ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Summer 2009

Monitoring Meeting

“21st Century Challenges for Long-Term Monitoring” draws atmospheric scientists from around the world

More than 250 people attended ESRL’s Global Monitoring Annual Conference in May, presenting dozens of talks and posters on atmospheric trends and analyses, many of them derived from ESRL-collected data. For three days, researchers from 19 countries discussed regional emissions of greenhouse gases, how best to interpret data showing a rise in global methane levels, and the dynamics and speed of the ozone layer’s recovery.

“First: thanks,” said Barry Huebert, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who gave a research talk. Huebert used data from NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) to analyze patterns in atmospheric particles called aerosols, which can influence both air quality and climate. “The staff at MLO is fantastic,” Huebert said. “It’s hard to imagine how much they do there, and how much we all rely on them.” ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division operates Mauna Loa as one of five baseline atmospheric observatories that stretch from northern Alaska to the Antarctic. The others are in Barrow, Alaska; Trinidad Head, Calif.; American Samoa; and the South Pole.

A full house at the Global Monitoring Annual Conference.
Bernie Zak and Russ Schnell
Jim Butler and Paul Fraser

Left: Bernie Zak from Sandia National Laboratory speaks with Russ Schnell, Deputy Director of ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division, during the annual Global Monitoring Conference. Right: Jim Butler, director of ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division, speaks with Paul Fraser of CSIRO in Australia. Photos courtesy of Will von Dauster, NOAA.

Jim Butler, director of ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division, opened the 36th annual monitoring conference with a commitment to continue and improve upon the division’s atmospheric monitoring, data collection, and analysis. Below are summaries from a few talks. Abstracts from all talks and posters are available at: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/annualconference/.

Air Quality Problem

David Parrish, from ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division, analyzed weekly measurements taken by ESRL colleagues in Trinidad Head, Calif., to look at the effect of background ozone levels on air quality in inland Northern California. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates levels of surface ozone, which, at high levels, can damage people’s lungs. Normally, ozone violations occur when sunlight “cooks” local chemical pollutants—from cars, oil and gas operations, manufacturing, and other sources—into ozone smog. Parrish found that air from over the Eastern Pacific was transported ashore at high altitude and mixed down to Northern California surface sites. Ozone levels in this air made substantial contributions to ozone-level violations. “Background ozone alone can exceed the national standard,” Parrish said. “That means achieving the standard may not be possible in this region with only local and regional control efforts.”

Constraining the Amazon

John Miller, from ESRL’s Global Monitoring Division, presented data collected above Brazil’s Amazon Basin, during nearly a decade of close collaboration with Brazil’s Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory (part of IPEN, the Instituto de Pesquisas Energeticas e Nucleares) in Sao Paulo. The Amazon Basin is one of the most poorly sampled regions of the globe in terms of atmospheric chemistry, Miller said. During an ongoing air-based measurement program Miller and his colleagues discovered methane fluxes that were significantly larger than previous estimates (including those made by GMD’s background sites in the Atlantic Ocean, 2,000 miles away). Data from the ongoing international collaboration suggest aircraft and other measurements are needed to support ground-based measurements, to detect important details in the global carbon cycle.

Ozone Layer Recovery Slow

ESRL’s Dave Hofmann presented data on the recovery of Earth’s Antarctic ozone hole in the stratosphere. High-altitude ozone protects the Earth surface from damaging ultraviolet radiation. Man-made chemicals that are now regulated can destroy stratospheric ozone, triggering higher skin cancer rates and damaging crops. A little more than a decade ago, when the emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals began dropping, researchers calculated that the Antarctic ozone hole would show early signs of recovery by 2010, with complete recovery by 2050. “I can tell you that ozone is not showing any sign of recovery,” Hofmann said, flashing a slide of data from 2006. “We’re still seeing fantastic loss.” Hofmann and his colleagues now calculate that the ozone hole in Antarctica may begin to recover by 2030, with complete recovery closer to 2065.

Invited Talks

Michael B. McElroy, Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies at Harvard University, gave a keynote speech entitled “Prospects for a Low-Carbon Energy Future.” McElroy outlined the climate problem—the need to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions around the world—and laid out a plan for the United States and other countries to obtain power from wind.

Chet Koblinsky, Director of NOAA’s Climate Program Office, updated the group on NOAA’s growing commitment to provide the nation with climate products and services. Decision makers are “knocking on NOAA’s door” for more information about heat waves, droughts, Atlantic hurricanes, wave heights, heavy rain events, and other environmental events, Koblinsky said. “They’re aware we’re going into a different world in which these statistics are changing, and they’re all looking for ways to interact with us to gain better access to information.”

NOAA’s global monitoring community knows how to provide such services and data, Koblinsky said. He lauded conference attendees for already helping to build the foundation for NOAA’s future climate services.

On the Web

Global Monitoring Annual Conference Website