediate roots are in Venezuela, France, and Brazil, while her extended family traces its line to Guatemala, Italy, Lebanon, Spain, and Canada. Growing up in Venezuela, she learned Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and English. Not surprisingly, a career in translation and interpretation lay in Marina's future. She realized she could put her language skills to work while satisfying her general curiosity about a variety of fields. "I would be able to learn about anything I wanted," she recalls thinking. What she didn't expect was that she would eventually find herself working in science education, learning more about the atmospheric and Earth system sciences than she ever dreamed. "By the time I'm done with my career, I'll be a walking encyclopedia," she jokes. She also never imagined she'd be reaching out to Spanish-speaking communities in the United States and across Latin America, learning how to construct networks of support for science teachers and students. Marina works as a translator and outreach coordinator in UCAR's Education and Outreach group, a close team of scientists and educators who strive to build bridges between NCAR's scientific research and K-12 education. "Everything has combined for me in this position—loving languages and science education, working with the Latino community, being culturally fluent—so that it's the perfect job for me," Marina says. "You can be involved in science in so many ways and at so many levels." Marina came to UCAR in 2003, initially to apply her skills as a Spanish translator to Windows to the Universe, a vast and colorful educational Web site covering Earth and space sciences. Of the roughly 18 million users who visit Windows to the Universe each year, more than a quarter now head for the site's Spanish pages. "I've learned everything I know about atmospheric sciences through Windows," Marina says. "When I translate a page, I no longer think that I'm just translating, but I think about the number of viewers who are going to look at that one page." When she began translating Windows to the Universe, Marina realized that her intended audience wouldn't visit the site if they didn’t know it existed. "I saw a need for outreach to bring Windows to Spanish speakers, and that's when I started making connections with the international community," she explains. Marina began building a network of educators and government ministers throughout Latin America, and made contacts at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Over time, her job has continued to include a strong outreach component. She finds herself doing everything from organizing Boulder workshops for bilingual science teachers to traveling to Mexico to help scientists from around the world share their research with teachers and students during a major field study of airpollution. Researchers from around the world brought aircraft, weather balloons, radars, and other specialized equipment to Mexico City in 2006 to study air pollutants in and downwind from the world's second largest city. An important component of their activities was outreach to the local population and Spanish speakers around the globe. Marina collaborated with colleagues within and beyond UCAR and NCAR to create a Web site about the MILAGRO field campaign in English and Spanish. She returned to Mexico for the spring 2007 joint assembly in Acapulco of the American Geophysical Union and participating societies from acriss Latin America. There she helped present a bilingual workshop to 72 teachers. Shortly after, she headed to Chile for a conference on education that brought together more than 1,000 teachers from across that nation to learn about Web-based educational resources. Her next step was Argentina to present a workshop at a UNESCO conference. "The science community is understanding that Latin America wants and needs our resources," Marina says. "In some countries they really struggle to get science education to their students." Marina enjoys both the translation and outreach aspects of her job. "I need both," she says. "I'm very outgoing, but I need my quiet moments." Although Marina is not trained as a scientist, she's had a love for and fascination with the natural world since childhood. Her father was an admiral for the Venezuelan navy, so the family traveled frequently, including stints abroad in Washington D.C. and France. They passed summers on La Orchila, a Caribbean island that serves as a Venezuelan naval base. "I spent every summer there for 18 years, and that free interaction with nature became my microscope and telescope to see and learn about our planet and space," Marina recalls. "We would swim with dolphins and watch turtles nest, and I had a crab collection. It's what got me fascinated with nature and science." Marina's other love was guitar, which she started playing at age five. After earning a music degree in Venezuela, she was offered a scholarship to study in Spain under the famed Andrés Segovia, considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement. She turned the scholarship down to marry and start a family in Venezuela. She decided to become a certified translator of written language and interpreter of spoken language, which fit well with her plan to work primarily from home when she had children. One of her most memorable jobs was as a personal "whisperer" for Venezuelan president Carlos Andrés Pérez during his second term, from 1989 to 1993. She stayed by his side during meetings and functions conducted in other languages, giving him quick summaries in hushed Spanish. "I learned a lot and it was a great experience, but I learned that I didn't really like politics all that much," she says. She decided to jump into science and education next, since the natural world had always interested her and, as a parent, she was attentive to her own children's education. She started working as a translator for scientific organizations around the world, which allowed her to explore a variety of scientific subjects and make contacts worldwide. When she moved to the United States in 1993, Marina did a variety of jobs in her field before taking a position as a Spanish translator and interpreter for the city of Boulder. The position exposed her to every municipal program, including the school district and community events. She was able to build ties among educators and within the Latino community that helped pave the way for her outreach efforts at UCAR. She especially enjoys her interaction with colleagues at UCAR. "I have the privilege of working on a team of people with so much knowledge," she says. "I couldn't have found a better environment to learn and grow as a person and professional than UCAR." She says she looks forward to coming to work every morning—a commute she makes by motor scooter to cut down on the emissions that cause global warming. She's also teaching free Spanish classes to UCAR/NCAR staff one evening a week. "Coming here is like coming to school. I'm always so excited with everything I'm learning, and I know that the things I do inside my little office go far beyond." Related Links Ventanas al Universo Windows to the Universe by Nicole Gordon June 2007

