July/Aug - University Corporation for Atmospheric Research



July/Aug - University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
For and about the people of UCAR, NCAR and UCP
Volume 44 Number 4
The quest for a smooth,
safe flight
NCAR Research helps keep
­passengers out of harm’s way
ore than three million people around
the world fly on commercial aircraft every
day. According to the International Civil
Aviation Organization, in 2007 there were only 0.014
deaths for every 100 million passenger-kilometers
(about 0.023 deaths per 100 million miles), giving air
travelers the confidence-inspiring odds of more than
a million to one of surviving a typical journey, and
likely even better odds in countries with high safety
standards for aviation.
And yet the crashes of Air France Flight 447 and a
Yemeni Airbus this summer have drawn attention to
aviation safety, the Air France accident in particular
raising questions about whether adequate information about storms and turbulence over remote ocean
regions is available.
Nearly 30 years ago, a Federal Aviation Administration program to solve the riddle of microbursts—
intense downdrafts that used to pose great danger to
aircraft—led to the birth of NCAR’s Research Applications Program, which later became RAL. Having countered the threat of microbursts, RAL researchers now
address a wide range of weather hazards for aviation,
including storms, lightning, and turbulence. ­Scientists
continued on page 3
Above: RAL’s
John Williams
is working with a team of
­researchers to develop a
prototype system to provide
pilots with updates about
severe storms and turbulence as
they fly across the open ocean
­between continents.
UCAR photographer
­ arlye Calvin captured this
plane flying in front of a
­towering cumulus northeast
of Denver International Airport
on June 12, 2009, a day
when severe weather struck
eastern Colorado.
6 New senior scientists
7 Random Profile:
Cathy Clark
8 Guest Column
9 Research in Brief
10 Delphi Questions
updates on people, places and activitiesbolts
With renewed funding, GLOBE plans virtual
­meeting with partners
Photo exhibit: Climate change and human rights
A traveling photography exhibit currently
at the Mesa Lab, “Three Degrees—An Exploration
of Climate Change and Human Rights,” seeks to
examine climate change as a humanitarian issue.
The exhibit, which will be on display from
June 29 through August 28 on the lab’s first floor,
comes to NCAR from the University of Washington, where it was part of a student-led conference
aimed at challenging legal scholars, nongovernmental leaders, and policymakers to confront the
humanitarian crisis at the heart of climate change.
The exhibit’s 20 photographs, which cover places as different as Tuvalu and Alaska, were selected
by GHG Photos to inspire dialogue and action that
will help the world’s most vulnerable people thrive
in the face of a changing climate. Named after the
scientific shorthand for greenhouse gases, GHG
Photos is a coalition of photographers who have
spent the last several years focused on the effects
of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as mitigation
and adaptation attempts.
In June, NASA renewed its cooperative agreement with GLOBE through February 2014. The new
award begins in September. “We are very excited
about GLOBE’s future and our renewed partnership
with NASA,” says GLOBE director Ed Geary.
The program involves primary and secondary
school students worldwide in hands-on science education activities. It plans to delve into environmental
issues such as climate change, water quality and
availability, and biodiversity over the next five years,
according to Ed.
In other news, the GLOBE Program Office is
postponing its annual partner meeting, to be held in
­Calgary, until 2010. The office received an overwhelming amount of feedback from the international GLOBE community describing its inability to
attend the meeting due to the current economic
situation. For 2009, GLOBE is organizing a virtual
meeting on August 3–4. More information will be
available online at www.globe.gov.
Staff burn calories, not gas, on Bike to Work Day
On June 24, 243 UCAR/NCAR staff showed up for work via alternative transportation, collectively commuting 4,188 miles. Many did so without the help of the internal combustion engine, although they did benefit
from a good breakfast.
As part of Bike to Work Day, an annual event sponsored by the Denver Regional Council of Governments,
more than 40 Boulder businesses offered free breakfast and other goodies to thousands of cyclists participating in the event. The UCAR cafeteria also gave $1 credits (paid for by Transportation Services) to staff for each
day of walking, biking, or taking public transportation during the week of June 22–26.
“On my way in to Center Green, I stopped at three breakfast stations and could feel the excitement in the
air as Boulder employees enjoyed the bright sunny skies and starting off our day with a little exercise,” says
Kimberly Kosmenko, UCAR’s sustainability coordinator.
And on June 17, UCAR provided staff free bike tunes at Foothills Lab. Mechanics from Community Cycles
were onsite over the lunch hour to tighten, tweak, patch, and lubricate bikes in advance of Bike to Work Day.
In two hours, the crew tuned 27 bikes.
Resources for alternative transportation (biking, walking, carpooling, and taking the bus) for UCAR/NCAR
staff can be found at www.fin.ucar.edu/ecopass.
Staff Notes
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updates on people, places and activitiesbolts
UCAR purchases former Wild Oats building
UCAR/NCAR has acquired some new digs—
located conveniently across the street from FL4.
On June 11, the President’s Council closed on the
purchase of the former Wild Oats building at 3375
Mitchell Lane. “The purchase follows a careful inspection and discussion, and approval from the UCAR
Board of Trustees,” UCAR president Rick Anthes told
staff. “I am very pleased that we were able to take advantage of this opportunity and complete a key part
of our long-term strategic space plans.”
The 53,783-square-foot office building was purchased with UCAR private funds and will not affect
NCAR, UCP, or EO budgets and indirect cost rates
until the organization actually uses the property for
UCAR activities.
The President’s Council is developing a UCAR-wide
space plan that will include deciding how to best
remodel and utilize the long-vacant building. More
details will be available this fall.
Aviation safety continued from page 1
in ESSL/HAO are also applying their research to aviation safety, developing a system for protecting air
travelers from radiation exposure.
Forecasting for transoceanic flights
RAL’s John Williams, Cathy Kessinger, and Bob
Sharman, working with a team of software engineers led by Gary Blackburn and Nancy Rehak, are
developing a prototype system to provide pilots with
updates about severe storms and turbulence as they
fly across the open ocean between continents. The
NASA-funded system, which draws on earlier oceanic
nowcasting and turbulence forecasting work, aims to
guide aircraft away from intense weather, such as the
deep convection that Air France Flight 447 apparently
encountered before crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.
“Pilots currently have little weather information
as they fly over remote stretches of the ocean, which
is where some of the worst turbulence encounters
occur,” John says.
The new, global system is based on the approach
used by RAL’s Graphical Turbulence Guidance (GTG)
system, which alerts pilots and air traffic controllers
to turbulence over the continental United States. For
remote ocean regions, the new system works by combining satellite data and computer weather m
­ odels
with an artificial intelligence technique known as
“random forests” that has proven useful for forecasting storms and storm-generated turbulence over land.
The component of the system that identifies major
storms over the ocean is already available for aircraft
use on an experimental basis. The entire prototype
system is on track for testing next year, when pilots
on select transoceanic routes will receive real-time
turbulence updates and provide feedback to the
­researchers. When the system is finalized in about
two years, it will be capable of generating routine,
global 3-D maps of storms and turbulence that can be
used to provide real-time information to pilots and
ground-based controllers.
A dearth of data above the seas
Currently, pilots of transoceanic flights receive
preflight briefings and, in certain cases involving
especially intense storms, in-flight weather information that is usually updated every four hours. They
also have onboard radar, but these units are designed
to detect precipitation, whereas turbulence is often
located far from the most intense precipitation.
These and other gaps in observation make
pinpointing turbulence over the ocean far more
­challenging than over land. Weather satellites are
continued on page 4
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J U LY + A U G U S T
Staff Notes
Aviation safety continued from page 3
These two maps, based on an analysis of satellite data, show the heights of storm clouds—which often correlate with storm intensity—
along the flight path of Air France Flight 447. Each map shows the same information, including flight path with waypoint coordinates
(latitude and longitude), cloud tops at 30,000 to 40,000 feet (green or /), and cloud tops above 40,000 feet (red or C).
Although transoceanic flights do not currently receive this type of information, researchers in RAL have created a prototype system to
generate graphical (left) and text-based (right) displays. They’ve designed the displays to be provided to pilots via uplink on an
experimental basis. Over the next two years, the team is developing a more sophisticated system that will identify areas of likely turbulence in storms and clear air. (Images courtesy Gary Blackburn, Cathy Kessinger, and John Williams, RAL.)
often the only source of information over remote
regions, and they tend to provide images less frequently than over land, making it difficult to capture
fast-changing ­conditions. They also do not directly
measure turbulence.
As a result, pilots often must choose between detouring hundreds of miles around potentially stormy
areas or taking a chance and flying directly through a
region that may or may not contain intense weather.
Thunderstorms can develop quickly and move rapidly,
rendering weather briefings and updates obsolete.
The GTG system provides real-time maps of turbulence at various altitudes over the continental United
States. Such a system, had it covered remote ocean
regions, could possibly have alerted the pilots of the
doomed Air France flight to the stormy conditions
along their flight path, although the cause of that
disaster has not been determined. “It seems likely
that the information provided by a real-time uplink of
Staff Notes
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weather conditions ahead would have, at a minimum,
improved the pilots’ situational awareness,” John
“Even over the middle of the ocean, where we
don’t have land-based radars or other tools to observe storms in detail, we can still inform pilots about
the potential for turbulence and possibly lightning,”
Cathy adds.
Finding the flashes
Lightning strikes on aircraft are quite common—as
frequent as one strike per year on each commercial
airplane, according to some estimates. Although lightning strikes were responsible for a number of crashes
in the 1960s and ‘70s, today the damage is usually
limited to superficial scorch marks on a plane’s exterior, thanks to advances in aircraft technology.
Modern aircraft skins are made primarily of either
aluminum or advanced composite fibers that conduct
electricity well, allowing currents to flow through the
skin without affecting the plane’s interior. Commercial aircraft are also fitted with electrical discharge
wicks on their wingtips that dissipate electricity
from lightning strikes away from the fuselage. The
sensitive electronic equipment and wiring inside a
plane is shielded and precautions are taken to assure
that lightning currents cannot cause sparks near an
aircraft’s fuel system.
There is still a remote risk, however, that lightning
can disable a plane’s electronics. (Early speculation
suggested this was the case with Air France Flight
447.) In RAL, researchers working on turbulence and
convection are starting up a project that may reveal
whether or not lightning is present in a storm.
“Any time you’re close enough to the updrafts and
downdrafts in a storm, you run the risk of being hit
by lightning or experiencing turbulence,” Cathy says.
“You want to be far away from these weather hazards. Thunderstorm anvils can also produce lightning
and turbulence hazards.”
Cathy and Wiebke Deierling have funding from
NASA to study how to use satellite signatures to test
the likelihood of lightning in storms. They plan to
collect data sets from satellites and compare them to
data from ground-based sensors and other sources,
testing equations that correlate to the presence of
lightning. This will allow the satellite-based signatures
to be applied to oceanic regions that are too remote
to be covered by ground-based lightning detection
Because the satellite measurements they currently use come from polar-orbiting satellites, there’s
a delay in the time it takes to receive data. Down the
road, as more advanced satellites come on board, the
RAL researchers hope to be able to apply the concepts they’re investigating to real-time operations.
Quiet threats to frequent fliers
Severe weather and turbulence aren’t the only
hazards to air travel. Exposure to cosmic radiation (radiation originating from the Sun and outer space) is a
growing concern for the health and safety of commercial airline crews, so much so that the Environmental
Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration,
and International Commission of Radiobiological
Protection consider commercial aircraft crews to
be radiation workers. Low-dose radiation is associ-
ated with cancer, although there is little evidence so
far that occupational exposure to cosmic radiation
increases cancer risk.
Cosmic radiation levels rise with altitude, exposing
flight crews and passengers to more radiation than
they would be subjected to on Earth’s surface. The
radiation exposure at commercial flight altitudes of
30,000–40,000 feet (9–12 km) is about 100 times
higher than on the ground. Flight crews, who can
spend up to 1,000 hours per year aboard aircraft, are
exposed to cumulative radiation doses in the range
of 2 to 5 milliSievert (mSv) per year, in addition to the
usual dose of 2 to 3 mSv received per year through
human-caused and natural radiation sources.
In ESSL/HAO, researchers are involved with Nowcasting of Atmospheric Ionizing Radiation for Aviation
Safety (NAIRAS), a NASA-funded program to develop
tools for communicating space weather radiation hazards to the aviation community, particularly to those
involved in high-altitude and high-latitude flights.
(Radiation exposure is greater at high latitudes, since
Earth’s magnetic field concentrates cosmic radiation
near the poles.)
“What we’re trying to do is develop a numerical
forecasting tool to tell people what the environment
is like,” says HAO scientist Mike Wiltberger.
Cosmic radiation is part of Earth’s natural background environment; however, levels increase when
solar storms and solar flares cause solar energetic
particle (SEP) events, sending high-energy particles
into Earth’s atmosphere. The HAO researchers are
primarily focusing on these SEP events for NAIRAS,
drawing from models of the magnetosphere (the region that surrounds Earth’s magnetic field, preventing
most of the Sun’s particles from reaching Earth). The
project is still in the early stages, but the team’s goal
is to assess the incoming radiation environment and
pass these data along to research partners who will
then forecast radiation at specific altitudes and points
in time.
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In addition to causing the
aurora borealis, high-energy
particles sent into Earth’s
­atmosphere by solar storms
also increase cosmic radiation
levels, posing a potential risk to
human health.
J U LY + A U G U S T
Staff Notes
Ncar names two new senior scientists
he UCAR Board of Trustees appointed two new
senior scientists in May. Senior scientists provide NCAR with long-term scientific leadership.
The position is analogous to that of full professor at
a tenure-granting university. Selections are based on
individual competence in research and activities that
enhance NCAR’s interaction with scientists in the
broader community.
Jeffrey Stith (EOL)
Jeff has headed EOL’s Research Aviation Facility
since 1999. His management focus is on developing
facilities, instrumentation, and techniques to observe
clouds with instrumented aircraft, along with making
these capabilities available to other researchers. His
research interests
have included
atmospheric aerosol
influences on cloud
microstructure; the
use of tracers to
study cloud circulations and document
aerosol effects;
studies of entrainment in cumulus
clouds; ­nitrogen
Scientist IIIs
Seven NCAR researchers have been promoted to
the ­Scientist III level, which is one step below
senior scientis­t.
Thomas Karl (ESSL/ACD)
Rebecca Morss (ESSL/MMM)
Ramachandran Nair (CISL/IMAGe)
Stephan Sain (CISL/IMAGe)
James Smith (ESSL/ACD)
Britton Stephens (EOL)
Michael Wiltberger (ESSL/HAO)
Staff Notes
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oxide production by lightning; and ice formation
­processes in cumulus clouds. He is currently examining the role of Asian dust as possible ice nuclei in
storms in the northern Pacific Ocean.
Jeff holds a doctorate in atmospheric sciences
from the University of Washington. Most of his career
prior to joining EOL was as a faculty member in the
department of atmospheric sciences at the University
of North Dakota.
Peter Sullivan (ESSL/MMM)
Peter has been part of MMM since 1991. His
research interests have included simulations and
measurements of turbulence in geophysical settings;
subgrid-scale modeling; air-sea interaction; effects
of surface gravity (water) waves on marine boundary
layers; impacts of stratification; turbulent flow over
hills; and numerical methods. He uses large-eddy and
direct numerical
simulations to investigate turbulent
processes in both
the atmospheric
boundary layer and
the ocean mixed
layer. Two of his
current interests
are developing a large-eddy
simulation model
of high-wind marine boundary layers with a resolved
spectrum of time-dependent surface waves, and
incorporating wave effects in hurricane-driven ocean
mixed layers.
Peter holds a doctorate in civil engineering from
Colorado State University, where he is also an affiliate
faculty member. Before he came to NCAR, he worked
in aerodynamics research at the Boeing Company.
profile of a randomly selected staff member
Every other month, Staff Notes spotlights a staff member selected from the phone directory. This month
we profile Cathy Clark in UCP/JOSS.
Cathy Clark
Staff Notes: What is most challenging?
Cathy: Right now, getting funding to go through.
Staff Notes: You work as staff manager for JOSS. Tell
me about your job.
Cathy: Most of what I do is assign and monitor work
that comes in from funders—NOAA and NSF. I supervise seven administrative assistants and event planners. I assign work to different people depending on
what the project entails and people’s skills, abilities,
and schedules. I take care of issues that come up and
answer questions for staff so they can get back to
our funders.
“I do old-lady stuff like quilt. I ­garden,
and I love to hike. I love being outdoors—
the smell, the sunshine, the feel of it.”
Things have changed in Washington, D.C. We have
new staff at NOAA and NSF who we’re working with,
because a lot of the people we’ve worked with over
the years are retiring. Since we’re totally on soft
money, keeping current funders happy and looking
for new sources of income are some other parts of
my job.
Staff Notes: Let’s talk about your life outside work.
What do you do for fun?
Cathy: I do old-lady stuff like quilt. I garden, and I
love to hike. I love being outdoors—the smell, the
sunshine, the feel of it. I’m also heavily into barbershop chorus and have watched a couple of international competitions. My brother and sister are
professional musicians, and we were raised with a lot
of music. I play the piano and I’m trying to learn the
Staff Notes: Where did you grow up?
Cathy: I grew up in Wisconsin near Lake Geneva. My
Staff Notes: How did you get into this position?
Cathy: I’ve been in JOSS for 12 years. About six years
ago, JOSS created the position I’m in now. I started
as an administrative assistant, and then they created
the meeting planner position and moved us into that.
I loved being a meeting planner because of the challenge of it. You’re thinking on your feet continually
and you never know what kind of emergencies are
going to come up on site—everything from flooding
in the ladies’ room to equipment that doesn’t work
in a meeting room with 1,100 people. And things like
being in a city where you haven’t been before, in a
rental car in the dark in the rain looking for a hotel—
they keep your adrenaline up and make it fun.
Staff Notes: What do you like best about your job?
Cathy: I like it when our people come back from
meetings and they’re pumped because it was a good
meeting and everything went the way they hoped it
would, and they’ve gotten some feedback from the
funders that possibly there will be other meetings
coming up in the future because we did so well. I
also really like it that JOSS is an office that collaborates with scientists so that they can gather and
focus on what a meeting is all about. We’re in the
background doing all the logistics so that they don’t
have to think about them.
family all lives in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I travel
back once or twice a year. I have two kids, and three
grandchildren who I am just now introducing to
“Walter the Farting Dog” books.
Staff Notes: What brought you to Colorado?
Cathy: When I turned 50, I loaded up a truck with all
my stuff and put my car on a trailer and moved out
here and stayed with a friend for a few months until
I found a place. It’s been the best thing I ever did. I
love it here—I feel like there was divine intervention.
And I got this job, which is the best job I’ve ever had.
Staff Notes: And where do you live now?
Cathy: Longmont. I just finished painting the inside of
my house and having landscaping done.
Staff Notes: Any big plans on the horizon?
Cathy: When I retire, I want to go to Japan. When I
was in high school we had a student from Japan live
with us. I’ve kept in close contact with her but I’ve
never gone to visit.
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J U LY + A U G U S T
Staff Notes
guest column
Summer at ncar:
visitors bring fresh faces, fresh ideas
Maura Hagan
This summer, ASP is hosting two colloquia. Graduate students who attended Exploring the Atmosphere:
Observational Instruments and Techniques spent the
better part of the first week of June learning about
some of NSF’s lower atmospheric observational
ummer in Boulder speaks to me in cool morn­facilities. Thereafter, they designed and executed
ings and hot afternoons, in the buzz of riders
a two-day measurement campaign using aircraft,
on the bike paths and hummingbirds and bees
radars, surface stations, and related instruments.
in my garden, and in the influx of faces, some new
The final component of this colloquium was a series
and many familiar, that I see in the hallways, meeting
of student presentations based upon their campaign
rooms, and cafeterias at NCAR.
analyses. EOL scientists Wen-Chau Lee, Jorgen Jensen,
As I write this column, I note that several special
and Steve Oncley partnered with Alfred Rodi (Univisitor activities are happening this week: a WRF
versity of Wyoming) and Steven Rutledge (CSU) to
tutorial at Foothills Lab, the Junior Faculty Forum on
develop the two-week colloquium program.
Future Scientific Directions at the Mesa Lab, and a
The 2009 ASP Summer Colloquium on Marine
Climate and Health Workshop at Center Green. Many
Ecosystems and Climate will be held in August in
attendees are extending their stays to reconnect with
partnership with Jim Hurrell, Keith Lindsay, and Joanie
NCAR collaborators or to establish new research relaKleypas from ESSL/CGD, Dale Haidvogel (Rutgers
tionships with our staff.
University), Thomas Powell (University of California,
Summer wouldn’t be summer without the arrival
Berkeley), and Michael Alexander (NOAA/ESRL). The
of SOARS protégés, who deliver papers, posters, and
ASP Graduate Visitor Program is also hosting 13 felpresentations in early August. Several other NCAR
lows this summer, working on a broad spectrum of
summer undergraduate internship programs are also
topics in pursuit of thesis research.
in full swing.
These and many other visitor programs at NCAR
Under the auspices of the Summer Internships in
are designed to provide community access to the
Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program,
high-performance computational and observational
students are working with CISL mentors on a range of
facilities needed to improve our understanding of
technology development and mathematics projects
atmospheric and Sun-Earth system processes, and to
while receiving training on supercomputers and paralexamine the role of humans in both creating climate
lel programming. EOL Summer Engineering Student
change and responding to severe weather occurInterns are developing new instrumentation, improvrences. They also provide opportunities for NCAR
ing the existing suite of NSF/NCAR lower atmospheric
staff and visiting students and scientists to conduct
observing facilities, gaining practical experience
collaborative research. The ASP Faculty Fellowship
operating facilities in the field, and developing enProgram is yet another way we support NCAR visits.
gineering solutions while working with experienced
The program also provides support for NCAR scienengineers and technicians. At ESSL/HAO, summer
tific staff to visit U.S. universities. I encourage our
undergraduates benefit from expanded scientific and
­scientists to check the ASP website and consider
social opportunities enabled by the observatory’s
­planning university visits. You don’t even have to miss
partnership with the Research Experience for Underany of the summer buzz at NCAR to participate.
graduates program at CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. These opportunities include a
series of presentations and lunch discussions led by
experts working at space physics institutes throughout the Boulder area.
NCAR Deputy Director and ASP Director
Staff Notes
J U LY + A U G U S T
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A brief look at
research throughout the organization
>>> The Toba mega-eruption,
global cooling and human
Researchers in ESSL/CGD
are studying whether the eruption
of Indonesia’s Mt. Toba supervolcano about 70,000–75,000
years ago may have cooled Earth
enough to initiate an ice age and
potentially alter the course of
­human evolution.
Genetic evidence suggests that
all modern humans evolved from
a few thousand individuals of the
species homo sapiens just several
tens of thousands of years ago,
whereas fossil evidence suggests
that the roots of the homo sapiens
lineage are much broader and
older. If only a small number of
humans survived a catastrophic
event such as the Toba eruption,
both scenarios could have occurred, with the eruption reducing human population enough to
create a genetic bottleneck in our
eruption of Mt. St. Helens, with
similarly larger amounts of sulfur.
Working with a team of
scientists, Caspar Ammann and
Sam Levis used NCAR’s Community Climate System Model with
a c­ oupled dynamic vegetation
model to simulate the effects of
the Toba eruption. Colleagues at
NASA and in the university community used a different model to
look specifically at stratospheric
chemistry following Toba.
Results from the combined
study, published in the Journal of
Geophysical Research, show that
the Toba eruption would likely not
have initiated an ice age. However, it could have been strong
enough to trigger a volcanic winter at least a decade long, affecting plant and animal life seriously
enough to contribute to a genetic
bottleneck in human evolution.
“While our results show that
indeed the eruption could have
produced great stress on humans
and their environment, the effect
would have been quite concentrated in the few very dark, cold,
and dry years immediately following the eruption,” Caspar says.
>>> Connecting the upper and
lower atmosphere
Volcanic eruptions are known
to produce global cooling when
their masses of sulfur dioxide and
other gases reach the stratosphere, where they efficiently
reflect the Sun’s rays into space,
thereby cooling Earth. Energy
released during the Toba eruption
was about three thousand times
greater than during the 1980
An experimental modeling study by a team of scientists
that includes Hanli Liu (ESSL/
HAO) points to the propagation of
waves upward from the lower atmosphere as a driver for variability in the ionosphere. The research
is an important step toward better
understanding space weather.
Scientists have long known that
the ionosphere (uppermost atmospheric region) is strongly a­ ffected
by the Sun. However, even when
solar activity is at a minimum, the
ionosphere still exhibits significant
variability, a phenomenon that has
puzzled scientists for decades.
The answer may lie in planetary waves—giant meanders in
high-altitude winds that are generated near Earth’s surface and can
rise into the stratosphere, where
they can boost temperatures
dramatically and change wind patterns. Observations have shown
that these phenomena, known
as sudden stratospheric warming
events, impact weather as high as
the ionosphere.
In January 2009, one of these
events led to the stratosphere’s
largest and longest-lasting temperature increase in 30 years and
a major reversal of winds. It also
occurred at a time when solar
activity was at a lull, making it an
ideal case study.
Analyzing data from the event,
the team found that sudden
stratospheric warming events
­affect many aspects of the ionosphere, including its electric field,
electron density, and temperature.
The magnitude of the variations,
which can persist for several days,
reaches 50–100% and is similar
to that of a severe geomagnetic
storm. The team presented its results at the American Geophysical
Union’s meeting in Toronto
in May.
The model, which is made for
simplified cases of stratospheric
warming events, is a first step
toward connecting the lower
atmosphere and space weather.
“Planetary waves from the lower
atmosphere are very common, so
it’s important to take them into
account to understand the daily
variability of space weather,”
Hanli says.
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Mt. Toba, located on the
island of Sumatra in Indonesia,
produced the largest volcanic
eruption of the last two million
years. The caldera, shown here,
measures 30 by 100 kilometers
(18 by 60 miles) and is 1,700
meters (5,577 feet) tall. The
caldera probably formed in
stages, with large eruptions occurring about 840,000, 700,000,
and 75,000 years ago. (Image
courtesy NASA and the U.S./
Japan ASTER Science Team.)
J U LY + A U G U S T
Staff Notes
answers to your
delphi questions
Official closures
Lactation rooms
Bike parking
“I am disappointed that UCAR is offering to pay me for closure hours rather than
having me draw on my quite generous pool
of PTO hours, while at the same time denyAND FINANCE]
ing pay to scheduled casual staff who do
not get benefits.”
[QUESTION 612 • RECEIVED 06.30.09]
While exempt employees may not claim
closure hours, PTO or vacation is not their
POLICY (www.fin.ucar.edu/polpro/seconly option. They may:
tion4/4-1.html) has created an inconsis1. Work from home for the day. While
tency in the application of closure time and formal long-term telecommuting or flexiPOLICY has been in place for
flexiplace. This argues for urging UCAR to
place requires approval from an employee’s
a number of years. At one time, closure
make its flexiplace policy as broad in its ap- supervisor under UCAR procedures, many
hours were not charged to the benefit
plication as is the new closure time policy.
employees occasionally work from home
pool. Following a review by NSF, UCAR was
The new policy suggests that staff cover on an informal basis. Some employees take
directed to charge these non-worked hours official closures with personal PTO, which is work home in anticipation of bad weather.
to the pool. Non-worked hours that may
an option that I think few people will like.
In an exception to the official flexiplace
be charged to the benefit pool include the
The other significant option is essentially
work policy, exempt employees may work
following: holiday, PTO, sick leave reserve, what UCAR calls “flexiplace,” including the at home on official closure days without
salary continuation, military, leave without option to work from home. The current
formal approval from their supervisors.
pay, jury/voting, family sick leave, family
flexiplace policy is not a required blanket
2. Make up the work by coming in early
death leave, education time, closure, expolicy, but is at the discretion of supervior staying late on other days.
ception, and workers’ compensation. Some sors and the chain of command. The new
3. Come in to work. While each emof these have budgeted hours associated
Official Closures Policy applies uniformly to ployee must evaluate his/her own safety,
with them (for example, PTO and holiday)
all exempt staff by using a solution that is
employees will not be locked out of the
and others are charged to the benefit pool
not uniformly applied to all exempt staff.
buildings during normal closures.
on an as-used basis (for example, closure
How will this inconsistency be resolved?
4. Make other arrangements with their
and family death leave).
Either flexiplace should be changed to
supervisors on how to get the work done.
There are two benefit rates for UCAR
become a uniform policy for everyone,
If none of these options work or if the
employees: reduced benefit rate and full
or it should be removed from the Official
employee wants to take the day off and
benefit rate. The reduced benefit rate is
Closures Policy.
shovel snow at home, PTO or vacation time
calculated using the worked salaries of
may be claimed. There are no plans at this
employees who receive less benefits than
time to modify the guidelines regarding
other staff, such as full-time staff. These
employees (including casual employees)
fication of the Official Closures Policy to
are not paid for time not worked. Casual
(a) now provide closure time to casual
employees receive legally required benefits employees who are scheduled to work
like social security, but not most optional
on a day when UCAR declares an official
[QUESTION 613 • RECEIVED 07.02.09]
benefits such as pay for time not worked.
closure, and (b) not provide closure hours
Because of the reduced benefits, the
to exempt (salaried) employees.
WOMEN AT UCAR/NCAR, I’m a nursing
benefit rate for casual employees is less
You are correct that one option under
mother, so I need to pump breast milk
than the full benefit rate. Under our current the new closure policy for exempt, salaried while at work. In the past, there has been
structure we cannot provide casual ememployees is to use PTO or vacation hours division-allocated space given to nursing
ployees with benefits that are not included during official closures. (Non-exempt,
women to express milk, but no NCAR-wide
in the reduced benefit rate calculation.
hourly employees can still claim closure
policy. Recently, the room that our division
We will be reviewing the inclement
time.) And I agree some folks may not like
was using for this was taken away.
weather policy in the next few months and that option, although the writer of Delphi
I am writing to ask why UCAR/NCAR
will provide an update through the Delphi
Question #609 said:
does not have dedicated space on each
[QUESTION 609 • RECEIVED 04.01.09]
is offering to pay me for closure hours
rather than having me draw on my quite
generous pool of PTO hours, while at the
same time denying pay to scheduled casual
staff who do not get benefits. Is there a
good reason (for example, federal law) why
this is done?
coordinator as soon as that review is complete. Thanks for bringing up this timely
Staff Notes
J U LY + A U G U S T
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Secret Site
Do you recognize this place?
UCAR photographer Carlye Calvin stumbles across lots of
interesting nooks and crannies while she’s out snapping
photos for the o
­ rganization. Secret Site i­nvites readers
to guess where some of her more intriguing images are
­captured, as well as to submit their own. To learn where this
photo was taken (hint: somewhere at the Mesa Lab), as well
as see other shots, visit us online at www.ucar.edu/
Delphi Questions continued
campus for mothers who need to pump
breast milk while at work. For those of
us who do not have private offices, it is
really a challenge to find private spaces for
pumping, and an even bigger challenge
when visiting other NCAR campuses for
meetings. Many large companies have a
“lactation station” for nursing mothers to
use, which can be as basic as a windowless
room with a table, chair, and outlet. I was
given access to a first aid room, but many
other people also use this room for medical reasons.
Since breastfeeding is not a medical
issue, would it be possible to have dedicated spaces at all NCAR campuses
for nursing mothers?
Please also see House Bill 08-1276,
“Concerning Workplace Accommodations
for Nursing Mothers,” which passed in
August 2008, for reference.
­QUESTION. It is very timely! We
have included the requirement for a lactation room on each UCAR campus as part of
the Space Management Plan that is under
development and will be presented to the
President’s Council in August. We will establish lactation rooms soon after Council
[QUESTION 615 • RECEIVED 07.14.09]
OUTSIDE, the bicycle racks in the CG1
garage and the covered bike parking at
FL2 are overflowing. On some days, bicycle
parking is so scarce that people resort to
leaning their bikes against the FL2 wall.
It’s a good thing that so many people
are biking to work every day. However,
it appears that some bicycles have been
abandoned for months, taking up valuable
space. At CG1, one bike that hasn’t moved
in a long time has a piece of paper stapled
to it reading, “Zita’s blue bike donation,”
and another bike is covered in grime and
hasn’t moved in nearly 18 months. Can
UCAR do anything to remove abandoned
availability of bike parking in popular
parking areas, and the procedure for
handling bikes that appear to have been
abandoned by their owners.
First, let me address bike parking capacity. Like the questioner, we are pleased
to see the increase in bike ridership and
would like to provide sufficient parking for
riders. A recent survey of the bike parking
areas at FL and CG showed that some
bike racks are underutilized while others
become very crowded. We are reviewing
several options, such as relocating or purchasing additional bike racks, to increase
bike parking capacity in popular areas.
Second, the question of potentially
abandoned bikes: Because bikes are valuable personal property, we are cautious in
our approach to potential removal of any
bike. When an employee observes that a
bike has remained in the same parking
spot for an extended period of time, the
employee may report the bike to Sustainable UCAR. If we believe the bike has been
abandoned, we will place a notice on the
bike advising the owner to contact us by a
stated date. If the owner does not contact
us within a month, we will put the bike in
storage for a year before donating it to a
nonprofit organization.
Thanks for your question, and keep on
w w w. u c a r. e d u/c o m m u n i c a t i o n s/s t a f f n o t e s
J U LY + A U G U S T
Staff Notes
take a look
TAKE ANOTHER LOOK ONLINE: www.ucar.edu/communications/staffnotes
Ladybugs were out in force in July, covering this
tree on Green Mountain in the Flatirons. The bugs
often congregate around Boulder’s higher elevations,
but this year’s swarm is unusually strong and about
two months ahead of the typical peak. Ladybugs feed
on aphids and other insects that thrived in this year’s
moist, temperate spring. April, May, and June brought
11.66 inches of precipitation, almost 50% above average. Boulder’s last freeze was on April 27, unusually
early, and it took until July 8 to reach 90°F—the latest
start on record for 90-degree weather. “The ramp-up
from hard freezes to heat was very gradual this year,”
notes Matt Kelsch (COMET).
Staff Notes is published bimonthly
by the Communications office of
the University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research
P.O. Box 3000
Boulder, Colorado 80307-3000.
Staff Notes
J U LY + A U G U S T
UCAR operates the National Center
for Atmospheric Research and
the UCAR Office of Programs with
support from the National Science
Foundation and other sponsors.
New research in ESSL/
ACD will help NASA
choose future satellite
instrumentation and
observing strategies for
tracking air pollution.
On July 24, SOARS protégés
partnered with EO’s Sandra
Henderson to present a
­science fair to school­
children at ­Longmont’s
Casa de la Esperanza
housing development for
immigrant families.
Guy Brasseur stepped
down from his position as
ESSL director and NCAR
associate director on June
30. Greg Holland, head of
ESSL/MMM, is serving as
acting ESSL director.
Editor: Nicole Gordon
Copy editor: Bob Henson
Design: studiosignorella.com
Layout: Michael Shibao
Photography: Carlye Calvin
Unless otherwise noted all
images are copyrighted by the
University Corporation for
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Center for Atmospheric
Research/National Science
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