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ESSL LAR 2008: Strategic Goal #5, Priority #1

Earth and Sun Systems Laboratory endeavors are central to NCAR's Strategic Goal #5, to "Provide world-class ground, airborne, and space-borne observational facilities and services." This Strategic Goal includes three Strategic Priorities, two of which are closely tied to work by ESSL staff

Goal #5, Priority #1: Enabling Innovative Field Experiments and Measurement Campaigns, is described as follows in the NCAR Strategic Plan: "The accuracy, robustness, and performance of weather, climate, and chemistry models depend on sound theory and accurate measurements. NCAR leadership in the area of field program planning and implementation provides a critical service to the community, and we are proud of our achievements in this area....Maintaining flexibility and responsiveness, NCAR serves as the coordination point for scientific field campaigns, offering services ranging from advice and consultation during the initial stages of planning to field design and project implementation plans, tailored and specialized logistics support, the fielding, operation, and maintenance of scientific instrumentation, real-time data communication, organizational and operational management, and the coordination of educational activities."

Significant efforts by scientists and staff of the Earth and Sun Systems Laboratory (ESSL) are focused on addressing this Priority in order to provide the observations necessary for improved understanding of the Earth and Sun Systems.

The section below describes specific research conducted by ESSL staff under projects relevant to Goal #5, Strategic Priority #1. The major ESSL activities in this area are the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory facility, development and improvement of community chemistry instruments, virtual observatories and data services, and planning for START08 and DC3 field campaigns that will utilize HIAPER.

  1. Mauna Loa Solar Observatory facility - HAO
  2. Community "chemistry" instruments - ACD
  3. Informatics: Virtual observatories and data services - HAO
  4. Planning of DC3 field program - TIIMES
  5. Planning of START08 field program - TIIMES
  6. BEACHON - SRM Manitou Experimental Forest SuperSite - TIIMES

Mauna Loa Solar Observatory Facility

The Mauna Loa Solar Observatory

The Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO) is a facility of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and operated by the High Altitude Observatory (HAO). It provides observations of the Sun's atmosphere in support of the solar and space physics goal of understanding the Sun's continuous release of plasma and energy into interplanetary space and its impact at Earth. HAO is committed to providing the community with critically important, high-quality solar observations. MLSO was constructed in 1965 and is located at 11,200 feet on the northern flank of Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii. The site was chosen for its ideal sky conditions (e.g. dark skies, low water vapor, few cloudy days) that allow observations of the corona and chromosphere, on average, about 345 days per year. The nominal observing schedule is 9 hours per day weather permitting.

Current Instrumentation

MLSO began operation in December 1965. HAO operates 4 instruments at MLSO:

  1. MK4 K-Coronameter
  2. Polarimeter for Inner Coronal Studies (PICS)
  3. Chromospheric He-I Imaging Photometer (CHIP)
  4. Precision Solar Photometric Telescope (PSPT)

Scientific Usefulness

Ground-based observations, such as those from Mauna Loa, are cost-effective and can be maintained for decades at a very modest price. They are often unique and enhance the value of space-based missions.

The MK4 furnishes unique observations of the density structure of the low corona used for studying features such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), coronal cavities, helmet streamers, transient dimmings and polar plumes. These data are essential for determining the onset times and early dynamics of CMEs and their interaction with ambient coronal structures. The combined MK3/MK4 observations provide continual information on the density structure of the low corona over the last 3 solar cycles.

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PICS (Hα): The wide field-of-view (FOV) of PICS, coupled with long-exposure occulted observations provide unique information on prominence dynamics in Hα from the pre-eruptive state to their eruption and propagation beyond 2 Rsun. PICS disk images are used to study filament evolution and eruption, optical flares and global (Moreton) waves.

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PSPT (Ca IIK, red,blue): The PSPT provides the most precise pixel-to-pixel photometric observations of umbra, penumbra, plage, active and quiet network and quiet Sun over the full solar disk, which are used to understand the variability in the solar radiative output. Other science uses include determining the latitudinal variations in the solar temperature to constrain global dynamical models. PSPT data are provided through a joint agreement between HAO and the University of Colorado.

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HAO continues to provide new data products to the community utilizing new space-based observations. New products in 2008 include: 1) STEREO/MK4 and LASCO/EIT/MK4 daily composite images (shown above), 2) added full resolution images of realtime MLSO data, 3) full resolution jpegs (in addition to low res.) of MK4 archived images. In addition, MLSO has recently joined the Big Bear Global Hα Network and will begin providing Hα observations directly through this global network before the end of 2008.

