GMD's mission involves answering key scientific questions in three areas of research -- Climate Forcing, Ozone Depletion, and Air Quality. By asking critical scientific questions and conducting detailed and carefully designed research addressing these three themes, GMD scientists provide a basis for assessing the prospects of change in the global climate or in the health of the atmosphere, both of which can significantly affect human health and wellbeing across the globe. GMD is dedicated to acquire, evaluate, and make available accurate, long-term records of atmospheric gases, aerosol particles, and solar radiation in a manner that allows the causes of climate change to be understood.

For more information, you can read the GMD Operating Plan.

Here's a look at some of our key research areas and the groups within GMD.

ESRL/GMD Research Themes


Climate Forcing

GMD conducts sustained observations and research related to global distributions, trends, sources and sinks of atmospheric constituents that are capable of forcing change in the climate of the Earth. This research will advance climate projections and provide scientific policy-relevant, decision support information to enhance society's ability to plan and respond.


Ozone Depletion

GMD conducts research on the depletion of the global stratospheric ozone layer and Antarctic ozone hole through global surface-based monitoring of total-column ozone, ultraviolet radiation, and ozone-depleting gases, including those regulated by the Montreal Protocol. Continued surveillance is necessary in order to verify the expected recovery of the ozone layer.

Air Quality

Baseline Air Quality

GMD monitors levels of air quality elements such as tropospheric ozone, carbon monoxide and aerosol particles in non-source regions which may be affected by long range transport from distant sources of industrial pollution. This large-scale transport affects baseline air quality which must be monitored in order to determine the importance of regional sources that may impact the environment and public health.

ESRL/GMD Research Groups

Global Greenhouse Gases Reference Network

The Global Greenhouse Gases Reference Network makes ongoing discrete measurements from land and sea surface sites and aircraft, and continuous measurements from baseline observatories and tall towers. These measurements document the spatial and temporal distributions of carbon-cycle gases and provide essential constraints to our understanding of the global carbon cycle.

Halocarbons and other Trace Species

The HATS group quantifies the distributions and magnitudes of the sources and sinks for atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O) and halogen containing compounds and other important ozone-depleting and greenhouse gases.


The goals of this regional-scale monitoring program are to characterize means, variability, and trends of climate-forcing properties of different types of aerosols, and to understand the factors that control these properties. GMD's measurements also provide ground-truth for satellite measurements and global models, as well as key aerosol parameters for global-scale models.

Solar Radiation

The G-Rad group's activities involve empirical and theoretical research of the Earth's surface radiation budget. The group specializes in the investigation of climatically significant variations in long-term radiation, relative observations of spectral solar radiation for the purpose of remote sensing of certain atmospheric constituents and the absolute measurement of spectral solar UV for the investigation of the interaction of ozone and solar radiation.

Ozone and Water Vapor

The Ozone and Water Vapor Group conducts research on the nature and causes of the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer and the role of stratospheric and tropospheric ozone and water vapor in forcing climate change and in modifying the chemical cleansing capacity of the atmosphere. This mission is accomplished through long-term observations and intensive field programs that measure total column ozone, ozone vertical profiles (ozonesondes and umkehrs), ground level ozone, and water vapor vertical profiles in the upper troposphere and stratosphere.

Observatory Operations

NOAA/ESRL operates staffed atmospheric baseline observatories at Barrow, Alaska; Summit, Greenland; Trinidad Head, California; Mauna Loa, Hawaii; Samoa; and the South Pole from which numerous in situ and remote atmospheric and solar measurements are conducted. The overall scientific programs and administrative functions of the five observatories are handled from Boulder with on-site station chiefs caring for day-to-day station activities.

Related ESRL Research Themes