Tech Transfer

3D-printed weather stations fill gaps in developing world

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

Saving farmers money in tropical West Africa

November 18, 2015 | Ashai Abdul is one of thousands of farmers in the West African country of Ghana who receive text messages with custom rain forecasts based on an advanced weather model developed at NCAR. The subscription-based service has already paid off. One day, on seeing that heavy rain was forecast, Abdul delayed plans to bring in machinery and extra workers to his corn, rice, and soybean farm in northern Ghana. "I had the money still to hire the equipment another day and not lose my investment," he later told the forecast provider. The forecasts are produced by Swedish-based Ignitia, which adapted the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) to a tropical climate. NCAR has been a lead developer of WRF and supports training and use of the open-source code by a large worldwide user community. Farmers in northern Ghana check the latest weather forecast via text message on their cell phone. (Photo courtesy Ignitia. Photo by Ike Nortey Focus Xtreme Photography, Accra, Ghana.) Accurate weather forecasts have huge potential across Africa, where crops are largely rain-fed. The forecasts in Ghana help farmers with key decisions, such as knowing when to plant, when to spray, and when to bring in extra labor and machinery. "We're excited to see an innovative use of WRF that's helping agriculture in West Africa," said NCAR scientist Jordan Powers, who manages efforts involving WRF at NCAR. Adapting to the tropics Adapting the model to West Africa presented a challenge, since WRF was initially developed to simulate weather in the temperate latitudes of North America and Europe.  "The weather in West Africa is so different – no low pressure, no high pressure, no fronts driving everyday weather," said Ignitia chief executive Liisa Petrykowska, who has expertise in meteorology and physics. "Most local weather in the tropics is notoriously hard to model." Moisture and heat are the primary drivers creating unstable weather conditions in the tropics. Large-scale pressure fields aren’t much of a factor, except in large tropical cyclones. While tropical weather is more regular overall, more microscale processes are at work, making it difficult for forecasters to predict rain accurately in a particular area. Thunderstorms, for example, can emerge, evolve, and fade quickly. Farmer Ashai Abdul and his son meet with Ignitia Chief Executive Liisa Petrykowska in northern Ghana to discuss their use of Ignitia's rainfall forecast and its benefits for their rice crop. (Photo courtesy Ignitia. Photo by Ike Nortey Focus Xtreme Photography, Accra, Ghana.) After years of trying and almost giving up, Ignitia scientists came up with a high-resolution version of WRF with data points two- to five-miles (3 km to 9 km) apart. They in effect developed a hybrid system that combines WRF with their own model. The new system, trademarked as iska, especially focuses on solar heating at and near the surface of the Earth, and on the physical processes of cloud formation, cloud growth, and precipitation. According to Ignitia, its short-range rain forecasts are 84 percent accurate. Petrykowska said she and other Ignitia scientists had worked with WRF before. "It wasn’t a new platform for us. The point though was making it efficient as a forecasting tool for the tropics." Empowerment via cell phone Iska was tested in 2013, then offered as a subscription service to farmers in 2014. Since most Ghanaians have basic cell phones, Ignitia partners with a cell service provider to get approximate GPS coordinates of the farms. Petrykowska said the company now has more than 80,000 subscriptions, the large majority of which are paid by farmers themselves. The company did text-message trials using local languages and symbols, but concluded that communicating in English was the best way to go. Local languages are spoken more than written and some symbols were confusing, Petrykowska said. The text messages have a simple, standard structure, such as: "Today dry, tomorrow heavy rain." Although many farmers are illiterate, they quickly learn what the words mean, or ask their village chief to translate, Petrykowska said. Subscribers get a daily 48-hour forecast, a monthly outlook, and a six-month seasonal outlook. Their phone is debited 3-4 cents per text message. Surveys have shown that corn farmers who subscribe to the service have experienced up to an 80 percent jump in income, while cocoa farmers report a 40 to 50 percent boost. Ghana is the world’s second largest producer of cocoa beans, the key ingredient in chocolate. But Ghana’s cocoa bean production declined dramatically in the 2014-15 season because of lack of rainfall and a short supply of pesticides to combat a fungus that can destroy cocoa pods. "We’ve heard a lot of stories where our forecasts have helped those farmers who subscribe to better know when to spray their trees with fungicide," Petrykowska said.  "If they spray and then it rains, then the chemicals run off and they can’t afford to buy more pesticide, and yields decrease." Ignitia is structured as a for-profit business, but has received support for its development and start-up operations from the Swedish International Development Cooperation, USAID and others. Petrykowska said the break-even point is about 100,000 subscribers. The company has agreements with cell service providers to expand operations in West Africa to the Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. Writer/contactJeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer            

