I am delighted to present the 2006/2007 NCAR Annual Report, and to share my enthusiasm for the recent accomplishments of our staff and collaborators in the key areas of facilities, science, and service.
Through generous support from the National Science Foundation, NCAR continues to be dedicated to exploring and understanding our atmosphere in the broadest terms, including interactions with the sun, the oceans, the biosphere, and human society. As a federally funded research and development center, it is our mission to pursue these studies in collaboration with federal sponsors, universities, industry and private sector partners, and governments and research institutes around the world.
This year, we published our new strategic plan, NCAR as an Integrator, Innovator and Community Builder. With our collaborators, we've been moving forward aggressively to implement our strategic goals, to:
- Improve understanding of the atmosphere, the Earth system, and the Sun
- Increase societal resilience to weather, climate, and other atmospheric hazards
- Cultivate a scientifically literate and engaged citizenry and a diverse and creative workforce
- Provide robust, accessible, and innovative information services and tools, and
- Provide world-class ground, airborne, and space-borne observational facilities and services.
In pursuing these goals NCAR will continue to serve as NSF's strategic partner in addressing issues of national concern, including understanding climate change, advancing weather and severe storm forecasting, and securing U.S. competitiveness in science and engineering, all for the benefit of society.
This report describes NCAR's major accomplishments in 2006 and our plans for 2007. As you will see, our efforts continue to benefit enormously from pervasive community interactions, ranging from the many and growing research collaborations to active community leadership of our field campaigns.
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Beyond the scientific work itself, the need for effective communication, public outreach, and education is urgent, perhaps most notably in the context of anthropogenic climate change. As the evidence builds that climate change is under way and having visible consequences, the need for concerted responses intensifies. NCAR is working to improve society's ability to respond to the challenges faced by our leaders and decision makers, from computer modeling, to studying the genesis of hurricanes, to developing early warning systems and other effective communication tools.
Through our world-class observational facilities, we are improving weather models and instruments for researchers. In 2006, NCAR conducted the first scientific missions with the new NSF High-Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), a Gulfstream V specially adapted as a research jet. The culmination of 20 years of planning and development, HIAPER can fly up to 51,000 feet with a range of 7,000 miles and can carry 5,600 pounds of scientific sensors. Following a year of progressive science missions, HIAPER saw its first major field deployment in the spring, during the successful Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX). This experiment brought scientists, technicians, and students from across the United States and Europe to the Owens Valley of California to study rotors, huge rolling-pin-shaped zones of high turbulence that form near mountains. The formations and associated turbulence are not only scientifically challenging, they threaten aircraft safety.
Complex models and increasing amounts of observational data require that NCAR meet exponentially growing computational needs in the geosciences research community. Our short-term goal is to augment supercomputing capacity by a factor of 25 in five years, from our starting point in early 2005. We recently completed the first and only Integrated Computing Environment for Scientific Simulation (ICESS) procurement. We will install the new ICESS machine in early 2007, increasing the total production computing capacity at NCAR to over 2.2 teraflops sustained, thereby providing our community with secure, leading-edge computing capabilities for the next several years. Our even-more-ambitious goal is to reach petascale computing for all the geosciences, and we recently hosted a major community workshop to outline steps for achieving that vision.
Our computational resources have allowed NCAR to conduct research and develop community models that improve our understanding of the atmosphere, the Earth system, and the Sun. With these models scientists are able to provide national and regional decision-makers with the most advanced science in weather and climate modeling.
In August, the high-resolution Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) became the first model to serve as both the backbone of the nation's public weather forecasts and a tool for cutting-edge weather research. The model was adopted for use by NOAA's National Weather Service as the primary model for its one-to-three-day U.S. forecasts and as a key part of the NWS's ensemble modeling system for short-range forecasts. The U.S. Air Force Weather Agency also used WRF for several areas of operations around the world. Because the model fulfills both research and operational functions, it is easier for research findings to be translated into improved operational models, leading to better forecasts.
NCAR's Community Climate System Model (CCSM) served as one of three U.S. models in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. NCAR scientists were notably active participants in the IPCC, with seven convening and lead authors and many more contributing authors. In June, a special issue of the Journal of Climate was devoted to the CCSM's contributions to the IPCC, with articles featuring 51 NCAR authors and 49 external collaborators.
This year, NCAR scientists Mausumi Dikpati, Peter Gilman, and Giuliana de Toma published breakthrough research results that indicate the next sunspot cycle will be 30-50% stronger than the last one and begin as much as a year late. The model, called the Predictive Flux-transport Dynamo Model, draws on new understandings of solar dynamics showing that the evolution of sunspots is caused by a current of plasma that circulates between the Sun's equator and its poles over a period of 17 to 22 years. This current acts like a conveyor belt of sunspots. The model has been 98% accurate in simulating the past eight solar cycles. Better prediction of solar cycles would provide advance warning of increases in space weather activity, thermospheric density, and ionospheric disruptions that can disrupt communications satellites, commercial flight patterns, and power systems.
In another breakthrough with important practical applications, field researchers this summer tested a technique for the first time that uses multiple Doppler weather radar to track water vapor in the lower atmosphere. During REFRACTT (Refractivity Experiment For H2O Research And Collaborative operational Technology Transfer) researchers measured changes in the speed of radar signals caused by refraction, which in turn revealed the presence or absence of atmospheric moisture. The proof-of-concept experiment demonstrated that such measurements can help forecasters pin down the locations and timing of storms that might rage a few minutes to a few hours later.
NCAR and its university partners share a commitment to professional development in atmospheric and related sciences. In 2006, NCAR implemented a new Faculty Fellowship Program that promotes professional exchanges between NCAR and UCAR member universities. We augmented our graduate fellowship program, held two graduate research colloquia, and completed our fourth annual Early-career Faculty Forum on Future Scientific Directions.
As NSF's strategic partner, we continue to augment our efforts in education, outreach, and diversity, and I have committed special NCAR funds toward this effort. Of particular note are the annual NCAR Undergraduate Leadership Workshop, which brings promising future leaders from around the country for a week of exposure to NCAR scientists and facilities.
On the international front, we are conducting a special African Initiative in association with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which builds collaborations with African institutions. These and other ongoing activities are aimed at engaging more people from underrepresented minority groups in NCAR's programs.
NCAR's activities as an integrator, innovator, and community builder are contributing to the development of predictive Earth system science that can help sustain Earth's habitability, improve environmental quality, safeguard human health, reduce the impacts of natural disasters, and increase economic productivity. We look forward to working with you to make these goals a reality.