ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Summer 2009

Achievements, in Brief

The following sections—News, Honored, and Published—highlight a few measures of ESRL’s impact.


Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.

Climate Report Contributions

ESRL’s Roger Pulwarty and Brad Udall were among the many NOAA co-authors of Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, a multi-agency report released in June and covered widely by the media. The 190-page report, a synthesis of findings by the U.S. Global Change Research program, was released during a White House briefing. “This report provides the concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now, and it’s happening in our own backyards, and it affects the kind of things people care about,” NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said during the briefing.

CalWater Begins Early

ESRL scientists and colleagues installed an aerosol-meteorological observatory package in California’s Sierra Nevada early this spring, to observe the aerosol content within individual raindrops and snowflakes. The deployment represents an early start to the CalWater experiment, scheduled to begin in November. CalWater, funded by NOAA and the California Energy Commission, will address the controversial concept that aerosol pollution is affecting the timing and location of rainfall in the Sierra Nevada region, leaving the state with fewer water resources.

Unmanned Aircraft

NOAA’s Climate Program Office (CPO) received $1 million in the 2009 budget to fund data analysis from the agency’s budding Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) work in the Arctic. Because there are not many data yet from Arctic UAS projects, said CPO Director John Calder, the money will fund work to analyze regional data from other sources, which will give context to UAS data as they come in, and to fund planning meetings. ESRL’s Robbie Hood directs NOAA’s UAS program. “This gives us an opportunity for UAS and CPO to plan a robust research venture,” Hood said.

Also: In April, ministers from each of the eight countries with territory in the Arctic unanimously agreed to create a team of scientists and aviation authorities who will coordinate and facilitate “the safe use of unmanned aircraft systems for research and monitoring in the Arctic.” ESRL’s Betsy Weatherhead, with the Global Systems Division, worked in scientific and political circles to bring the issue to the attention of the Arctic Council. “This is a major step forward that will allow us to take measurements we’ve never been able to take before,” said Weatherhead, who is the co-lead of NOAA’s UAS Arctic Testbed.

2008 Wildfire in Australia, courtesy of Mark Maupin.

Fire Weather Conference

Several dozen fire, weather, and climate specialists convened at ESRL in April for the seventh annual National Seasonal Assessment Workshop. The interagency group spent three days generating a fire weather outlook for the Western States and Alaska, and the assessment process included evaluation of many NOAA and ESRL research products.

“I look at everything—I’m a geek,” said Rich Naden, a National Park Service meteorologist in Albuquerque, N.M. and prediction coordinator for regional interagency fire group. Naden said he is especially interested in several of the Physical Sciences Division’s experimental climate outlooks. “Basically, the stuff coming out of this building is all good,” Naden said during the workshop. “We need more of this kind of interaction between academia and the people doing the science.”

Mt. Redoubt’s eruption, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Volcanic Ash Tool Delivers

When Alaska’s Mount Redoubt erupted this spring, the National Weather Service and the Federal Aviation Administration used the Volcanic Ash Coordination Tool (VACT)—developed by ESRL’s Global Systems Division—in real time. VACT helped the National Weather Service report the location, aerial extent, and movements of ash. The volcano spewed plumes of ash and gas to heights of 65,000 feet, disrupting flights and closing the Anchorage airport. VACT integrates high-resolution weather, aircraft location, FAA routing, enhanced satellite imagery, and ash dispersion modeling datasets to help users graphically display and predict the path of the volcano’s plume.


ESRL Deputy Director for Administration Don Mock with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, photo courtesy of Will von Dauster, NOAA.

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke visited ESRL in early May, as part of a visit to all Commerce facilities in Boulder, Colo. ESRL Director Sandy MacDonald gave Locke a briefing with ESRL’s unique visualization tool, Science On a Sphere®, and Secretary Locke took a short tour of ESRL’s laboratories before answering questions during a town hall meeting for Commerce employees.

ESRL Director Sandy MacDonald and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, photo courtesy of Steve Peckham, NOAA.

In late May, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco toured ESRL’s research laboratories, and spoke with employees. It’s clear that there’s so much going on here that is not only scientifically interesting, but important for the world, Lubchenco said. She also gave a brief update on the multi-agency effort to create a National Climate Service—NOAA’s climate services are now directed by Tom Karl. My hope and expectation is that there will be an interagency mechanism, Lubchenco said of the national effort, and NOAA will be the lead agency.