MLSO Data Usage

All data are provided on the MLSO web site:

MLSO provides the public with the largest quantity of solar data from a single ground-based observatory and is the largest provider of observations of any HAO facility. The data are widely used, and usage has increased dramatically over the last 5 years. User statistics are provided:

  • 296 registered users (17 new users in the last 2 months)
  • 28 U.S. and 29 intl. universities, 17 U.S. and 41 intl. labs and observatories
  • 2.8 million web page hits/year
  • Serves 321 GBytes / year
  • 555 verified publications

Future Plans and Prioritizations

HAO staff have established a preliminary prioritization of current and future instrumentation and data products as those deemed to be most effective at meeting HAO coronal science goals and providing breakthrough observations over the coming decade:

  1. COronal Multi-Channel Polarimeter (CoMP) / COSMO coronal magnetic field measurements
  2. Prominence Magnetometer (ProMag) prominence magnetic fields
  3. MK4 replacement Koronagraph (low corona; polarization brightness)


CoMP records the full Stokes (I,Q,U,V) of the forbidden FeXIII lines at 1074.7 nm and 1079.8 nm and the He-I line at 1083.0 nm. CoMP can determine the coronal magnetic field plane-of-sky (POS) direction and line-of-sight (LOS) strength. The LOS plasma motions are determined from the wings of the intensity line and the POS density is determined from the line ratios. CoMP was initially installed and tested at The NSO Sac Peak Observatory. It is currently being refitted and redeployed to Hawaii (Haleakala Observatory) by early 2009. The CoMP data pipeline has been deemed a top priority in order to serve CoMP data products using the MLSO data infrastructure shortly after first light. CoMP is the prototype instrument for a 1.4 meter coronagraph (COSMO) to measure coronal magnetic fields at significantly better temporal and spatial scales. For more information on CoMP and COSMO see :

The Prominence Magnetometer (ProMag) is a spectro-polarimeter designed to simultaneously observe in the Helium D3 line at 587.6 nm and He-I at 1083.0 nm in order to determine the magnetic field in prominences via the Hanle effect. Fabrication is being completed at HAO with the hope of deploying ProMag at Sacramento Peak Observatory by the end of 2008. For more information see:

A modern coronagraph has been designed by HAO to replace the MK4 K-coronameter, which currently employs 1970s hardware. The new coronagraph will produce actual images of the Sun (vs. the MK4 scanning device) down to 1.05 Rsun at a temporal cadence of 12 seconds, compared with the current 3 minutes. The coronagraph will have a signal-to-noise (S/N) 10x better than the MK4, which should allow for the detection of faint structures such as halo CMEs. The MK4 currently records only portions of the brighter halo events. The lower FOV is extremely important for observing the formation of CMEs and other dynamical events originating in the first scale height. The coronagraph design is available at:

The ProMag and CoMP instruments have been designed and fabricated with funds from HAO and NCAR, which are supported by NSF. The new Koronagraph is not yet funded.

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Community "chemistry" instruments

Figure 1. The CARI Fast-O3 and CO instrument combined in one aircraft rack, ready to be installed on the NCAR/NSF GV aircraft in support of the START-08 mission.

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ACD's CARI group, in collaboration with EOL staff, developed, maintains, and operates several instruments that are available to the community for use on NSF aircraft operated by NCAR. These instruments measure CO, CO2, water vapor, Fast time resolution (5Hz) ozone (Fast-O3), and oxides of nitrogen in a 2-channel NO-NOy instrument. These instruments can be requested for any particular campaign as a part of the procedure for requesting the aircraft facility (NSF-LAOF). Both the Fast-O3 and the NO/NOy instruments were certified for flight on the NCAR/NSF GV aircraft during FY 2008. They can also be configured for the NCAR/NSF C-130 and other aircraft in the U.S. and European research fleet. For the future, CARI also is planning on making its PAN CIGARette Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer available as a requestable instrument for the NCAR/NSF aircraft.

CARI supported four field campaigns in FY2008, two of which were multi-intensive campaigns spanning the spring and summer of 2008. Water vapor and Fast-Ozone measurements were provided for the Pacific Sulfur Experiment (PASE) flown on the C-130; CO, Fast-Ozone, and water vapor measurements were made during ICE-L also flown on the C-130.

NO, NOy, Fast-Ozone, CO, and Water vapor were measured during the START-08 project on the GV; and our four channel NO/NO2/NOy/Ozone instrument was flown on the NASA DC-8 aircraft during the NASA-led ARCTAS campaign. Please see the ESSL Laboratory Research Catalog for details on these campaigns.

In addition, the upload and testing was completed for the VOCALS campaign, to be flown on the C-130 during October and November 2008. Further improvements to the airborne CO2 instrument electronics and data acquisition system were implemented in preparation for VOCALS. Improved noise specifications and reliability of operation were observed.

CARI participated in a project to characterize the accuracy and precision of several NCAR humidity sensors and our commercial humidity calibration system. CARI participated in the European intercomparison experiment, AquaVit, in October, 2007 at the AIDA chamber of the Forschung Zentrum Karlsruhe, Germany ( ). This project was conducted in collaboration with the Technical University of Wiesbaden, and has resulted in a diploma thesis for our student visitor, Dennis Kraemer. The CARI group provided the technical and educational oversight and mentoring, TIIMES provided visitor funds, and EOL provided the hygrometric equipment and calibration systems.

FY2009 work will include data workup and submission for the missions listed above, data analysis for these projects, continued data analysis from TexAQS2006, MIRAGE, and INTEX-B as well as post-mission calibration efforts for each instrument. Results from TexAQS 2006, MIRAGE, PACDEX, and an instrument paper were presented at the 2007 AGU Fall meeting. Instruments will be reconfigured, calibrated, and prepared for four field deployments during FY2009.

This work is funded by NSF/NCAR with supplemental funding from NASA for ARCTAS.

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Informatics: Virtual Observatories and Data Services

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research Earth and Sun Systems High Altitude Observatory (NCAR/ESSL/HAO), the NCAR Computational Information Systems Laboratory Scientific Computing Division (NCAR/CISL/SCD), and McGuinness Associates have completed a collaborative NSF-funded project called the Virtual Solar Terrestrial Observatory (VSTO). The VSTO is in production and provides a distributed, scalable education and research environment for searching, integrating, and analyzing observational, experimental and model databases in the fields of solar, solar-terrestrial and space physics (SSTSP). VSTO comprises a semantically-enabled data framework which provides virtual access to specific SSTSP data, model, tool and material archives containing items from a variety of space- and ground-based instruments and experiments, as well as individual and community modeling and software efforts bridging research and educational use. The VSTO is a fully functional production system addressing a substantial need within several major SSTSP communities, allowing science projects to advance more rapidly. The overall goal is to integrate a balance of data/model holdings, portals and client software, to the underlying semantically rich, ontology-enabled (a machine readable specification of concepts and relations that hold among them)framework, to provide the environment that researchers can use without undue effort as if all the materials were available on their local computers and in a language that is consistent with their field of expertise. The VSTO ontology version 1.0 has been published and is being used by other groups.

VSTO's success has been in unifying (via abstraction of the common concepts) the query workflow across very distinct science disciplines and data-types, decreasing input requirements for query (in one case reducing the number of selections from eight to three), generating only syntactically correct queries (which was not always insurable in previous implementations without semantics), providing semantic query support (by using background ontologies and a reasoner, only exposing coherent queries), and semantic integration (in the past users had to remember and maintain codes to account for numerous different ways to combine and plot the data) via understanding of coordinate systems, relationships, data synthesis, transformations, etc. Lastly, we have found a broader range of potential users (PhD scientists, students, professional research associates and those from outside the fields) are able to access data via VSTO.

The VSTO framework is being utilized (without changes in the basic structure but with suitable population of the ontology for the application area) in scientific data integration projects ranging from solid-earth, atmosphere and ocean applications. The upper panel of the figure shows a high-level schematic of the VSTO framework indicating the input ontologies, semantic filters and the reasoning engine which lead to the primary selection via choices of instrument, parameter and date-time supplemented by ancillary metadata (such as the long time records that are common in SSTSP). Users can access and query data using a web portal and machine-to-machine access is provided via semantic web services.

The VSTO work is being extended at present with research into knowledge provenance. The Semantic Provenance Capture in Data Ingest Systems (SPCDIS) completed its first year. When science data and information (often in the form of graphical images) are made available to an end-user (Fig. 1), it often happens after a number of data filtration and processing steps. As a consequence, any important metadata and/or documentation that may be needed to answer questions about the provenance may not have been generated, saved, propagated or be in a form or location that can be utilized (at all, or without significant effort or expertise). Virtual Observatories are particularly prone to this information gap. Thus, this project traces the entire pipeline and accounts for all roles, processes and metadata as they relate to use cases, which require provenance. This year we engaged data providers, instrument and algorithm developers from HAO and the community in general. We analyzed and documented the data ingest pipeline for our instrument suite operating at the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory to identify and extract the needed provenance and annotation requirements. We have compiled a set of use cases to ground our developments. As a concrete demonstration we have implemented the first set of provenance collection and utilized existing tools for provenance search and browsing to provide end-users with a capability that they can provide feedback upon (which, to date, is very positive).

