Executive Summary

For 50 years, NCAR has been charged by the National Science Foundation with providing observing facilities and associated services for the community of university atmospheric scientists, with the understanding “that the extent of such an [effort] requires facilities and technological assistance beyond those that can properly be made available at individual universities” (NCAR “Blue Book,” 1959)   Much of this part of the NCAR charge now rests with the Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL), which defines its mission to be:

To develop and deploy observing facilities and provide data services

needed to advance scientific understanding of the earth system.

When EOL wrote its Laboratory Strategic Plan in 2009 we framed our activities as a lab in the context of our mission statement, which is further encapsulated in our “Four Ds”: Deployment, Development, Data Services and Discovery. This annual report describes the efforts EOL undertook in 2011 to carry out the objectives described in its Strategic Plan.


Jasna Pittman
Jasna Pittman (Harvard University) fine tuning an instrument used on the NSF/NCAR GV during HIPPO. (©UCAR, photo by Carlye Calvin.)


Deployment activities in EOL are encompassed by two separate Imperatives in our Strategic Plan: Imperative I, to “Maintain the EOL facilities that are deployed using NSF “deployment pool” funds so that they are ready for reliable and safe operation in anticipated field programs;” and Imperative II, “Support observing needs of research programs at a level that serves NSF, university, and NCAR program needs.”

EOL works each day to maintain and improve the NSF Lower Atmospheric Observing Facility (LAOF) resources with which we are entrusted, and to ensure their safe and reliable operation for deployment.  Several of these activities are described in Imperative I.  

EOL’s support of these NSF LAOF naturally extends to the field phase, and this is encompassed in Imperative II. We describe eight field programs conducted in FY 2011 in the Imperative II section, including the fourth and final fifth phase of the landmark HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) Campaign, which deployed the NSF/NCAR GV Research Aircraft in the first comprehensive, global survey of the distribution of greenhouse gases and black carbon in the atmosphere. EOL also participated in studies involving winter storms, winter pollution, and polar regions/climate change.


An extremely high-profile instrumentation development effort in FY 2011 was the advancement of dropsonde technology that enables this perennially-requested instrument to be used in even the newest unmanned airborne platforms.


EOL’s Development activities are described by Imperative III of our Strategic Plan: “Anticipate future needs resulting from changing priorities, aging equipment or emerging opportunities, and develop new technology (instrumentation, software, and infrastructure) to meet those needs.”

EOL's FY 2011 Developments included: the testing and completion of the next generation Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS) Dropsonde system; the Laser Air Motion System (LAMS); the Compact Atmospheric Multi-species Spectrometer (CAMS); the delivery and testing of the final HIAPER Airborne Instrumentation Solicitation instruments; and the addition of Ka-band radar to the S-Pol radar.  These developments ensure that EOL is well-positioned to meet immediate and near-horizon community needs.

Many of EOL’s Development efforts are contained in our Frontiers, the focus of which is on emerging opportunities or developing needs in the atmospheric science community that EOL could target. In FY 2011 EOL addressed some of our Frontiers through continued exploratory work on the feasibility of developing a  Phased-Array Radar that is envisioned to replace the ELDORA airborne radar; construction and testing of an innovative modular 449 MHz wind profiler network to expand and replace our 915 MHz boundary-layer wind profiling capability; and forging a new partnership with the Montana State University to create a water vapor DIAL instrument.

Data Services

EOL is committed to data processing, quality control, and archival for field projects, which are parts of our expanding services that will be provided to the community, as expressed in Imperative IV: “Provide comprehensive data services, open access, and long-term stewardship of data.” This includes efforts to complete development of the Metadata Database and Cyberinfrastructure (EMDAC) to access and browse products and data from field projects while integrating with the Community Data Portal.


Ice-T Visit
EOL field campaigns often offer students or the general public a chance to learn about our instruments and platforms, such as this tour at the San Juan airport during the ICE-T campaign. (Photo by Alison Rockwell.)

EOL strives to promote curiosity about Atmospheric and Earth sciences and to inspire development of the next generation of observational scientists and engineers. This is integral to Imperative V: “Attract and inspire new generations of scientists, engineers and the general public to atmospheric science, conveying the excitement and intrinsic value of observational research.”

In FY 2011 EOL was active in a number of Education and Outreach activities, including seven educational deployments, participation in a large number of school and school group visits, and support for secondary school teachers, including climate study in their science curriculums. FY 2011 was also another record year in terms of applicants for EOL’s Summer Undergraduate Engineering Internship Program (SUEIP), which focuses EOL’s outreach efforts on the engineering community in a manner analogous to what UCAR/NCAR currently does for young scientists.