2012 NESL Lab Annual Report


Jim Hurrell - Director, NCAR Earth System Laboratory

The past year has been one of considerable scientific achievement across NESL. In particular, the Laboratory continued to build on an exceptionally strong record of scientific leadership and accomplishment, as it fulfilled its mission to advance understanding of weather, climate, atmospheric composition and processes; provide facility support to the wider community, and; apply the results to benefit society.

Many significant accomplishments are described in detail in this annual report. Here, only a few, specifically related to NESL’s major community modeling and observational facilities, are highlighted.

The community modeling facilities include CESM (with WACCM), WRF, NRCM and their specialized interdisciplinary modules. These facilities are of paramount importance to numerous NCAR strategic imperatives and frontiers. They are the major, if not the primary, scientific justification for the NWSC, and within NCAR, they are a centerpiece of collaboration between NESL, CISL, RAL, ISP and HAO. Some selected accomplishments in FY 2012 include:

  • Successful community user workshops in the summer of 2012, drawing more than 390 participants to discuss progress and plans with CESM and more than 240 participants to do the same for the WRF modeling system. In addition, the release of WRF Version 3.4 in April 2012 offered many new features and improvements to the community.
  • The annual CESM tutorial drew 80 student and early career participants from the University and National Laboratory communities, while there was nearly 150 participants in two WRF tutorials held at NCAR. WRF tutorials were also held in the United Kingdom and South Korea in FY 2012. Other training has been provided to early career scientists and graduate students through individual liaison and web-based activities.
  • The use of WRF in support of: the NOAA Storm Prediction Center’s Spring Forecast Experiment (SFE); the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS); real-time Atlantic Basin simulations over the 2012 hurricane system; and real-time simulations in support of field operations for the Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) campaign.
  • The release of WACCM-X (an extended altitude version of WACCM) to the community, as part of CESM, in February 2012. A tutorial at the 2012 CEDAR meeting introduced this model to the upper atmosphere research community.
  • Significant new infrastructure capability and new physical parameterizations were added to CESM, increasing the flexibility and utility of the modeling system to the broad research community.
  • Nearly 150 Tb of CESM simulation data were made available for community analysis in FY 2012. The simulations follow the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP-5) protocol, and their assessment by the research community will be a major aspect of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC. In addition, they provide the foundation for nearly 70 peer-reviewed papers in a Special Collection of the Journal of Climate comprehensively documenting CESM and its simulation characteristics.   
  • The NRCM was successfully coupled to an ocean and wave model for the purpose of studying the two-way feedback between the ocean and atmosphere, which is particularly important for regional climate modeling studies of hurricanes. The use of NRCM is growing throughout the academic community, and a successful tutorial on it was given to more than 100 participants as part of the annual WRF user’s workshop.
  • The initial development phase of the 3-D non-hydrostatic global model within MPAS based on icosahedral grids for discretizing the sphere was completed on schedule, and basic application tests for weather and regional climate applications began.

The second major community facility developed and maintained within NESL, as a long-standing core activity, is an advanced atmospheric chemical measurement capability in support of several NCAR strategic imperatives, including the aforementioned community model development efforts. In serving as an intellectual crossroads for the atmospheric chemistry community, NESL is also a critical player in numerous major field experiments that effectively leverage research resources from universities and federal agencies other than NSF. A few notable accomplishments in FY 2012 include:

  • An initial implementation plan for the Atmospheric Chemistry Center for Observational Research and Data (ACCORD) was developed, in consultation with NSF and NCAR/EOL. The ACCORD will serve as a vehicle toward a more coherent and focused chemistry instrumentation program with strengthened capabilities to optimally meet community needs. A February 2012 workshop, with more than 100 participants from across the community, and other community input identified the primary goals for ACCORD.
  • The DC3 field campaign was successfully conducted in May and June 2012. Three aircraft (NCAR GV, NASA DC-8, and DLR Falcon) flew a combined 60 flights (~330 hours). Scientists, students (34 undergraduate, 77 graduate level) and post-doctoral scientists (30) participated from 27 different institutes (universities, federal agencies, and international partner DLR). The community analysis of DC3 data is underway.  
  • The TOGA-HIAPER instrument was extensively evaluated during DC3 test flights. Following the test flights the instrument was extensively tested and optimized in the laboratory.
  • The TOGA instrument was successfully deployed during the TORERO campaign. This was the first deployment of the new TOGA instrument (other than test flights) and atmospheric levels 40 VOC compounds were measured with 2-minute time resolution. Preliminary results, using dimethyl sulfide (DMS) as a tracer, show that convection plays a key role in the redistribution of very short-lived (VSL) halocarbons in the troposphere. TOGA TORERO data will help to quantitatively assess the impact of VSL species on stratospheric ozone.
  • NESL processed and delivered new MOPITT 'Level 3' (gridded) Version 5 products to NASA. A comparison of new MOPITT multispectral CO products with in situ measurements from NOAA's 'Tall Tower' network was published and new Version 5 products were validated against NOAA aircraft CO profiles and measurements made during the HIPPO (HIAPER Pole to Pole Observations) field campaign.

As it looks to the future, NESL must enhance efforts to develop strategic and stronger partnerships and to seek broad community input into evolving and implementing its strategic imperatives, frontiers and other new research initiatives. This input will be central to ensuring NESL maintains transformative research, works synergistically with the academic community, and strikes the best balance possible between growth into new scientific areas and sustaining excellence in existing core activities. It is also more important than ever for NESL to embrace a leadership role and more actively engage with community leaders, research agencies, professional organizations, policy makers and others to convey significant research findings and to emphasize the importance of investment in research and major facility development. While the science credentials of NESL are well known within much of the scientific community, there are clear requirements for communicating the science more broadly and, thereby, enhancing its visibility to fellow researchers, stakeholders and the general public.

Finally, given significant financial challenges, and the reality that the increasing sophistication of computing and observing capabilities will continue to stress funding for scientific research, NESL must strive to enhance synergy and collaboration and ensure increased NCAR internal collaboration to achieve and maintain world leadership in its priority areas. Further enhancement of such collaborative efforts and development of new ones that bring NCAR-wide perspectives and experience to new and exciting challenges are critical to NESL maintaining and expanding its core activities and fulfilling its leadership role.