SPCDIS is an NSF/OCI/SDCI funded project.

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Planning of DC3 Field Program

Figure 1: The nation's most advanced high-altitude research aircraft, the NCAR Gulfstream V (or G-V, formerly referred to as HIAPER), will be used to collect data for the DC3 Field Experiment.

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The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) Field Experiment will characterize the effect of midlatitude, continental convection on the transport and transformation of ozone and its precursors. Along with measurements of hydrogen oxide radicals, their precursors, and nitrogen oxides in both the inflow and outflow regions of deep convection, measurements of cloud microphysical properties, storm kinematics, and lightning discharges will be conducted. These measurements are planned for three locales in the United States, northeast Colorado, central Oklahoma, and northern Alabama, during May and June 2011 where remote continental regions can be contrasted to anthropogenically-influenced regions.

The Scientific Plan Overview (SPO) and Experimental Design Overview (EDO) documents have been drafted. In doing so, the primary goals of DC3 have been refined to the following:

  1. Quantify and characterize the convection and convective transport of fresh emissions, including water, to the upper troposphere within the first few hours of active convection, investigating storm dynamics and physics, lightning and production of nitrogen oxides from lightning, cloud hydrometeor effects on wet deposition of species, surface emission variability, and chemistry in the anvil.

  2. Quantify the changes in chemistry and composition after active convection, focusing on 12-48 hours after convection and the seasonal transition of the chemical composition of the UT.

Ancillary goals of DC3 are to investigate the influence of aerosols on droplet/storm formation, secondary aerosol formation, and transport of halogens.

The experimental design includes basing the aircraft in either central Oklahoma or Kansas so that the two aircraft can easily ferry to Colorado, Oklahoma or Alabama. Details of the flight plans have been developed for the HIAPER G-V aircraft, which will fly in the anvil of the storms measuring storm-processed characteristics of the storm, and for the low altitude aircraft (either the NSF C-130 or the NASA DC-8), which will measure characteristics of the inflow both below cloud and in the mid-troposphere. The DC3 science team would also welcome the proposed storm-penetrating aircraft (A-10 Warthog) if it is available when DC3 occurs. Ground-based radar and lightning mapping arrays will support the aircraft measurements by sampling kinematic, microphysical, and electrical characteristics of the storms sampled. The DC3 experiment will benefit from both satellite and numerical modeling analysis. Satellite data provide the context of the environment in which the storms form and have been used to show regions of high nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a molecule that is a product of lightning discharges, near thunderstorm activity. Numerical modeling can provide both forecasts of where convection will be occurring and analysis of what processes contribute significantly to the observed constituent concentrations. WRF-Chem simulations of isolated storms, squall lines, and air mass storms are being conducted to examine the convective transport of chemical constituents in aiding the planning of the experiment.

Additional information on DC3 may be found at

FY2009 work will be to submit the SPO and EDO documents to NSF and NASA and to continue planning DC3 by developing needed instruments for the HIAPER aircraft and analyzing WRF-Chem model results of typical storms in the three study regions. The planned DC3 experiment will be presented at the annual AMS meeting. This planning work is funded by NSF-NCAR.

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Planning of START-08 Field Campaign

Figure 1: START-08 / Pre-HIPPO flight tracks for the 18 flights during April-June 2008

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Stratosphere-Troposphere Analyses of Regional Transport 2008 (START-08) experiment was successfully conducted during April-June 2008. This experiment was designed to map out the major transport pathways between the upper troposphere and the lower stratosphere (UTLS) to improve the trace gas climatology of this region in its range of dynamical variability. A large suite of trace gas measurements was made in the tropopause region using the NSF-NCAR research aircraft Gulfstream V (GV), operated from the NCAR/EOL Research Aviation Facility at Broomfield, Colorado. START08 shared the payload and flight operations with the test flights of the HIPAER Pole-to-Pole Observation of Atmosphere Tracers (pre-HIPPO) experiment. A total of 18 flights and 123 GV hours was flow within 6 flight weeks that covered Spring (April 15-May 15) and Summer (June 16-28) seasons. The flights covered an extensive latitude-longitude range of the North America (Figure 1). The measurements targeted a set of meteorological conditions that result in intrusions of stratospheric air into troposphere during the tropopause fold, and the intrusions of tropospheric air into stratosphere between the double tropopause, and sampled the regions of well-defined and disrupted tropopause. The tracers and tracer correlations from the measurements will provide a set of finger prints relating the meteorological fields and the UTLS chemical distribution.

Analyzing the data and reporting the scientific findings from the experiment in publications and conferences will be the team’s main task during FY2009. The analyses will also result in papers quantifying the transport effect of specific types of tropospheric weather system the experiment targeted. These transport processes modify the distribution of radiatively sensitive chemical species, hence feed back to the climate system. In addition, the new observations on GV from the START-08 experiment will result in a set of diagnostics for the chemistry-climate models. As part of the international effort of process oriented chemistry-climate model validation (CCMVal), the group will work on applying the diagnostics to a set of CCMs, including NCAR model WACCM, and to evaluate how well the transport and mixing in the UTLS region is represented in the models.

The experiment is planned and led by NCAR UTLS initiative and is a collaborative effort within NCAR and with external community. NCAR participants include scientists from ACD, MMM, EOL, facilitated through TIIMES. The external collaborators include University of Miami, Texas A&M University, Harvard University, University of Colorado, and NOAA. ESSL scientists played important role in providing and operating community instruments including Fast Ozone (ACD), NO-NOy (ACD), Airborne Oxygen (TIIMES), VUV CO and TDL water vapor. The complexity of the chemical measurements implemented on the GV is a significant enhancement of the platform's payload capability.

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BEACHON - SRM Manitou Experimental Forest SuperSite

BEACHON Manitou Experimental Forest Observatory

Figure 1: The figure shows the above-canopy walk-up tower and mobile laboratories deployed at the BEACHON MEF observatory.

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The BEACHON project has enabled long-term measurements in the southern Rocky Mountains that enhance existing NSF and U.S. Forest Service supported facilities in this region. This includes deploying instruments at NSF sponsored and university managed long-term sites in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. In addition, the BEACHON project is collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service to develop an atmospheric and ecohydrological observatory within the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Manitou Experimental Forest (MEF, that will be central to the success of BEACHON. The experiments planned for MEF have requirements (e.g., terrain, vegetation cover, security, power availability, access, ability to conduct manipulative experiments) that exceed what is available at any existing site within this region. The BEACHON science team is working with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a research facility at MEF that will meet the requirements of planned BEACHON studies. The MEF site is ideal for biological, biogeochemical, micrometeorological and canopy-atmosphere exchange studies related to BEACHON and we expect this site to attract future NCAR and university-led experiments. The enthusiasm of the U.S. research community for conducting research at this field site was demonstrated by the more than 50 scientists, including representatives of 12 universities, who participated in an initial FY08 study at the MEF observatory. Long-term measurements at the site will characterize clouds (e.g. dual K-band radars, video dendrometer), soils (moisture, infiltration, hydraulic properties), turbulence (vertical array of sonic anemometers), canopy physiology (CO2, water and energy fluxes), trace gases (ozone, NO, NO2, NOy, speciated VOC, SO2, CO) and aerosols (size, numbers, chemical composition).

BEACHON Airborne Flux Facilities and Tower Flux Networks

Regional characterization of trace gas and aerosol fluxes is currently limited by a lack of facilities for measuring these fluxes across different landscapes. BEACHON will enable these observations through the development of airborne systems and tower networks. Airborne trace gas and aerosol flux facilities will be developed in collaboration with university investigators. A heli-borne eddy covariance flux system for VOC, ozone and particles will be developed in collaboration with Roni Avissar (Duke University) as an extension of the Duke HOP helicopter flux platform ( A Disjunct Eddy Accumulation flux system for VOC has been developed for the Purdue ALAR flux aircraft ( in collaboration with Paul Shepson and BEACHON will support the operation of this system for community field studies. BEACHON scientists are also working with University of Wyoming investigators to develop plans to add trace gas and aerosol flux measurement capabilities to the NSF supported Wyoming King Air. BEACHON will extend the long-term carbon, water and energy fluxes that are made at existing networks ( by supporting the development and operation of trace gas and particle flux measurement systems. FY09 tower based activities will focus on a VOC measurement network using the relaxed eddy accumulation approach.

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