ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2009/2010

The ESRL quarterly newsletter provides highlights of ESRL's diverse research programs and explains how these are integrated to form a more complete understanding of our Earth system.

Methane monitoring station.

What Science Takes

Methane data are rolling in from the Russian Arctic, after bug battles and an overturned research lab

In a remote part of the Russian Arctic, a land studded with thousands of lakes and a few towns, a thin electric cable connects a tiny research station and instrument tower with a power generator more than a mile away. Here, near the town of Cherskii, ESRL researchers, Zimov, and other collaborators have managed to collect more than a year's worth of nearly-continuous data on the atmospheric concentration of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.  more...

Building Connections

New ESRL computing specialists advance federal efforts to link, improve Earth system models

The new NOAA Environmental Software Infrastructure and Interoperability group, led by Cecelia DeLuca, moved in November from the National Center for Atmospheric Research to ESRL, bringing along a suite of projects focused on building, coupling, and using Earth system models. The need for interoperability between such models is growing.  more...

Drought Origins Differ

Understanding events of the 1930s, 1950s may help in forecasting future drought

During the iconic Dust Bowl, great clouds of dust swirled east out of the U.S. Northern Plains, blackening skies as far away as New York. A decade later, another severe drought scorched the Southern Plains and Southwest. Scientists seeking to improve today's drought warning systems recently turned their investigative skills on better understanding the origins of those two events.  more...

Director's Corner


Sandy MacDonald and SOS in Copenhagen.

In December, I was honored to be a member of the NOAA delegation attending the international climate talks in Copenhagen. It was fascinating to see the whole international community grappling with the very difficult problems being driven by anthropogenic changes to our Earth system.  more...

By the Numbers

SOS installations

"The future's really in our hands. This is the critical time. We can't wait for the end of this century to respond. The Earth is changing fast."

Alexander MacDonald, NOAA Earth System Laboratory Director, during a live "SphereCast" December 8, at the United Nation's Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Hundreds of people watched the Science on a Sphere, SOS, presentation from 11 museums and other institutions around the world.

Communication Prize

ESRL's David Fahey wins Daniel L. Albritton honor

David Fahey was honored with the 2009 Daniel L. Albritton Outstanding Science Communication award, for his extraordinary work communicating scientific information about the ozone layer to decision makers, educators, and the global public.  more...

SOS Users

International science educators gather to discuss innovative use, impact of ESRL’s Science on a Sphere®

Science educators from around the world met to share stories about how to best engage visitors with the giant animated globe, and presented evidence that watching environmental data swirl across the sphere can measurably improve people’s understanding of the planet.  more...

Post doctorate students on the Continental Divide.

Western Climate and Water

Four postdoctorate students presented their research to water management professionals with the Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies to help the researchers understand their sponsors' need and refine their research plans.  more...

ESRL Tests Young Scientist’s Invention

Hunter Solheim is both a Boulder middle school student and the inventor of an instrument to measure the temperature of the bottoms of clouds. Combined with radar data, the instrument would let researchers and forecasters monitor more accurately the tropospheric environment hidden from satellites where weather occurs.  more...

Soaring for Science

NOAA-NASA unmanned craft to soar over Pacific Ocean this spring

global hawk

In February, scientists will begin recieving the first data from 30 hour flights over the Pacific Ocean to measure water vapor, ozone, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide as part of GloPac, the Global Hawk Pacific mission.  more...

Tracking Algae With Lidar

ESRL’s Jim Churnside has used lidar instruments on airplanes to find schools of fish and squid. He’s used lidar—which bounces laser light off distant objects and captures the information-rich return signals to find abandoned “ghost nets,” which can ensnare and kill ocean dwellers. Now, Churnside is using airborne lidar to find layers of phytoplankton—tiny plant-like creatures that are the foundation of most oceanic food chains.  more...


ESRL scientists study California’s water future in a changing climate

Water security is never far from the mind of any decision maker in the U.S. West— but it’s not a terrorist attack on a dam or canal that triggers the most anxiety, it’s climate change. ESRL scientists helped launch CalWater this fall, a major mission to better understand how climate change could affect California’s water resources, through changes in rain and snowfall patterns.  more...

Emerging Science

Snow-level radar and HMT’s CalWater legacy project

Snow-level Radar

Developed as part of the Hydrometeological Testbed (HMT) program, new snow-level radars will provide data both for improving urban flood response and assessing the impacts of climate change. ESRL scientists have developed this inexpensive radar system that detects and monitors snow level during winter storms. Because snow level can determine how much of a particular mountain basin will experience rain versus snow, it is an important predictor of snowpack levels and streamflow amount and timing- key data for water supply managers and for flood control.  more...


Weather forecasters know that conventional instrument suites aren’t always enough to accurately predict hazardous weather. Deadly storms can sneak in literally below radar, and runoff models sometimes don’t capture an imminent flood. HMT, which involves ESRL scientists and research products, is developing, prototyping, and infusing new science and technology into the daily operations of the National Weather Service and its River Forecast Centers.  more...

Achievements, in Brief

More news, publications, and honors from NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory

2008 Cooling · Air Quality Workshop · AGU Town Hall · Climate “Roadshows” · Ozone Hole · Aerosol Effects on Climate · Electric Annie · Honored

Near-Space Flight

Ozonesonde launch.

Every week, balloon-borne instruments around the world are sent up to 100,000 feet into the atmosphere to monitor the concentrations and distributions of ozone and water vapor, which are important in terms of climate and Earth’s protective ozone layer.  more...