ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Spring 2009

Achievements, in Brief

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


First Public SphereCast

April 1, the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, broadcast a live “SphereCast,” in which climate change researcher and Nobel laureate Stephen Schneider used ESRL’s Science On a Sphere® to illustrate his talk.

Science On a Sphere®, SOS, is an educational tool invented by ESRL Director Alexander MacDonald, now installed in 35 museums and other institutions around the world. The giant luminous sphere displays animations of scientific data, from hurricanes to climate change.

Lawrence Hall’s public SphereCast featured Stanford University’s Schneider, who spoke on “Global Warming: Is the Science Settled Enough for Policy?” while referring to data projected onto SOS. Schneider contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. Schneider’s face and voice were broadcast onto flat screens at museums around the world, side-by-side with simultaneous SOS broadcasts. “I am always game to help museums with whatever it takes to entrain the public—gimmicks, new media, cool devices, etc.,” Schneider said. “If it takes a new hi-tech gizmo to get people to listen, I’m game, as long as we have something worth their time to listen to.”


ESRL hosted dozens of visitors in the last three months, from elementary school students to a US Navy Rear Admiral. Three Iraqi scientists, Husam Hanna Habib, Ali Sabeeh Dawood, and Abdul Kareem Mohammad, who work for the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology, met with ESRL researchers in February, to discuss weather forecasting, instrumentation, renewable energy, and other issues. The group was in Boulder primarily to work with Randolph Ware, chief scientist for Radiometrics, which builds and sells sophisticated meteorological instruments.

ESRL also hosted the Joint Interagency Coordination Group of the US Northern Command in January, to discuss NOAA research activities and plans in the Arctic, and the information needs of the Northern Command in the region. In December, Kris Sarri, of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, toured ESRL’s four divisions, with NOAA officials from Legislative Affairs and the Climate Program Office.

Global Hawk Unveiling

In January, NASA and NOAA officials unveiled two Global Hawks, unmanned aircraft built by Northrop Grumman, which will be used in atmospheric research beginning this spring. The Global Hawks, better known for use in military operations, can fly for up to 30 hours, up to 65,000 feet, and can carry a payload—including scientific instruments—of up to 2,000 pounds. ESRL’s David Fahey, Sara Summers, and Robbie Hood attended the Global Hawks January debut ceremony at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. This spring, NASA and NOAA will launch GloPac (Global Hawk Pacific Mission), a mission to validate Earth-observing satellite measurements, observe stratospheric trace gases, track dust and smoke crossing the Pacific from Asia and Siberia, and study atmospheric rivers carrying moist air into the US West Coast.

Multicultural Conference

ESRL’s PHASE program (Practical Hands-on Application to Science Education) co-sponsored an African heritage youth leadership conference at the University of Colorado in January. More than 80 Boulder Valley School District students attended the conference, organized by the district’s Office of Institutional Equity and Multicultural Education. The conference theme was “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” ESRL student coordinator Ann Thorne spoke with students about NOAA, about summer internships at ESRL, and about the importance of studying the planet.


ESRL scientists published more than 60 papers in the last quarter, highlights below. More publications can be found at:

Alexandrov, MD, B Schmid, DD Turner, B Cairns, V Oinas, AA Lacis, SI Gutman, ER Westwater, A Smirnov, and J Eilers, 2009, Columnar water vapor retrievals from multifilter rotating shadowband radiometer data, J Geophys Res, 114. ESRL GPS water vapor observations were used to evaluate the performance of the multifilter rotating shadowband radiometer and its ability to retrieve total column precipitable water vapor amounts for the validation of MODIS satellite water vapor products.

Compo, GP and PD Sardeshmukh, 2009, Oceanic influences on recent continental warming, Clim Dyn, 32. The recent worldwide land warming is largely a response to a worldwide warming of the oceans rather than a direct response to increasing greenhouse gases over land. The oceanic influence has occurred primarily by moistening and warming the air over land and increasing the downward longwave radiation at the surface.

Hoerling, M, A Kumar, J Eischeid, and B Jha, 2008, What is causing the variability in global mean land temperature? Geophys Res Lett, 35. Most of the observed variability of global mean land temperature during 1880-2007 is caused by variations in global sea surface temperatures (SSTs). The variability in global SSTs have themselves resulted mostly from external radiative forcing due to greenhouse gas, aerosol, solar and volcanic variations, especially on multidecadal time scales. Natural variations internal to the Earth’s climate system have had a relatively small impact on the low frequency variations in global mean land temperature. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the recent trajectory of terrestrial warming can be overwhelmed (and become colder than normal) as a consequence of natural variability.

