ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2011

Achievement: News

Ozone Assessment Out

The ozone layer – the thin atmospheric band that protects living things on Earth from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays – faces potential new challenges even as it continues to repair from earlier damage, according to a new Ozone Assessment released in January. The WMO and the UN produce the international science assessment every four years; A.R. Ravishankara, (CSD Director) serves as co-chair, and many other ESRL staff are deeply involved. More:

Permafrost’s Warm Future

crumbling permafrost

One- to two-thirds of Earth’s permafrost will disappear by 2200, unleashing vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, says a Tellus study by researchers at the CIRES National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), with ESRL co-author Lori Bruhwiler (Global Monitoring Division).

“The amount of carbon released is equivalent to half the amount of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age,” said NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer. “That is a lot of carbon.”


Atmospheric Rivers by UAS

ESRL researchers and colleagues at NASA and other institutions are using unmanned aircraft to study “rivers in the sky” during the Winter Storms and Pacific Atmospheric Rivers, or WISPAR, field campaign that began February 11. The focus of the research is to improve our understanding of how atmospheric rivers form and behave, and to evaluate the operational use of unmanned aircraft for investigating these phenomena. Atmospheric rivers are narrow regions in the atmosphere that transport large amounts of water vapor across the Pacific and other regions.


Reanalysis Published

From the hurricane that smashed into New York in 1938 to the impact of the Krakatoa eruption of 1883, the late 19th and 20th centuries are rich with examples of extreme weather. Now an international team of climatologists have created a comprehensive reanalysis of all global weather events from 1871 to the present day, and from Earth’s surface to the jet stream level.

The 20th Century Reanalysis Project, outlined in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, not only allows researchers to understand the long-term impact of extreme weather, but provides key historical comparisons for our own changing climate.

 “Producing this huge data set required an international effort to collate historical observations and recordings from sources as diverse as 19th century sea captains, turn of the century explorers and medical doctors, all pieced together using some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the US Department Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in California and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee,” said lead author Gil Compo, from ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division.  

More from the publisher:

NACHTT at Night

BAO tower

ESRL scientists and colleagues from Boulder and across the country are gathering at NOAA’s tall tower in Erie, CO for a month-long study of the chemistry of the wintertime atmosphere, which they hope will shed light on some scientific mysteries.

The central question they will tackle: Exactly why and how does a compound usually associated with the atmosphere near oceans – nitryl chloride – also form during the winter nighttime in land-locked regions such as the foothills of the Rocky Mountains?

The questions are important to answer because of the implications for both climate and air quality. Nitryl chloride breaks apart quickly as the Sun rises to release chlorine atoms, which can affect greenhouse gases and contribute to smog formation.

“Nighttime formation of nitryl chloride is a gateway to forming more highly reactive chlorine atoms,” says Steve Brown, the scientist at ESRL who is leading the study in Erie. “It changes the atmosphere’s starting point for the next day.”

Brown and colleagues first observed the phenomenon three years ago while testing instruments in Boulder in preparation for an experiment in the Arctic. More on NACHTT (Nitrogen, Aerosol Composition, and Halogens on a Tall Tower):

Science Games Summit

ESRL’s Erick Hackathorn (Global Systems Division) co-organized NOAA’s “Games and Simulation Summit” in Silver Spring, Md. in January. Representatives from 10 federal agencies, universities and science centers met to discuss the value and future of using games and simulations to foster understanding. A full story, from the NOAA Ocean Service, is here:

Renewable Support

ESRL’s Betsy Weatherhead (Global Systems Division) and Melinda Marquis (Director’s Office) are helping NOAA provide the data, knowledge and technology for accelerating renewable energy development.

Weatherhead co-chaired a panel at the December American Geophysical Union meeting. Marquis led a town hall meeting at the January American Meteorological Society Meeting.


Reaching Teachers

ESRL’s Debra Daily-Fisher (Chemical Sciences Division) led NOAA’s outreach effort during the 2010 Colorado Science Conference, an annual professional development event of the Colorado Association of Science Teachers (CAST). About 800 teachers attended the conference, and that included educators from every level—kindergarten through university, said Theresa Hemming, the Exhibits Chair of the Colorado Science Conference. Daily-Fisher and other ESRL outreach specialists handed out classroom materials for teachers, referred them to NOAA education websites, and answered questions. More NOAA educational resources:  and