ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Summer 2010

Achievement: News

More news from NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory: SOS update, Sea ice forecast, Testbeds workshop, Australian honor shared, Flight guidance, and Dry times ahead

SOS® update
ESRL unveiled a new traveling Science On a Sphere® (SOS) exhibit on Ocean Discovery Day (May 1) at NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in Galveston, TX. SOS, an educational tool developed at ESRL, now wows audiences at more than 50 science museums and other institutions around the world. The sphere is a six-foot-diameter sphere-and-projection system, used to illustrate Earth System science, from hurricane development to climate change.

Projectors supporting the old traveling sphere were eight years old and the computers were five, said Beth Russell (Global Systems Division and CIRES). Moreover, the new traveling exhibit takes one day to setup—the old one took two-and-a-half days.

Also, SOS is showing in the MeteoWorld Pavilion at the World Expo, which is running from May to October in Shanghai, China.

Sea ice forecasts
NOAA is making plans to forecast Arctic sea ice extent on several time scales, ranging from one day out to a decade or more in the future. The forecasts could be critical for local Arctic communities, the shipping industry, and marine mammal stewardship, said ESRL’s Janet Intrieri (Director’s Office).

She and John Calder (NOAA’s Arctic Research Office) hosted a multi-agency workshop at ESRL in May, to begin developing plans for the sea ice forecasts. The work will involve close collaborations with other agencies, from the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy to international research and meteorology institutions.

Near-term forecasts, on the order of a few days, would likely focus on sea ice along the northern coast of Alaska: extent, concentration, thickness, and timing of ice formation and melt. Long-term forecasts would rely on understanding about natural and greenhouse-gas driven changes in the Arctic climate, ensemble forecasts, and estimates of snow cover (to support marine mammal stewardship). 

Testbeds workshop
In May, ESRL hosted the second annual NOAA Testbed Workshop, sponsored by the NOAA U.S. Weather Research Program’s Executive Committee, and chaired by Marty Ralph (Physical Sciences Division). About 80 people participated from across NOAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and NASA. Testbeds link weather research and operational forecasting through the development, demonstration, and evaluation of new technologies and predictive models—making researchers more aware of critical forecast challenges, and forecasters more aware of advances in science and technology.

Testbeds represented were: the Joint Hurricane Testbed, Hydrometeorology Testbed, Hazardous Weather Testbed, Developmental Testbed Center, Climate Testbed, Societal Impacts Program, and the Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center. The Testbed workshop let participants from diverse sectors share experiences and lessons learned. Those gathered at this year’s workshop agreed that testbed research should be important in NOAA’s out-year planning process, especially research related to observing system and other potential major infrastructure investments.

Australian honor shared
Greg Ayers, Director of Meteorology at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM),  thanked NOAA this spring for support in implementing the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE) and the associated digital database at Australia’s Victoria Regional Office in Melbourne.

The GFE allows forecasters to prepare a gridded database of weather forecast elements. Those gridded elements, including temperature, clouds, winds, and precipitation, form the basis for many forecast products. Since 2006, the Global Systems Division’s GFE team has worked to tailor this suite of graphical editing tools to BoM’s needs.

The BoM was presented the 2009 annual Innovation Award for the agency’s  implementation of the GFE under the banner of the Australian Government Leadership Network. The BoM was given the top award for “vastly improved level of service that the Bureau can provide, especially to remote regional areas that have previously received only basic service.”

BoM is in the process of extending the implementation to all parts of Australia during the next four years under the title of the Next Generation Forecast and Warning System.

Flight guidance
Migrating birds could put the most state-of-the art GPS to shame with their arsenal of built in navigation sensors. These frequent flyers use tools such as Earth’s magnetic field, the sun’s orientation, visual cues, and weather to navigate migration routes sometimes spanning thousands of miles and multiple continents. Now a new study in progress looks at the possibility that waterfalls might also help birds stay on track.

Waterfalls send out distinct sound signatures, so ESRL’s Alfred Bedard (Physical Sciences Division and CIRES), is comparing the soundscape of Niagara Falls with the hearing power of pigeons and migration patterns of birds traveling along the Atlantic Flyway. If Bedard’s suspicions prove correct, this would be the first evidence that birds use waterfalls as navigation beacons while migrating.

Dry times ahead
Brad Udall of the NOAA/CIRES Western Water Assessment co-authored a perspective piece in Science at the end of June, calling for a “no-regrets” approach to planning for climate change in the U.S. West. The region is already experiencing higher temperatures, declining late-season snowpack, north-shifting winter storm tracks, and more frequent large wildfires, Udall and colleague Jonathan Overpeck of CLIMAS (the Climate Assessment of the Southwest), point out. They wrote that it is “both reassuring and troubling” that climate models project trends very similar to those observed. Udall and Overpeck call for smarter water use and an economy-boosting focus on harnessing the West’s potential for solar, wind, and geothermal energy. More: