Fly or Drive?…The Aesthetics of Emissions Reduction

Before heading to New Orleans for the AMS Annual Meeting in the next day or so, let’s take a moment for a few important travel considerations.
First of all, we wish you safe travels and look forward to seeing you soon. Second, remember that this year, as in the past several, AMS is making increasing efforts to ensure meetings are as environmentally friendly as possible. The biggest part of this is your flight to New Orleans, which will involve a huge quantity of CO2 emissions. According to, the flight from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans emits the equivalent of 920 kg of CO2 per passenger, which is about half of an entire year’s output of an midsize family car.
So take a moment to consider offsetting these emissions through one of the websites recommended by the AMS (see web page here or information available at the registration desk).
Or, if it’s possible, consider carpooling.  If you miss the idea of a few hours reverie while soaring through the clouds–and let’s face it, lots of meteorologists like to fly just because of the spectacular in situ experience–consider the impression you’d make arriving in the Big Easy in one of these:

Pulling up to the Convention Center, partly sunny, partly Green. Photo by Maria Cordell.

...or drive the car that makes your own personal cloud. Photo by Andrea Polli.


Goodbye, Greenhouse Gases…Hello, Tyndall Gases!

If there was a Hall of Fame for the atmospheric sciences, John Tyndall would have been one of its first inductees. A truly versatile and inventive scientist, Tyndall’s discovery that blue light is scattered by dust and other tiny particles (now known as the Tyndall Effect) led to an answer to that ever-popular question, “Why is the sky blue?” (Lord Rayleigh gave Tyndall’s discoveries a more formal expression a few years later.)
Tyndall’s imaginative and inquisitive mind ranged far, especially into the chemistry of gases. His study that compared “optically pure” air to regular air found that food remained fresh in the pure air, reinforcing Louis Pasteur’s work on the growth of microorganisms. He studied the flow of glaciers and became an avid mountaineer (there are two mountains and a glacier named after him). He invented the fireman’s respirator and the light pipe (which later led to the development of fiber optics).
But Tyndall is best known for being the person who proved the greenhouse effect of the atmosphere.
Oops!…bad habit, according to Texas A&M’s John Nielsen-Gammon. As part of the Seventh Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic Research, Nielsen-Gammon will argue (Monday, 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m., Hall E) that we should change the term “greenhouse gases” to “Tyndall gases.”

Climate change is quite complicated for the layman to understand. The matter is made worse by the use of a term, the “greenhouse effect”, that refers to a physical system quite unlike the climate system. Communication is not well served by the use of a term that means something different from what it seems to mean.

John Tyndall

I propose that the term “greenhouse gases” be avoided entirely, since such gases are either not found in a greenhouse in special abundance or do not serve to warm the greenhouse to an appreciable extent. Instead, with respect to the scientist, John Tyndall, who first demonstrated that many trace atmospheric gases have powerful infrared absorption properties and thus may play an important role in Earth’s climate, I propose that gases with strong infrared absorptive/emissive properties be dubbed “Tyndall gases”.

We’ll let you attend the poster session to get the details on Nielsen-Gammon’s reasoning, but it sounds like an appropriate way to remember one of the founding fathers of climate science. Not only that, but it honors the fact that Tyndall was an impassioned advocate of science and scientists: clear communication was a specialty of his. He wrote numerous books and contributed articles to popular periodicals, but it was as an orator that he most persuasively brought science to the people. A newspaper of the day noted that “Professor Tyndall has succeeded not only in original investigation and in teaching science soundly and accurately, but in making it attractive. . . .When he lectures at the Royal Institution the theatre is crowded.”  Tyndall was a gifted speaker who regularly gave talks to the general public and effectively explained abstruse scientific concepts. His 1874 Belfast Address famously championed scientific reasoning over religious or nonrational interpretations.
To get to know Tyndall even better, check out the presentation on Tuesday (3:30 p.m., Room 335/336) by Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He will explore Tyndall’s scientific career and his contributions to the atmospheric sciences. Somerville was on the scientific advisory committee of last year’s Tyndall Conference, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of Tyndall’s paper on the greenhouse effect.

Where Do We Feel at Home Now?

You can’t go home again, novelist Thomas Wolfe famously explained in a novel published, ironically, in 1940–the year Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved the U.S. Weather Bureau from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Commerce.
President Obama’s intention to move the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to the Department of Interior raises all sorts of questions, political, economic, and scientific. It will be impossible to avoid these questions as we gather in New Orleans.
But some people already frame the question as a matter of philosophical, social, and stylistic fit–of how a scientific entity makes a home in a bureaucracy generally obsessed with the back and forth of entitlement and regulation. Environmentalists, for example, have been quick to wonder how scientific management of ocean fishing fares when paired with the agency permitting offshore oil drilling.
As reported in Science online, Scott Rayder, former NOAA chief of staff and now with ITT Exelis Geospatial Systems, noted numerous correspondences between the portfolios of NOAA and its Interior counterparts, yet added, “But one concern is how would these cultures fit together? They have different ways of doing business.”
Finding the right culture for weather services has been an age old problem. AMS Policy Director Bill Hooke goes into detail on the long history of migrations within the federal government from Surgeon General, to Smithsonian, to Army Signal Service, to Agriculture, to Commerce, concluding that there’s an evolving conflict between the ever intensifying, diversifying need for a NOAA-like agency that integrates science and service and a continual political desire to place the agency where it might seem most at home.
A community that serves the development of an economy, sustainability of the environment, and basic security of citizens facing severe weather every day and climate change in the long run is never really going to have just one natural fit in a political scheme. Everyone needs a piece of NOAA. So ultimately the job needs to be done, single-mindedly, and at the same time NOAA is always going to engage nearly every nook and cranny of national welfare. As Hooke points out that the place of this key piece of our community within the federal firmament probably matters less than we might think:

The Earth itself didn’t reorganize. It’s still working the same way, proving to be resolutely variable locally, and globally, and on all time horizons. The proposed government reorganization doesn’t add to or subtract from our imperfect understanding of that Earth. The little bit we know, we still know. The part that remains undiscovered is still opaque. The mechanics of translating knowledge into social benefit remain absorbing. Our little piece? It still needs doing. The urgency and importance of our work continues to grow.

These facts give hope but they don’t solve the cultural question: a mission that grows will never be completely at ease anywhere for long. What is true for people has proven true for a scientific community. As your own experiences change you, home becomes elusive. So the peripatetic governmental entity that has been at the core of our community does not clearly belong anywhere because, well, the notion of weather service has evolved as well. We don’t even call it that, anymore–we talk about national hydrometeorological services, climate services, space weather, sustainability, public health, and so much more.
What is our culture, and how much has it changed? The study of culture is the province of anthropologists for a reason: they are trained to cultivate an outsider’s perspective. De Toqueville’s observations as a Frenchman in America are all the more trenchant for the same reason that Margaret Mead’s observations of Samoans give us insight into our own behavior. All the more valuable, then, are the observations of a onetime-outsider, George Siscoe, a solar physicist and member of one of our most recently developed branches, space weather. Amidst ten historical stages of fundamental change in our community, Siscoe noted a continuity as well:

The orientation of the terrestrial meteorological community, including its research community, is by and large in
the direction of improving forecasts. Most researchers in meteorology might not consciously recognize this, but
program managers and agency heads apparently do, as evidenced by research programs that they define and
support. Moreover, it imbues research meteorology as a community trait, like a shared language. Meteorologists
acquire the trait from their undergraduate and graduate courses and from the example of professional icons such
as Carl-Gustaf Rossby, Jacob Bjerknes, John von Neumann, Edward Lorenz, and Jule Charney. The result is
coherent, discipline-wide progress, discernable against the separate advances of intradiscipline specialties, that
moves the full front of operational forecasting forward. Orientation toward improved forecasts, be it of storms,
global warming, or the ozone hole, constitutes a binding and supportive matrix within which the whole
discipline is consciously or unconsciously embedded.

The weather community can’t go back to being a mystery for medicine men, a toy of pure researchers, an exercise of military regimen, or a sleepy backwater for farmers, nor, for that matter, the business that is the nation’s business. Somehow, in the course of its growth, it is all of these and more: something recognizable but clearly different. What has become–or what it is to become–will probably hinge on this relentless drive for operational improvement. That culture will determine where home really is now, regardless of where the government puts it.

Have You Modernized Today?

Have you swapped out some old incandescent light bulbs for the newfangled LED lights lately? How about upgraded some software? Switched to online billing?
If you don’t keep up, light bulb by light bulb, technology can leave you behind.
How far behind? According to the National Research Council’s draft report, “National Weather Service Modernization and Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment,” very far, necessitating an infusion of $4.5 billion from 1989-2000 involving not just new radars, supercomputers, models, data distribution and integration systems, and satellites, but also wholesale movement of offices, shifting of responsibilities. They conclude,

If a science-based agency like the National Weather Service, which provides critical services to the Nation, waits until it is close to becoming obsolete, it will require a complex and very costly program to modernize.

Lesson learned. The new report, which will be the subject of a Town Hall Meeting in New Orleans (Tuesday, 24 January, 6-7 p.m.), issues many compliments to the NWS for the effect of a well planned modernization:

  • more uniform radar coverage and surface observations across the United States and resulting improvements in handling severe weather.
  • greatly improved communication and dissemination of weather information
  • more evenly-distributed, uniform weather services to the nation.
  • strengthened relationships with community partners, leveraging benefits of modernization.

The report contains much wisdom about how to upgrade and stay on top of the waves of innovation that continually stretch–and thrill–people who work in this field. It notes the need for keeping good statistics of performance to help argue for, and evaluate, modernization. A common theme of recommendations is also the need for better systems engineering–having the expertise, and using early and continually throughout the modernization process is essential. The report also doesn’t neglect the human factor: scientific organizations need dedicated leaders who can see through the modernization process, and as a whole NWS has benefitted now that it has a culture, and a framework, of continual modernization.
There are also pitfalls to expect: the reduced agency workforce was balanced by increased technological costs–agency cost savings were minimal at best. external oversight ensured valuable accountability. Budget overruns and delays were common, some stemming from lack of initial analysis.
While you’re mulling over how this might help you stay up on your career and upgrade your household and office–call it personal modernization, the recommendations of the report are an undercurrent of many sessions at the AMS Annual Meeting, where so much attention is paid to technology. A number of presentations are focusing, for instance, on the AWIPS II and Dual-Pol Radar upgrades in the NWS. But also, for example, Marie-Francoise Voldrat-Martinez is presenting on what various upgrades to WMO and European hydromet and geospatial distribution systems will mean for MeteoFrance’s own information systems modernization (Monday, 1:30 p.m., Room 356).
You can be sure the developing world is listening. Vladimir Tsirkunov, of The World Bank, will be presenting Monday (11:45 a.m., Room 333) on the growing need for better hydrometeorological services internationally. The World Bank is putting money into modernization of national hydrometeorological services. He warns that “capacity in many regions is not adequate and degraded in some countries during the last 15-20 years.”
Sounds familiar. On a less extreme level, there was a time, before 1989, before those $4.5 billion, before a whole new culture, and a whole bunch of new equipment and systems, when people were worrying about similar issues in the United States. No jokes, please, about how many meteorologists and dollars it takes to screw in a new lightbulb!

Accepting Nominations for the 2012 Harry Wexler Award

A meeting focused on technology. A commitment to look back at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Striving for a “Janus moment,” as Mark Brooks put it so eloquently.
This is clearly a propitious moment to ask: Who should win the AMS Harry Wexler Award for 2012?

Wexler: He brought transformative technology into operational meteorology.

But, wait a minute, you say. AMS doesn’t give out a Harry Wexler Award! No problem: The Front Page is going to take a downright impertinent, not to mention unconstitutional–if it weren’t imaginary–step to solve that. Join us in this honorary thought experiment.
First things first, though…if you don’t know who Harry Wexler was, you’re in luck. We’ve reserved a front row seat for you at not one, but two presentations in New Orleans. The first is the keynote of the History Conference on Tuesday (11 a.m., Room 245), which will be given, appropriately, by James Rodger Fleming.
A meteorologist-turned-history professor, Fleming’s recent book, Fixing the Sky, won the 2012 AMS Battan Award and is an essential addition to your collection of Wexleriana. His topic in New Orleans is, “Transformative Technologies and International Cooperation in the Career of Harry Wexler “. Transformative technology? Now that’s a Janus moment indeed. Pure Wexler.
Ever wanted to fly into a hurricane? Wexler was the first scientist to do it. Heard of global warming? Back in the 1950s Wexler helped support the landmark carbon dioxide observational record we now call the Keeling curve. Heard of the ozone hole? Wexler was delivering talks about how humanity could wipe out the polar stratospheric ozone layer more than a decade before chemists made us look askance at CFC-laden hairspray canisters. Wondering if we’ll have to geoengineer climate to avoid catastrophic climate change? Wexler was already considering options.
Here are some of the transformations Wexler kick-started into high-octane development and ultimately operations while he was head of research at the Weather Bureau before his untimely death at age 51, in 1962:

  • General circulation modeling
  • Weather satellites.
  • Numerical weather prediction

Impressive list. That last one is the focus of your second Wexler-focused presentation, Robert Thomas Golden Canning’s “Modernization and Innovation in the Weather Bureau,” (Tuesday, 1:45 p.m., Room 335/6).
Mind you, Wexler didn’t invent these things. He wasn’t the one doing the research. He wasn’t even the one identifying the applications. But he was good at listening–as a skilled organizer, inspiring manager, astute judge of ideas and their advocates, and a versatile, agile thinker. According to Canning, Wexler “had an insatiable appetite for learning and scientific discussion, whether about meteorology, oceanography or even (as his daughter recalls) dinosaurs.”