Between grazing land and shifting sand

  About the Research About the Researcher Casey Thornbrugh, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Atmospheric Science, v. Thornbrugh is a UCAR SOARS alumnus. (Photo courtesy University of Arizona.)   Mention statistics to most middle schoolers and, unless you're talking about odds for poker hands, the response is likely to be an eye roll. When Casey Thornbrugh was in middle school, though, his hobby was climate statistics. "I was into statistical anomalies before I ever took a statistics class," he recalls. "How many 90-degree days can a place get? New York and LA have about the same summer, temperature-wise; why can LA get 110-degree days and New York doesn't? I was asking those questions in the eighth grade." His family didn't share his interest, but they supported him anyway. Since they didn't have Internet access, they bought him world almanacs to help him make his own climate maps. Thornbrugh's tribal heritage (Mashpee Wampanoag) is from the northeastern woodlands and he was born in Massachusetts, but his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was nine. As a result, "My climate record is all in the Southwest," he explains. As he grew older and began to think of a career, his family pointed him toward science, even though nobody knew where his unusual hobby might lead him. "People would say, 'Oh, you're going to be the first Wampanoag on the Weather Channel,' but I was more interested in climate than [regional weather] forecasting." ‘I wanted to work on something I could see with my own eyes.’ Discovering a vocation Thornbrugh entered the University of New Mexico as a geography major. There he encountered professor David Gutzler in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Things didn't go smoothly at first, Gutzler recalls. "In the first half of the first course he took from me," Gutzler says, "he was not one of the outstanding students; in fact, he seemed to be struggling a bit. But by the end of the class he got the highest grade. He didn't come into the class with a huge amount of background, but he sure had the motivation." Thornbrugh stood out in another way, Gutzler recalls. "I always issue a blanket invitation to the students that if they're interested in the subject matter, they should come talk to me about doing research. He jumped on that. To be honest, I don't expect a large number of students to be leaping out of their seats to come work for free, but it's always exciting when someone does. And there's no better way to learn how to actually do science." Gutzler put Thornbrugh to work studying the correlation between winter precipitation in New Mexico, the phase of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). "I had a PC in the outer part of my office, and Casey would put on his headphones and bang away for hours at a time," he remembers, applying various compositing techniques to the data. They found that the PDO regime shift in the late 1970s changed the ENSO-related winter precipitation patterns in the Southwest. The work resulted in a published paper and a poster session at the American Meteorological Society's 2002 annual meeting. "In essence, Dr. Gutzler gave me a graduate experience before I was a grad student," Thornbrugh says. SOARing ahead Thornbrugh's journey toward a career in research took a giant step forward in 2001, when he was accepted into UCAR's SOARS program (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science). His first assignment was to assess the climatological airmass patterns and human health statistics associated with heat waves in Chicago and Philadelphia. "I really enjoyed the work, but I wanted to work on something I could see with my own eyes, and that would be in the Southwest," Thornbrugh says. ‘You can go online and look at the climate records, but I really need to hear it from the elders.’ His mentor at UCAR, Robert Harriss, had met scientist Margaret Hiza Redsteer (U.S. Geological Survey) at a workshop on Native American decision making on climate change; Harriss contacted her and asked if she would like an intern. "I wasn't about to turn down an opportunity like that," she says. She had Thornburgh analyze the data from the weather station on the Moenkopi Plateau. "He was very organized; he started writing right away, and by the time the summer was over he had put together a pretty good first draft of a paper. He's incredibly motivated, and his energy is infectious." Thornbrugh enjoyed the challenge of applying climate data to a new field. "I didn't have a background in geology or geomorphology, so I had to hold on tight." Paying it forward As he begins his Ph.D. work, Thornbrugh hasn't forgotten what it was like to be the only kid who cared about climate. "My hope is that I can continue to do research, but that I can also continue to work with communities, with students. I know that the climate is changing, and I would like to be a part of education and planning that's going to need to be done." Last summer, fellow University of Arizona grad students Rachel Novak (Navajo) and Andrew Knowler recruited him to join them in a climate change enrichment project for students at Monument Valley High School. They borrowed Hiza Redsteer's specialized tape measure to teach the students how to calculate the percentage of vegetation on nearby dunes. For Thornbrugh, a highlight of the summer came when they took the young people to remote settlements to talk with older Navajos about climate. "You can go online and look at the climate records, but I really need to hear it from the elders." May 2007 One-minute mentor Find support while you're in high school If you have an interest in weather and climate and can't find anyone else at school who does, seek outside support, says Casey Thornbrugh. "If students don't have an opportunity to put their interest to use, it's very easy to get discouraged. You think, 'Nobody cares about what I do.' " If you're in an urban area, he suggests, start looking for volunteer work at your local weather service office. If you're in a rural area or on the reservation, look for summer programs that you might apply for, even if they don't pay. They can keep your interest alive for the rest of the year, and you might find a mentor and further opportunities.Links for students interested in atmospheric and Earth system science: Career FAQs & Resources

Casey Thornbrugh

  About the Research About the Researcher Casey Thornbrugh, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Atmospheric Science, University of Arizona. Thornbrugh is a UCAR SOARS alumnus. (Photo courtesy University of Arizona.)   Ask Casey Thornbrugh about the fragile state of Navajo grazing lands in Arizona and he'll tell you that "the sustainability of the land is essential to the cultural and economic well-being of those who reside on it." This principle fires his work studying sand dune mobility on the Moenkopi Plateau in Arizona, a semiarid region of rolling sandhills on the southwestern side of the Navajo Nation. In their stable state, the plateau's sandhills are covered with grasses or shrubs, providing sparse grazing for the Navajos' cattle and horses. If that cover is lost, the sandhills may become active sand dunes, barren heaps of sand that offer no feed for livestock and make transportation difficult. Winds blow these active dunes slowly across the plateau, blocking roads and threatening any buildings in their path. Although active dunes are easily created, replanting and restabilizing them is extremely difficult. Thornbrugh's main research tool is a widely used index of sand dune mobility, developed by Nicholas Lancaster of the Desert Research Institute. Lancaster applied the index to the Moenkopi Plateau for the years 1986 to 1997, using meteorological data from a weather station installed in 1979 for the Desert Winds Project. (Also see Geometeorological data collected by the USGS Desert Winds Project.) Under the direction of Margaret Hiza Redsteer (U.S. Geological Survey), Thornbrugh has extended the index—and the meteorological record from the still-functioning weather station—to 2005 to observe the effects of a decade of drought. He has found that, while it correlated well with the earlier years, "the index has some challenges when you apply it from 1997 onward. The reason has to do with the time scale that it's applied to and the nature of precipitation in northern Arizona." The Moenkopi Plateau in Arizona. The USGS station at Gold Spring provides meteorological data for Thornbrugh's research. (Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.) In a drought, heavy storms alter the index The last decade has seen almost unrelenting drought in the Southwest. When rain did fall in northern Arizona, though, it sometimes came in extremely heavy individual storms. For example, two record storms in September 2002 provided 45–50% of that year's total precipitation. Applying the mobility index to the 2002 annual data, Thornbrugh obtained relatively low values, supposedly indicating that it was a year with low sand dune growth. Photos and communication with local residents in 2002, however, demonstrated just the opposite. The parched dirt was too compacted to absorb the heavy rainfall and instead simply washed away, exposing the sand beneath. Thornbrugh's considering ways to modify the index to account for this precipitation pattern. It might seem logical simply to apply the index to shorter periods of time to avoid dealing with the extreme events, but that doesn't work because in the real world it takes longer amounts of time for vegetation to die back and active dunes to develop. Future work: The potential for seasonal forecasts One of Thornbrugh's goals is to use the index in connection with climate forecasts. Others have combined index data with global model output to forecast dune growth in the coming decades in the U.S. Great Plains, but when it comes to the Southwest, the models disagree greatly about how precipitation will change. He would prefer to use the index with shorter-term forecasts. "What people would really find useful, especially people who have livestock, is using the index with shorter-term climate data, for example, getting an outlook in the winter of what the coming spring and summer are anticipated to be." Thornbrugh, who is Native American, hopes that his project will benefit the people of the Moenkopi Plateau and throughout the Navajo Nation. With their deeply ingrained tradition of "belonging to"—not owning—the land, the Navajos will be looking for additional resources and information that they can apply to protect their fragile environment. "Climate change has happened to these people before, and they've dealt with it. In the communities I work with, people are really positive. They will get really upset with you if you just present the problem. The best presentation is, 'This is what might happen, and here are some solutions that have worked in other places.' " The dune mobility index "It's very simple, really," is how Nicholas Lancaster explains his dune mobility index, developed in 1988. "Basically, the movement of dunes is directly proportional to the presence of strong winds and inversely proportional to the presence of vegetation." In other words, if there's a lot of wind and not much vegetation, dunes blow away; if there's plenty of groundcover and not much wind, they don't. The formula is:   M  =    W P/PET   where M is dune mobility, W is the percentage of time that the wind blows about the threshold velocity for sand transport, P is annual rainfall, and PET is potential evapotranspiration (a measure of the atmosphere's ability to remove water from plants). The wind threshold velocity varies according to the fineness or coarseness of the sand being studied. Solving the equation with data from a stable, plant- or grass-covered area, such as the Nebraska Sandhills, will give a low value—say, around 50. Values of 200 or higher indicate a great danger that the region will degrade into barren, blowing sand. Using northern Arizona data from drought years, Thornbrugh has seen values as high as 400. Although the index accounts for the major factors affecting sand dune mobility, there are other climatological and land-use factors that would need to be included for a truly complete forecast, such as whether precipitation falls as rain or snow and what kinds of livestock graze on the sandhills. May 2007

Building the future of libraries online

Kaye Howe (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.) At first glance, the holder of a Ph.D. in comparative literature might not seem like the most likely candidate for a job at UCAR, an organization dedicated primarily to atmospheric science. From Kaye Howe's perspective, however, science is but one important part of a greater purpose to which she has dedicated her career. "Science is part of the Renaissance dream of a life of the mind," she explains. "I don't participate in science in a professional way, but rather as a wonderful approach to knowledge and understanding." Since 2004, Kaye has been supporting the broad quest for knowledge and understanding through her role as executive director of the National Science Digital Library. NSDL is an online library that directs users to high-quality resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. The goal is to relieve educators from the task of wading through the Web's overabundance of resources by pinpointing for them those that are truly noteworthy. Students, librarians, policy makers, and the public also turn to the library for useful information. "This world of incredible access to digital information has been dazzling to all of us, but it's overwhelming. It's like standing in a library with billions and billions of books, but no cataloging system," Kaye says. "We have an obligation to organize the material, give people access to it, and give people context that will make it useful to them." The library lets users search by keyword, browse different topics and collections, view the library's top picks, subscribe to newsfeeds, stay on top of upcoming conferences and events, and more. Users can narrow the search field by grade level (kindergarten through graduate school) or by format (text, images, audio, video, data, and interactive resources). Because NSDL involves many partners and contributors scattered across various academic institutions, a major part of Kaye's day-to-day job is to facilitate communication and keep a complicated system of distributed activity running smoothly. Her biggest reward, she says, is the level of dedication she observes among her colleagues. "The people who work on NSDL, here at UCAR and in the academic community, are very committed to digital libraries and dedicated to education—science education in particular," Kaye says. "I've always liked every job I've had in education, because people are so committed and willing." Kaye's own commitment to education and related fields has a long history. As a college student at Washington University in St. Louis, she initially thought she might want to be a doctor someday—until she began the requisite coursework. "That lasted about twenty minutes," she laughs. "Chemistry was not what I had in mind." So Kaye returned to the humanities and arts, which had always interested her as a child. She stayed at Washington University to earn a Ph.D. in comparative literature. The National Science Digital Library is a continually expanding treasure trove of organized resources and tools to support educators at all levels in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Established by the National Science Foundation, NSDL is a community effort coordinated by UCAR. Afterward, she joined the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she served as chair of the graduate program in comparative literature before becoming the university's vice chancellor for academic services in 1981. From 1990 to 1996, she did a stint as president of Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. After leaving Western State, she returned to Boulder and was president of Jones International University, a regionally accredited distance learning organization. When UCAR received a grant from the National Science Foundation to start NSDL, Kaye was asked to serve as an adviser. She ended up joining the staff in 2001. "It was one of those accidental events in which I was standing someplace at the right moment," she says about her position. "But I've enjoyed it enormously." Over the years Kaye has devoted remarkable energy to community service, a part of her life that has energized her career. "Any world can seem too small, so it's wonderful to get out in these activities and be involved in other worlds," she says. Her involvement has ranged from chairing local arts boards to serving as president of the I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County. In 2004 she was honored with the YWCA of Boulder County Woman of the Year award. Kaye stresses that an important part of any career is to look for professional opportunities in whatever form they take. "Sometimes people's thinking is too limited when it comes to the recognition of opportunity," she says. "To recognize something that doesn't come in a box labeled 'Opportunity' is a talent that a lot of people don't have because it demands a certain generosity in one's own thinking. Sometimes these opportunities just look like more work, or helping others." For example, a seemingly minor task such as volunteering for a search committee can teach a person valuable lessons about how institutions work and how to interact with colleagues. "An important part of anyone's career is to understand the nature of institutions and human interaction, and you need to seek the opportunities to do that," Kaye says. After all, small opportunities build confidence for bigger opportunities that come along, she points out. "Test yourself out. Learn how to speak up, have confidence in your own ability, and listen to other people." Related Links About NSDL by Nicole GordonSeptember 2006

Amber Reynolds

Amber Reynolds (Photo by Victoria Miller.) Update Amber Reynolds is a graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and a graduate research assistant with the Cooperative Institute for Applied Meteorological Studies. (April 2010) When Amber Reynolds was growing up, she spent time at a lake house her grandfather had built in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. "To watch storms roll in during the summer was fantastic," she recalls. "That's where I really found my love of storms." These days, it's her job to watch storms roll in, only now she observes them with sophisticated radars. Amber, who just completed her first year of graduate school at Texas A&M University, is a protégé in UCAR's SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric and Related Sciences) program. The mission of SOARS is to broaden participation in the geosciences by recruiting promising undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups and supporting them as they enter and succeed in graduate programs in the atmospheric and related sciences. At the heart of the program are intensive summer internships that include workshops and research projects guided by mentors. Amber has spent the past four summers at NCAR conducting research under the mentorship of several NCAR scientists. Over time, she's evolved from a college student uncertain of her major to a graduate student confidently working toward a doctorate. "Without SOARS, I wouldn't be where I am today," Amber says. Amber's research has two facets. She works with colleagues to set up and operate mobile research radars during weather events such as hurricanes and thunderstorms. Later, she analyzes the radar data in order to answer questions about how storms form and behave. She got her first taste of field work while still an undergraduate, during BAMEX (the Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortex Experiment), a major field campaign organized by NCAR researchers during the summer of 2003. As a SOARS protégé, she worked at the project operations center in St. Louis, Missouri, and also spent four weeks in the field. The goal of BAMEX was to study giant storm clusters that cause hurricane-force winds and torrential rain for hundreds of miles across the Midwest. Amber used the data she retrieved during the experiment to examine the environment of very strong storms that produce a characteristic bow shape on radar screens. These bow echoes are known for their extremely damaging straight-line winds. Amber also worked in the field in a number of Midwestern states during the Radar Observations of Tornadoes and Thunderstorms Experiment, ROTATE-2004, and will head to Dallas later this summer for a multiagency air quality study called TexAQS II. Her field work typically involves a long drive, then setting up the radar and/or other equipment, and then waiting for storms to form. "We make weather forecasts in the morning and then drive to the spot," she says. "There's lots of waiting, but when you get a supercell that forms it makes the waiting worth it." "SOARS has supported me going into the field and really introduced me to field work," Amber says. She adds that the guidance she's gotten from her SOARS mentors over the years has been helpful to her as a student and personally meaningful as well. She particularly credits former NCAR scientist David Dowell (now at NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory), with whom she worked for two summers. Before she ever worked with SOARS mentors, Amber found two strong role models in her mother and grandmother, both of whom attended college and majored in math during a time when most women were steered toward nontechnical subjects. "They really encouraged me to do what I love," Amber says. At Binghamton High School in upstate New York, she went through the International Baccalaureate program and was especially interested in biology. She began college at Pennsylvania State University as a business major, but later switched to meteorology. "I wanted something with more math and physics," she says. Amber heard about SOARS while at Penn State and applied even though she had taken only one course in meteorology at the time. During her first summer in Boulder, she used computer programs to look at chemistry in the upper atmosphere before catching "the radar bug," as she describes her research passion. After finishing her bachelor's degree in 2004, Amber began grad school in atmospheric science at Texas A&M, a program she chose for its well-rounded education. She plans to work as a teaching assistant before finishing her degree and would like to eventually become a university professor. "I think it's so important to get people excited about the atmospheric sciences," she says. She's also interested in learning more about the engineering aspects of radar instrumentation. "Maybe someday I'll try my hand at building radars," she says. This will be Amber's last year in SOARS. Her research project this summer on the large-scale dynamics of a major Oklahoma storm during BAMEX on June 11, 2003, is also the topic of her upcoming master's thesis. Although she still has a way to go until she earns her doctorate, she's not worried about staying motivated. "I get to go out and see spectacular weather events and then look at the data," she says. "I learn something new every day and that's what I love about this field." Related Links SOARS Home Page by Nicole Gordon August 2005

Mentoring future leaders of atmospheric science

Update In 2011 Raj Pandya became director of Spark: UCAR Science Education. Since 2007, he has also directed UCAR's Community Building Program, which fosters collaborative research with members of historically underserved communities in the United States and internationally. The program leverages activities and strengthens networks to engage not only students but experienced thinkers, practitioners, and leaders to address community priorities while advancing understanding of the atmosphere. (December 2011) Rajul Pandya (Photo by Carlye Calvin) Raj Pandya entered the University of Illinois as a civil engineering major, but decided he might switch to chemistry. Then one day he was weighing chemicals during class. "I found myself wondering how the balance worked," Raj recalls. "I realized I should really switch to physics." It wouldn't be the last time Raj would switch gears. Today, his different talents and interests have converged at UCAR, where he is director of SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science). The program provides research opportunities, a supportive community, and formal mentoring to promising undergraduates and graduate students from traditionally under-represented communities. Raj's path to leadership of SOARS illustrates the diverse possibilities of a career in science and education, as well as the importance of mentoring. After he decided to major in physics, Raj spent a summer studying at Berkeley's Center for Particle Astrophysics. "It was great. It made me realize I liked research but that I didn't want to do astrophysics," he says. "I wanted to do something I thought of as more relevant." At the time, he hardly realized that the atmospheric sciences even existed. When he met another student at Berkeley a few years older doing graduate work in that field, his interest was piqued. "And so I applied to graduate school in atmospheric science," he says. At the University of Washington, Raj wrote his Ph.D. thesis on how the large stratiform clouds that often trail long-lived thunderstorms organize. He also discovered that he enjoyed the role of educator. "I got to work as a teacher's assistant for a really good professor and saw the creativity and thoughtfulness of his good teaching," he says. After grad school, Raj came to NCAR to do postdoctoral research in the Advanced Studies Program. With the encouragement of ASP director Al Cooper, he volunteered as a SOARS mentor to keep his interest in education alive. He also got involved with LEARN, an NCAR-based national effort to help school teachers build their science curriculum and teaching methods. At LEARN, Sandra Henderson (now chief educator at GLOBE) helped Raj discover new educational strategies centered around student-led investigation. With these new ideas, Raj left NCAR after his postdoc appointment to teach at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. With mentoring from UOP's Mary Marlino, who was helping to launch the nationwide Digital Library for Earth System Education, and support from Unidata, he shifted his research toward investigating how to best incorporate visualizations and data into undergraduate atmospheric science courses. When a position opened in the DLESE Program Center to provide outreach and community relations , he returned to Boulder. Raj was appointed director of SOARS in February 2004. His job is most demanding—and exciting—during the summer, when SOARS students converge at NCAR and other national labs for 10-week internships during which they work with teams of mentors to carry out original research. As director, he hopes to help students participate in and reshape the very culture of science to make it more inclusive. The atmospheric sciences, he notes, have a dismal record when it comes to broad participation. "Leaving out whole groups, even unintentionally, is always morally wrong," Raj says. "In science, it's counterproductive as well, since diverse perspectives promote discovery and ensure that research is relevant and usable." He also points out that research in the atmospheric sciences has implications for society as a whole: "In atmospheric science, our research is essential to the big decisions we as a society need to make about our interaction with the planet. The best and most just decisions will come when all citizens have the opportunity to participate." Related Links SOARS Home Page Community Building Program - Home Page SPARK: UCAR Science Education - Home Page by Nicole Gordon March 2005, updated December 2011