3D printers promise affordable weather stations for the developing world

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

NCAR partners with UC San Diego on visualization capabilities

BOULDER - The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is partnering with the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) to expand and enhance visualization capabilities in the bio- and geosciences through a grant from the National Science Foundation. The collaboration builds on existing software capabilities developed at NCAR and UC San Diego, and it will combine them to produce new open-source tools for scientists to explore large data sets. The project is known as WASP (Wavelet-enabled Progressive Data Access and Storage Protocol). Current advances in digital imaging and numerical modeling technologies have enabled the creation of vast amounts of data. A challenge for many researchers is making sense out of these digital outputs. One way of dealing with extremely large data sets is known as progressive data access (PDA), which is the enabling technology behind consumer applications like Google Maps. In mapping applications, PDA reduces data volumes by only loading areas of interest, not the entirety of the map database, and allows the user to view these images in greater or lesser detail. The problem is that similar tools are scarce in the biosciences, despite a need for analyzing data gathered from advanced imaging technologies such as MRI and CT scans. Also, as the size and complexity of the data increase, the computing resources commonly available for data analysis are over-subscribed. The geosciences encounter similar issues, with models for weather, climate, oceans and other Earth systems generating very large and complex data. Given the similar nature of the challenge across various disciplines, researchers at NCAR and UC San Diego put their heads together to work on a solution, capitalizing on complementary work that was already ongoing at both institutions. Though the bio- and geosciences are very different scientific disciplines, with different data, the underlying forms and structure of the data are very similar, allowing for shared methods of dealing with the information. Two software approaches This high-resolution simulation of 2005's Hurricane Katrina as is it makes landfall on the Gulf Coast was visualized with VAPOR. (Image courtesy John Clyne, NCAR.) An NCAR team has developed a software solution known as VAPOR (Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere and Solar Researchers). VAPOR provides an interactive 3D-visualization environment that runs on most UNIX and Windows systems. At the heart of VAPOR is a progressive data access scheme based on mathematical linear transforms using wavelets. An NSF grant launched the development of the technology in 2003, and VAPOR is currently on its third major release, with over 6,000 users worldwide. “VAPOR is an application specifically designed to facilitate researchers’ interaction with very large data sets, but while using only relatively modest computing resources,” said John Clyne, a software engineer and computer scientist who is the principal investigator for VAPOR in NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL). “VAPOR is already widely used in the geosciences community, and with this award we will not only be able to expand and improve it for its current users, but also make it usable for the biosciences and bioimaging communities.” At UC San Diego, the Center for Scientific Computation in Imaging has been developing a general analysis and visualization software toolkit for the bioimaging community, known as the Shape Analysis for Phenomics from 3D Imaging Data (SAPID) ToolKit (STK). The goal of the SAPID project is to develop advanced computational methods for researchers in evolutionary biology to characterize subtle morphological variations from high-resolution 3D voxel-based digital imaging modalities. (A voxel is analogous to a pixel, but in three-dimensional space.) A critical issue that arose during this project was the necessity of being able to handle very large datasets.  This new NSF award will address this important issue and thus provide innovative capabilities to the bioimaging community. “This award is exciting because it allows us to take our existing software, combine and reuse it in new ways, and expand its capabilities to serve more broadly across scientific disciplines,” said Lawrence Frank, the principal investigator for the WASP award and the SAPID Project and a researcher at UC San Diego’s Institute of Engineering in Medicine at the Jacobs School. This image demonstrates progressive data access applied to a high-resolution CT scan of a seadragon. The leftmost view of the seadragon head was constructed using a fraction of the data (1/100th), yet is morphologically identical to the rightmost image constructed using all of the available CT data. (Image courtesy UC San Diego.) Both Frank and Clyne point out that the most important aspect of this collaboration is it will reuse existing NSF-funded software to provide a common framework benefitting both biological digital imaging and geosciences numerical modeling communities. It will have a profound impact for scientists working with large data sets. “We’ll be able to provide better tools to the climate and weather science communities, while providing the first such tools for the biosciences community,” said Clyne. “It’s especially gratifying that NSF’s initial investments in both VAPOR and STK can be augmented with this award to produce an impactful and inter-disciplinary tool.”

Boulder team wins international water prize

BOULDER — Groundbreaking work by a group of Boulder scientists has been recognized this month with one of the world’s most prestigious awards for innovations related to water resources. The research team, from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has worked for the past five years to develop a way to use GPS technology to measure soil moisture, snow depth, and vegetation water content. The work has won a 2014 Creativity Prize from the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water. “It’s an honor to be recognized by the broader international science community,” said UCAR scientist John Braun, a GPS expert and member of the research team. “This work can significantly improve how we measure changes in a number of key components of the water cycle.” Braun and his colleagues—Kristine Larson and Eric Small at CU Boulder and Valery Zavorotny at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory—won the prize for developing a new observational technique that takes advantage of data from high-precision GPS stations. Although GPS instruments at these stations were installed for other purposes (by geoscientists to measure plate tectonic motions and by surveyors to measure land boundaries), the Boulder research group was able to isolate GPS signals that reflected near the instruments’ antennas to produce daily measurements of soil moisture, vegetation water content, and snow depth. The group named the technique GPS Interferometric Reflectometry (GPS-IR). Because there are currently over 10,000 such GPS stations operating around the world, the extension of this method to even a subset of these sites would significantly enhance the ability to measure the water cycle. Recipients of this year's Creativity Prize from the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water include (left to right) Valery Zavorotny (NOAA), Kristine Larson and Eric Small (University of Colorado Boulder), and John Braun (UCAR). (©UCAR. Photo by Bob Henson. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) Currently, the team uses the GPS-IR technique to analyze data streams from existing GPS networks within the western United States. Scientists and government agencies can use their data products, available at the research team’s web portal, to improve monitoring and forecasting of hydrologic variables. “The GPS-based estimates represent a larger sampling area than traditional point measurements gathered in the field,” said Small, a professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Geological Sciences. “This provides information that is particularly useful for applications such as tracking the amount of water stored in mountain snow pack.” The research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA. Turning errors into data GPS-IR is based on reflected signals, which are a source of errors that have plagued the primary users of GPS technology since its inception. Some of the initial research involving GPS and snow-depth measurement took place at the Niwot Ridge field site, located in the foothills above Boulder, starting in 2009. (Image courtesy Ethan Gutmann, NCAR.) “I spent almost five years of my career trying to make reflected signals go away so that I could produce better estimates of tectonic and volcanic deformation,” said Larson, a professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and leader of the research team. “One of the great things about Boulder is that once we had the idea to turn this error source into something useful, we were able to put together a great interdisciplinary research team from CU, NOAA, and UCAR to work on it.” Larson will accept the award at a ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 1. The Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water aims to give recognition to the efforts that scientists, inventors, and research organizations around the world are making in water-related fields. The prizes acknowledge exceptional and innovative work that contributes to the sustainable availability of potable water and the alleviation of the escalating global problem of water scarcity. The 2014 Creativity Prize, worth $266,000, was split between the Boulder-based GPS-IR group and scientists at Princeton University studying drought. “We’re grateful that the ingenuity of these scientists is being recognized,” said UCAR president Thomas Bogdan. “This project is a great example of a creative team turning information that would otherwise be discarded into useful data that can benefit society.” Several Colorado researchers have been recognized with the International Prize for Water since its inception in 2004. Previous winners include: Kevin Trenberth and Aiguo Dai, Surface Water Prize, 2012 (National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo.) Chih Ted Yang, Surface Water Prize, 2008 (Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colo.)    

Public-private partnership enhances digital tools for customized science education

BOULDER—The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), University of Colorado, and EdTrex today announced an exclusive option agreement allowing EdTrex to continue developing a software platform enabling on-demand creation of customizable curricula using curated open education resources. The software platform, named E-Hub, is the result of four years of research headed by Tamara Sumner, co-director of Digital Learning Sciences, a joint research and development center of the University of Colorado Boulder and UCAR. The center, incorporating input from Colorado and out-of-state school district teachers and administrators, developed a teacher-centric, cloud-based system allowing educators to create customized curricula using curated resources from open education databases and publisher-provided materials. E-Hub is especially focused on content and curricula for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). The research was funded by the National Science Foundation. “We’re especially excited about the transfer of this technology into classroom settings,” said Mary Marlino, director of Digital Learning Services at UCAR. “This is a very satisfying culmination of a dozen years of working very closely with the CU team in developing services to support open education resources in the classroom.” In the six school districts where the E-Hub platform has been deployed so far, involving nearly 100 schools and 400 teachers, 90% of teachers said they would recommend the platform to other educators. In one study, student outcomes improved up to 35% based on standard test scores. “For the first time, teachers can respond immediately and effectively to adaptions of instructional content that best suit the individual needs of each of their students,” said EdTrex CEO John Stearns. “We know all students learn differently. Now teachers can address those differences on the spot and achieve extraordinary learning outcomes.” “Empowering teachers to customize curricula is particularly critical for today’s diverse learners,” added Sumner, an associate professor of cognitive science and computer science. “A study conducted by researchers from Utah State University found that students of teachers who took advantage of the rich features in the E-Hub platform showed significantly higher learning gains. In addition, these teachers’ use of E-Hub tended to benefit student populations that had a larger portion of low socio-economic status students.” Beyond curriculum design, EdTrex plans to develop the software platform to support next-generation classroom and instructional management requirements.

NCAR renewable energy prediction system wins prestigious Governor’s Award

BOULDER – A cutting-edge wind and solar energy forecasting system that has saved electricity consumers $40 million has won a prestigious 2014 Colorado Governor's Award for High-Impact Research in the Sustainability category as well as an honorable mention in Public-Private Partnerships. The advanced system, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and implemented for Xcel Energy, has dramatically increased the amount of renewable energy provided to the grid. It was funded by Xcel Energy, which is a national leader on wind energy. Workers install panels being used by the U.S. Department of Energy to leverage a Power Purchase Agreement with Sun Edison and Xcel Energy. A prediction system developed at NCAR is helping Xcel Energy increase the amount of power going from renewable energy systems into the grid.  (Wikimedia Commons photo by Dennis Schroeder.) "It is very gratifying to take our scientific and technological expertise and apply it in a way that has a meaningful impact on society," said William Mahoney, deputy director of NCAR's Research Applications Lab. "We're developing systems that offer the dual benefit of saving costs and reducing emissions of pollutants that are harmful to the environment." The Governor's Award is given each year by CO-LABS, a nonprofit that works to inform the public about the breakthroughs and impacts from Colorado's 30 federally funded labs and research facilities. The CO-LABS consortium includes Colorado federal research laboratories, research universities, state and local governments, economic development organizations, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Ken Lund, executive director of Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, will present the awards at this year's reception on November 12 to teams from NCAR and three other Colorado-based research centers for extraordinary research in the areas of Atmospheric Science, Foundational Technology, Public Health, and Sustainability. The awards presentation will take place at the Denver Museum of Science & Nature.  The sponsor, the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, manages the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on behalf of the Department of Energy (DOE).  NREL is the DOE's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The annual reception is the major CO-LABS event to showcase Colorado's research facilities and the work of the CO-LABS organization. NCAR's energy forecasting system relies on a suite of tools, including highly detailed observations of atmospheric conditions, energy generation, an ensemble of cutting-edge computer models, and advanced statistical techniques, to issue high-resolution forecasts of wind energy generation that are updated with new information every 15 minutes. "The wind and solar forecasting system developed with NCAR has given Xcel Energy increased confidence each day in determining the amount of renewable energy we can expect, as we strive to provide reliable power at a competitive price for our Colorado customers," said David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company. "We believe this modeling will provide equal certainty for other U.S. utilities as they also increase the amount of renewable generation in their portfolios." "We're very pleased that this investment in an energy forecasting system has paid such significant dividends," said UCAR president Thomas Bogdan. “This work illustrates how an increasingly detailed understanding of the atmosphere leads to important advances for society." NCAR also received honorable mention in the Sustainability category this year for the Global Energy and Water Exchanges (GEWEX) Project, which focuses on developing better ways to understand global and regional climate, especially water resources. NCAR senior scientist Kevin Trenberth and the international GEWEX research team collectively studies the water cycle and how to translate research results into practical applications. Trenberth chaired the GEWEX scientific steering committee from 2010 to 2013. Other winners of this year's Governor's Award include: Atmospheric Science"Into the Air"Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Foundational Technology"Commercialization of Cold-Atom Technology"JILA, University of Colorado Boulder Public Health"An Oral Vaccine Produced in Rice Grain to Reduce the Risk of Lyme Disease" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "Researchers in Colorado's federal laboratories continue to lead the nation with valuable study that addresses some of today's most pressing problems," said Scott Sternberg, chair of CO-LABS. "Our annual ceremony does more than just recognize new discoveries, it also celebrates the impact research and science have on our state." The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) manages NCAR under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this release do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.    

Will climate change shift renewable energy resources?

October 8, 2014 | Building a large-scale wind farm or solar power plant involves an enormous investment in time and money. Requirements include exploring prime sites for capturing energy from wind or sunshine, purchasing the land, undergoing a potentially lengthy permitting process, and installing costly infrastructure. Not surprisingly, utilities expect such facilities to last many decades. But what if, years from now, changes in climate caused some of the wind or sunshine to shift away from major facilities? An array of wind turbines generates power on a sunny afternoon at the Cedar Creek wind farm in northeast Colorado. New research is providing estimates of how the availability of wind and solar energy might shift as a result of climate change over the next few decades. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.) To help provide guidance to utilities, scientists at NCAR and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have produced maps that show how wind speeds and solar irradiance may evolve by 2060 across the continental United States. The maps (see bottom of page for a sample) include projections for each season and for different times of day, while taking into account natural variability. The maps provide a first, rough sketch of how wind and solar patterns may shift with climate change. Research into regional climate change remains a challenging field because of uncertainties over how warming temperatures will affect particular parts of the country. The maps were created for the Department of Energy's Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model, which helps the Energy Department optimize and visualize the build-out of U.S. electricity generation and transmission systems. The underlying research will be submitted to a peer-reviewed publication. As this sampling of maps shows, the United States is likely to experience some noticeable changes in wind and sunshine patterns by 2060. For example, the Northeast should prepare for a slight increase in wintertime winds in the morning at the height of wind turbine hubs (about 250 feet above the ground). In summer and fall, a noticeable reduction in winds at the same time of day is likely. Parts of the Southwest, in contrast, are likely to have less wind at hub height in winter and somewhat more in summer and fall. By 2060, much of the country can expect more energy from the Sun during an average summer morning. In the winter, however, the northern tier is likely to get less energy from the Sun while the southern states receive more. The shifts are not overwhelming—generally 10 percent or less. But they can be important for energy planning. “These are subtle changes but they can make a difference in where a utility sites a wind or solar facility now,” said Sue Haupt, who oversees renewable energy research at NCAR. “Energy managers need to consider whether a resource is going to decline or become stronger in the future.” To create the maps, Haupt and her team drew on an advanced, NCAR-based database of current wind and solar resources, known as the Climate Four Dimensional Data Assimilation System. They then turned to simulations of projected future regional climate conditions that had already been generated by a number of computer models for the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program. By using artificial intelligence techniques, they were able to emphasize those computer models that most accurately captured current wind and sunshine conditions and apply those models to produce outlooks of future conditions. Haupt said she hopes to update the maps in a few years, drawing on more sophisticated climate models. Note - October 14, 2014 | The fourth paragraph and maps caption have been updated to clarify that this research, performed for the Department of Energy, will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Writer/contactDavid Hosansky, NCAR & UCAR Communications Collaborating institutionNational Renewable Energy Laboratory FunderNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy) DIVE DEEPER The maps below indicate possible changes in projected solar radiation (top) and wind speed (bottom) during morning hours, averaged across each of the four seasons, for the year 2060 vs. 1995. Created for the U.S. Department of Energy, the maps provide a first, rough sketch of how wind and solar patterns may shift with climate change. The researchers also created additional maps for afternoon, evening, and overnight conditions. The underlying research will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. (Images courtesy Sue Haupt, NCAR.)    

UCAR, India join forces on weather technology and prediction

BOULDER — U.S. atmospheric researchers and their counterparts in India will join forces to advance weather forecasting and technology under a new agreement between the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the India Ministry of Earth Sciences. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) will support collaborations to improve forecasts of major weather events in India, including monsoonal rains that are critical for growing crops that feed hundreds of millions of people. In turn, the knowledge gained from insights into India's weather patterns will help U.S. researchers advance their own forecast skills to better predict events closer to home. A farmer in an Indian village. India’s vast population and extensive agriculture make prediction of the annual monsoon a critically important tool. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Ramnath Bhat.) "If we can help advance their forecast skill while learning more about long-range prediction, it will save lives in India as well as improve our own forecasts for similar events at home,” said UCAR president Thomas Bogdan. “There are some important synergies that can benefit both countries." Collaborations are expected to involve research on aircraft and radar technology, nowcasting of severe weather events, hydrometeorology, satellite data, oceanic and climate research, and urban flooding. A particularly important area is long-range prediction, potentially helping Indian farmers with planting decisions based on the projected intensity and timing of the next monsoon season. One of the first collaborations is expected to focus on a new technology that produces highly detailed measurements of wind in the lower atmosphere. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is managed by UCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation, have developed a 449-MHz Modular Radar Wind Profiler. With its adaptable design and novel, inexpensive power amplifier, the wind profiler may be set up as a network of radars for the lower atmosphere or as a single large wind profiler able to take measurements as high as the stratosphere. Such observations can improve forecasts of monsoons, thunderstorms, frontal systems, and other weather events. "Accurate weather forecasts and long-range outlooks have extremely high value to the Indian economy and the needs of the nation's farmers," Bogdan said. The MOU covers scientists at NCAR, UCAR, and UCAR's 100-plus member universities. In India, it covers a range of institutions and scientists funded by the India Ministry of Earth Sciences.