David Welsh with ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division and Tammy Morrison, a North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University student. Photo courtesy of Will von Dauster, NOAA.

Summer Students Arrive

More than 50 interns arrived at ESRL May 26 to begin a summer of research. ESRL Director Sandy MacDonald welcomed the students, noted that they had an opportunity to deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems, and urged them to contribute their talents to future solutions. ESRL researchers from all divisions chatted with the students over refreshments. Student and Teacher Opportunities at ESRL lists available scholarships, fellowships and internships.

Air traffic,

Climate-Changing Planes

Airplane emissions affect climate in many ways—oxides of nitrogen indirectly warm the atmosphere, some types of aerosols cool it, and carbon dioxide, water, and aviation-induced clouds all warm it. ESRL’s David Fahey and colleagues updated an assessment of the “radiative forcing” of aviation—its overall warming and cooling effect—and published findings in Atmospheric Environment this spring. Aviation represented about 3.5 percent of all anthoropogenic radiative forcing effects in 2005, the team concluded, and that number is likely to increase to 4-4.7 percent by 2050.

Fahey is also engaged in discussions with the International Civil Aviation Organization about how to quantify the non-CO2 effects of aviation. These effects are often quantified simply as a multiple of the CO2 climate effect. However, such a multiplier is not a scientifically defensible way to calculate aviation’s full climate effect, Fahey said. A more suitable metric is required to explicitly include the radiative forcing of all aviation emissions and cloudiness changes. Some ‘carbon calculators’ used to offset an aircraft passenger’s contribution to climate forcing use multipliers incorrectly.

Monitoring in Congress

ESRL Director Sandy MacDonald detailed NOAA’s greenhouse gas and aerosol monitoring activities in a hearing of Technology this spring. Representatives from two universities, the U.S. Forest Service, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology also testified. Watch MacDonald's testimony to the House Committee on Science and Technology.


Wayne Angevine (ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division) was appointed as the Chair of the American Meteorological Society Committee on Boundary Layers and Turbulence.

Susan Solomon (ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division) became a Chevalier (“knight”) in the French Legion of Honor. “This award testifies to the President’s high esteem for your merits and accomplishments,” French Ambassador to the United States Pierre Vimont wrote in a letter informing Solomon of the award.

Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment (WWA) and several colleagues were honored with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Partners in Conservation Award” for their role in creating guidelines for managing the Colorado River during droughts. WWA, a joint effort of ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division and the University of Colorado at Boulder, shared the award with the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems, CADWES. “In the midst of the worst drought in more than a century they formed an agreement that promises a future of cooperation in the Colorado River Basin,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who presented the award.

Twelve ESRL scientists received significant awards at the fourth annual Rendezvous Science Symposium of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES):

  • Andrew Crotwell, Geoff Dutton, Molly Heller, Debra Mondeel, Carolina Siso, and Kelly Sours of ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division received the CIRES Silver Medal for their contributions to the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI). Their NOAA colleagues won a Department of Commerce Silver Medal.
  • Christine Ennis (in ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division) received a CIRES Director’s Award for her excellent work on the Climate Change Science Program’s “Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.4,” on ozone-depleting substances and the stratospheric ozone layer. Ennis’ NOAA colleagues were awarded the NOAA Administrator’s Award.
  • Molly Heller also received a CIRES Outstanding Service Award for her contributions in logistics for the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases flask program, and for creating the David Skaggs Research Center’s new recycling program.
  • John Holloway (in ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division) received an Outstanding Performance Award in Science and Engineering for work on a state-of-the-art instrument to measure carbon monoxide from aircraft.
  • Sergey Matrosov (in ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division) also received an Outstanding Performance in Science and Engineering Award for his use of millimeter wavelength radar to study the properties of clouds and precipitation.
  • Sonja Wolter, Doug Guenther, and Fred Moore (in ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division) received an Outstanding Performance in Science and Engineering Award for their work on a programmable flask package air sampler.


ESRL’s peer-reviewed publications are now available digitally: Division publication sites remain: