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NCAR expanded its research on biosphere/atmosphere interactions in the 1980s, with Christine Ennis and other scientists studying the chemical exchanges between plants and the surrounding air.
Atmosphere and society intertwined in new ways during the 1980s, as a host of threats from acid rain to microbursts came into focus. With extensive ties to universities and expertise in both weather and climate, NCAR and UCAR were natural venues for addressing these issues. Among many other topics, NCAR scientists explored the potential climatic fallout of nuclear war and the implications of a continued rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. NCAR also introduced two powerful tools provided free to researchers worldwide—the Community Climate Model and the Penn State/NCAR Mesoscale Model—along with support services that helped university scientists deploy them. UCAR grew in its own right, launching several programs at the request of federal agencies and the university community. One of the first such activities was Unidata, founded in 1984, which made satellite and weather data available to universities for teaching and research. Several other programs followed later in the decade. With technology transfer a booming area, the UCAR Foundation was born in 1986 to help bring the fruits of NCAR research and development into the private sector. Uncertainties cropped up—how far should UCAR go beyond managing NCAR?—but the new endeavors were successful enough to keep the community of atmospheric and related scientists asking for more.