A seedbed of greatness

October 1, 2014 | There's no pomp and circumstance on the agenda, but the staff and alumni of NCAR's Advanced Study Program (ASP) are taking quiet pride this autumn in the program's 50th anniversary. What began as a novel idea just four years after the founding of NCAR has become a renowned launch pad for the careers of hundreds of young scientists, many of whom are now leaders in weather, climate, and solar research. ASP offers a unique two-year postdoctoral program that combines intensive mentoring and access to a wide range of experts with the freedom to explore innovative topics. More than 500 alumni of the ASP Postdoctoral Fellowship Program now occupy prominent positions within the atmospheric sciences community. These scientists can be found practicing in a broad range of disciplines at UCAR member universities; government, nongovernmental, and private organizations; and NCAR itself. Along with its postdoc program, ASP offers graduate students the opportunity to make 3- to 12-month visits to NCAR in support of their university-based thesis research. In addition, ASP's Faculty Fellowship Program paves the way for university faculty to take NCAR-based sabbaticals and for NCAR scientists to do likewise in academia. Supported by the National Science Foundation, ASP addresses mission-critical education and training goals of both NCAR and the foundation. Benefits accrue not just to the participants but also to NCAR and the science community, which gain highly trained researchers and an infusion of new ideas that emerge with each cohort of fellows. According to ASP alumnus Russ Schumacher (Colorado State University), the program's focus on independent research is fundamental to its success. "The program puts a lot of power in the hands of a young scientist, which is invaluable. ASP fellows are encouraged to explore new ideas and allowed to find their own way to a large degree, but can also turn to some of the world’s top atmospheric scientists as needed," he said. Meetings of the minds In the course of fostering emerging scientists, ASP promotes the examination of particularly timely topics, as well as areas that seem underemphasized relative to their importance. Toward this end, almost every year since 1966, ASP has hosted a summer colloquium that brings together graduate students and expert researchers in a given field for an intensive set of lectures. The colloquia foster interactions between scientists and graduate students and also provide an opportunity for professional peers working on similar issues to come together, typically for several days, midway through the multiweek agenda. Julio Herrera Estrada (Princeton University) and Elizabeth Lewis (Newcastle University) discuss one of the research projects featured at a dinnertime poster session during the ASP 2014 Summer Colloquium on Uncertainty in Climate Change: An Integrated Approach. (©UCAR. Photo by Stephen Geinosky, NCAR.) Uncertainty in climate change research was the focus of the 2014 ASP Summer Colloquium, held from July 21 to August 6. Although the basic role of human-produced greenhouse gases in raising global temperature is unquestioned, there remains a wide range of possibilities as to how future climate change will unfold, especially on local and regional scales. Sessions at this past summer's colloquium focused on the need to understand strands of uncertainty throughout the climate change problem in order to maximize the effectiveness of research focused in any one area, such as regional climate change or societal vulnerability. "Research quality on any related topic is enhanced by having a more well-honed understanding of the bigger climate picture," explained Linda Mearns, an NCAR senior scientist and lead organizer of the 2014 colloquium on uncertainty. "We aimed to train up-and-coming scientists in interdisciplinary thinking, illuminate both the certainties and uncertainties related to climate change, and provide tools for dealing rigorously with the uncertainties." "ASP colloquia provide a real service to the community by training the next generation of scientists," said Lance Bosart (University at Albany, State University of New York), who co-led ASP’s 2012 colloquium on the intersection of weather and climate. "Organizing and running colloquia is a difficult thing for a university to do. NCAR has the resources and experience and knows how to do it right." Another tradition is the Thompson Lecture Series, launched in 1998 in honor of ASP founder Phil Thompson. The series brings prominent scientists to NCAR for short visits that feature interaction between the lecturer, ASP fellows, and other early career scientists at NCAR. Thompson Lecturers have included Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen (Max Planck Institute for Chemistry), Susan Solomon and Kerry Emanuel (both at Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Robert Rosner (University of Chicago), and the late Jerry Mahlman (who spent most of his career at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab and Princeton) among others. In addition to giving a formal presentation, Thompson Lecturers offer research advice to the ASP postdocs and share their perspectives on scientific trends and priorities. In turn, they're briefed on emerging areas of research being investigated by the postdocs. At the helm Leadership has been a critical part of ASP's half century of success. Alumni praise the lineup of past and present ASP directors for their excellent mentoring and listening skills, dedication to fostering early career scientists, and strong advocacy on the part of fellows during the program and beyond, as the fellows launch their careers. Mary Hayden, an ASP alumna now working on health and climate issues at NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory, credits ASP leadership for ensuring strong, ongoing ties between NCAR and program alumni. "During my tenure as an ASP postdoc, I knew I had Director Maura Hagan’s full support for the work I was doing then, and to this day – although my postdoc has ended, and Maura is no longer the program director – she continues supporting the work I do," Hayden said. “This abiding interest from Maura is not unique to me, but is true for other ASP postdocs that Maura mentored, and likely contributes to the enduring connections between NCAR and its ASP postdocs.”           Current ASP director Chris Davis sees the ongoing interaction as essential for keeping NCAR strong and relevant. “Outgoing ASP postdocs form an important part of the web connecting NCAR and universities,” said Davis. “We look forward to the research and career development possibilities that those ties represent, both for ASP alumni and successive generations of students and postdoctoral fellows.” Students participate in a postdoctoral seminar at NCAR circa late 1960s. (©UCAR.) Writer/Contact Rachel Hauser, Office of the UCAR President FunderNational Science Foundation


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