Hofman, DJ, JH Butler, PP Tans, 2009, A new look at atmospheric carbon dioxide, Atm Env, 43. This paper shows that the anthropogenic global CO2 growth rate is growing exponentially with a doubling time of 40 years closely tracking human population growth.

Hofmann, DJ and SA Montzka, 2009, Recovery of the ozone layer: the Ozone Depleting Gas Index, EOS Trans, 90. This is the first publication of an easily understood and robust index to track the decrease of ozone depleting gases in response to the Montreal Protocol.

Lack, DA, JJ Corbett, T Onasch, B Lerner, P Massoli, PK Quinn, TS Bates, DS Covert, D Coffman, B Sierau, S Herndon, J Allan, T Baynard, E Lovejoy, AR Ravishankara, and E Williams, 2009, Particulate emissions from commercial shipping: Chemical, physical, and optical properties, J Geophys Res, 114. This study is the first to provide a global estimate of maritime shipping’s total contribution to air particle pollution based on direct measurements. Sixteen scientists from five different institutions used 14 instruments to observe 200 ships from around the world. The data collected provide information on ship pollutants that affect local air quality and the health of people living along coastlines.

Mercer, AE , MB Richman, HB Bluestein, and JM Brown, 2008, Statistical modeling of downslope windstorms in Boulder, Colorado, 2008, Weather and Forecasting, 23. This paper studies the potential for improving windstorm forecasting with linear and nonlinear statistical modeling techniques. The research is important to understanding downslope windstorms, which often strike with little warning and produce widespread damage in and around Boulder, Colo.

Michelson, SA and JW Bao, 2008, Sensitivity of low-level winds simulated by the WRF model in California’s Central Valley to uncertainties in the large-scale forcing and soil initialization, J Applied Met and Clim, 47. This paper is the first to investigate the sensitivity of low-level winds simulated by the state-of-the-art Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model in California’s Central Valley to model uncertainties. It reveals the fundamental issues in discerning the error sources in air-quality modeling over complex topography and provides vital clues about how to address them.

Mofor, LA and C Lu, 2008, Generalized moist potential vorticity and its application in the analysis of atmospheric flows, Prog Nat Sci, 19. In this paper, the generalized moist potential vorticity is derived to depict the moist effect on potential vorticity anomaly in the non-uniformly saturated atmosphere. This will help us better understand large-scale motions in the atmosphere and oceans.

Murphy, DM, 2009, Deliberate stratospheric aerosols, direct sunlight, and concentrating solar power, Env Sci Tech, 43. Please see p 6.

Schnell, RC, SJ Oltmans, RR Neely, MS Endres, JV Molenar and AB White 2009, Rapid photochemical production of ozone at high concentrations in a rural site during winter, Nature Geosci.

Solomon, S, G-K Plattner, R Knutti, and P Friedlingstein, 2009, Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions, PNAS, 106.


Bill Bendel was a co-recipient of NOAA’s General Counsel Award, for his leadership installing Science On a Sphere® in the Smithsonian Sant Ocean Systems Gallery ~ John Daniel and David Fahey shared a Technical Achievement Award from the Environmental Protection Agency with EPA’s Steve Andersen, for work on the importance of the Montreal Protocol in protecting climate ~ The American Geophysical Union has appointed Joost deGouw editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres ~ Mike Hardesty was elected to a three-year term on the American Meteorological Society Council, which governs AMS ~ Eric Hackathorn was named one of Federal Computer Week’s 2009 “Federal 100,” an award for those who made significant contributions to federal information technology. Hackathorn leads NOAA’s educational efforts in the online world SecondLife ~ A.R. Ravishankara, Director of ESRL’s Chemical Sciences Division, was the 2008 Centenary Lecturer at the Indian Institute of Science ~ Susan Solomon was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, in recognition of her work on the Antarctic ozone hole and as co-chair of Working Group 1 of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ~ Deb Wilson and Henry Diaz won 2008 NOAA Distinguished Career Awards, Wilson for 25 years of administrative and budgetary excellence, and Diaz, now retired, for 33 years of work in climate research and monitoring ~ Twenty-five ESRL scientists received a NASA Group Achievement Award for the July 2007 TC4 mission, on Tropical Composition, Cloud, and Climate Coupling ~ Seven ESRL researchers were finalists for the Governor’s Award for Research Impact, for their work on Climate Change in Colorado, A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation. Authors were ESRL’s Andrea Ray, Joseph Barsugli, Kristen Averyt, Klaus Wolter, Martin Hoerling, Bradley Udall, Robert Webb, and Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. The Governor’s award was won by Bob Sievers, former director of CIRES, for his work developing inexpensive, inhalable, powder vaccines.