Dealing with real-world weather problems

Matt Kelsch is one of two volunteers who measure high and low temperature and precipitation each afternoon at Boulder's cooperative observing site, located on the campus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.) It's no fluke that Matt Kelsch is a meteorologist. He was so interested in weather as a child that his fourth grade teacher actually wrote him special tests on the subject. "I knew by fifth grade that it was what I wanted to do," he says. Today Matt is a hydrometeorologist in UCAR's Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training. Known as COMET, the program offers courses and computer-based learning to professional meteorologists and students. He spends most of his time developing and delivering educational materials designed for groups ranging from National Weather Service forecasters to the military, private clients, and scientists and professionals from abroad. "The best way to learn a subject is to have to teach it," Matt says. As a hydrometeorologist, his expertise is in weather events that involve water, such as floods, droughts, and precipitation. One of Matt's favorite things about his job is dealing with issues that have direct applications. "I like working with the people in the field because they don't have the luxury of spending six months studying a storm," he explains. "They might only have 10 minutes. It gives me an appreciation of real-world forecasting." Matt does some real-world fieldwork of his own as a local observer for the National Weather Service. Nearly every day, he takes official measurements of precipitation and temperature in Boulder and submits them to the NWS. He also calls the measurements in to the Boulder Daily Camera, whose reporters often interview him for stories about drought or snowfall. "It's fun answering their questions," he says. A funnel-shaped collection device at Boulder's co-op site helps observers make reports of rain or melted snow to the nearest hundredth of an inch. (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.) Matt also gets involved in the local community as a coordinator for the Colorado Climate Center's Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study, better known as CoCoRaHS. Volunteers, both adults and children, take measurements of rain, hail, and snow throughout the state to help gather data for scientific researchers, emergency managers, the media, and schools. Matt is responsible for training volunteers in Boulder, Gilpin, and Broomfield counties. He shows them how to use rain gauges and hail pads, determine the liquid equivalent of snowfall, and report measurements online. Matt has a bachelor's degree in meteorology from the State University of New York in Oswego and a master's degree in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. Fresh out of graduate school, he came to Boulder in 1986 to work in a forecasting laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1993, COMET tapped him to be a guest lecturer on radar precipitation, and eventually he became part of the program's staff. "I wanted a career in science because I enjoy it so much," he says. When he's called upon to give presentations to elementary school children, he urges them to do the same and pursue what truly interests them. "The point I try to get across is that they choose careers that appeal to them so they'll be happy going to work every day." Matt plans to stay in the field of education and training and look for more opportunities to combine his hydrometeorological expertise with public service. He adds, "I'll get frustrated if I'm not doing something with a direct application." Related Links Tour the aftermath of an urban flash flood (virtually) with Matt Kelsch by Nicole Gordon December 2004

Pages

Subscribe to UCAR