Profile - Bruce Morley

Shedding light on the air

In Random Profile, we interview a stochastically selected staff member about his or her life at the office—and outside of it.

­­Bruce Morley

Lab: EOL
Job Title: Associate Scientist
Years at NCAR: 19
Fun Fact: Brews his own beer

You work mainly with lidars. Most of us have heard of these, but what exactly is a lidar? A laser-based radar. Instead of transmitting radio waves, it transmits light. So rather than using a big antenna to collect your signal, you use a telescope. In EOL, we use lidars to look at aerosol particles—dirt or particles suspended in the atmosphere—by bouncing light off the particles and then collecting the data. On an airplane, we can use one to search for layers in the atmosphere. We have an instrument in EOL that we acquired about a year ago called the High Spectral Resolution Lidar. It gives us calibrated properties of aerosols and is set to fly on the G-V [HIAPER]. We’ll use it to get aerosol and atmospheric properties that can be plugged into climate models. Bruce Morley with his lidar equipment.

Where do you see lidar technology going in the future? What will scientists use them for in 20 years? There are several varieties of lidars and you can use them for many different things. They’re especially nice because you can do remote sensing—sample from a distance instead of going out and collecting samples. There’s a lidar being developed in Montana right now that will be used to profile the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. It’s a micro-pulse system that is eye-safe at the transmitter exit; water vapor lidars in the past have had pulse energies too high to be eye-safe.  The cost of the Montana system is also lower and the reliability of the fiber lasers used is high. Another development is that they’re trying to develop lidars that will measure carbon dioxide from the ground. This is a very difficult problem because there’s not a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere and it’s pretty uniformly distributed, so you have to measure with incredible precision and accuracy to record changes.

If you’re flying lidars on aircraft, that must mean that you go on field projects. I’ve been on many. I used to work out of RAF—wherever the aircraft went, we went. I flew over the North Pole in the Electra [a former NCAR aircraft retired in 2001] and did projects in Antarctica before I came to NCAR. We also flew the Electra over the Kuwait oil fires in 1991. I like the remote places. We went to Resolute Bay, Alaska, on a project; there were maybe 500 people in the town, and the airport had a gravel runway. I was also on TOGA COARE, based in the Solomon Islands, and INDOEX, in the Maldives. The one continent I can’t claim is Africa.

If you could have any superpower to help you perform your job better, what would it be? The ability to fix things! Instruments are always breaking and you have to improvise repairs. Especially in airplanes.

You’ve probably seen the technology improve tremendously in your years in the field. Today we collect more data in an hour with some of the instruments than we used to collect on entire field programs. For the DYNAMO field project next fall, they’re taking hard discs about the size of a tape recorder that can hold a terabyte of data.

You also apply your scientific mind to making beer. Or is that an art? It’s fun to experiment. I haven’t used a standard recipe in a long time; I have a basic structure and go from there. I’ve made a lot of beer in my life, mostly stronger, heavier brews—India pale ales and stouts. The best beer I’ve made is probably one of my IPAs.

Other than lidars and beer, what’s important in your life? I’m married with two kids. My daughter, Kate, is currently at the London School of Economics in the master’s program. My son, Steve, is studying for a master’s in jazz at the University of Miami. Laurie, my wife, is on the school board and involved in local politics. We live in south Boulder and I bike to work most days. I like to hike and fly fish and get into the mountains.  

Any favorite fly-fishing spots? The high mountain lakes and Yellowstone. I’m trying to get into the Yellowstone backcountry this summer.  

There’s that theme of remote places again. Remote places are fun. Before I came to NCAR, my family spent a year in Greenland, when the kids were 2 and 4. I also spent a full year at the South Pole.

What’s the most recent book, movie, or concert you’ve taken in? I went to the Conference on World Affairs jazz concert at CU. That’s always an exceptional concert. And if you know about the local jazz scene, you can always find some nice jam sessions.

Is there anything that you’re known for among your co-workers? About six months ago my beard was down to my sternum. They kept asking when I was going to shave.

So what made you do it? It was time. ZZ Top wasn’t sending me any royalties.