Glackin: She brought transformative technology into operational meteorology, too.

So it seems fitting that we initiate this year–the 50th anniversary of Wexler’s death and just one past the 100th of his birth–with a meeting celebrating technology, past and future. Judging from the papers you’re writing and the presentations you’re giving, there are a lot more Harry Wexlers out there than ever, some in leadership positions, some working quietly to usher new ideas into practice.
Feel free to share your nominations. Since we’re presumptuous enough to announce a fictitious award, however, you can be sure that we have some people in mind already. AMS Policy Program Director Bill Hooke mentions one in his blog this week, telling us that this particular AMS Fellow

started with NOAA back in the 1970’s before even completing her education, at the most junior level.  Over the years she steadily rose through the ranks. She contributed substantially to and ultimately led the development and the implementation of the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System. AWIPS is the IT workhorse of the NOAA/NWS infrastructure that enables our national weather-readiness.

Anyone who’s had that kind of daily impact on forecasting technology earns serious gratitude and a nod to Wexler’s legacy. Kudos to you, Mary Glackin, on your career at NOAA and your retirement this Friday.

The Next Steps for the USGCRP

This week, the National Research Council issued a report of a blue-ribbon panel arguing that the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) may not be able to meet the new decadal goals it’s setting for itself. In less than two weeks, in New Orleans, you’ll get a chance to have your say, too.
USGCRP guides research and disseminates information about climate change, and comprises 13 governmental agencies ranging from the Department of Defense to NASA. The USGCRP assists policymakers; federal, state, and local decision makers; and the public in understanding and adapting to global change.
The program’s new 10-year plan (see draft here; a final version is due next month) broadens USGCRP’s scope from climate to include “climate-related global changes,” building “from core USGCRP capabilities in global climate observation, process understanding, and modeling to strengthen and expand our fundamental scientific understanding of climate change and its interactions with the other critical drivers of global change, such as land-use change, alteration of key biogeochemical cycles, and biodiversity loss.”
The new strategic plan was created to help promote four primary goals of the Program:

  • advance scientific knowledge of the integrated natural and human components of the Earth system;
  • provide the scientific basis for timely adaptation and mitigation;
  • build sustained assessment capacity that improves our understanding, anticipation, and response to global change; and,
  • broaden public understanding of global change.

At the AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, a Town Hall Meeting (Tuesday, 12:15 p.m., Room 239) will discuss the new strategic plan and examine forthcoming USGCRP initiatives, including integrated modeling and observations, an interagency global change information system, adaptation research, and the National Climate Assessment. The meeting will also discuss how attendees can become involved in USGCRP activities, and will review current and future products, tools, and services that might be useful to both scientists and decision makers.
Implementation of the decadal strategy won’t be without its challenges, however. The recent National Research Council report praises the USGCRP’s ambition in expanding its scope, but  it also points out that the Program needs greater expertise in certain areas to sufficiently undertake its new plans.

The USGCRP and its member agencies and programs are lacking in capacity to achieve the proposed broadening of the Program, perhaps most seriously with regard to integrating the social and ecological sciences within research and observational programs, and developing the scientific base and organizational capacity for decision support related to mitigation and adaptation choices. Member agencies and programs have insufficient expertise in these domains and lack clear mandates to develop the needed science.

Additionally, the NRC report notes the lack of overarching governance in the USGCRP, which prevents a cohesive foundation of research areas among the Program’s 13 contributing agencies. As a result, those agencies tend to focus on their own pet projects.
“We were hoping there would be a way to coordinate better, especially on the congressional side,” says NCAR’s Warren Washington, who chaired the NRC committee that prepared the report.
Ultimately, the NRC report notes that “a draft federal plan to coordinate research into how to respond to climate change is unlikely to succeed without added resources and new ways to manage the Program.”
“We do recognize there are some gaps in our capacity,” says the NSF’s Timothy Killeen, the USGCRP vice chair who helped develop the new strategic plan. Program officials welcomed the recommendations outlined in the report and have already made plans to bring in more expertise from academia and other agencies to augment research areas that are lacking, as well as form interagency working groups that could help unify the Program.

Seize the Janus Moment

by Mark S. Brooks, State Climate Office of North Carolina
Ancient Romans worshiped and studied many gods. One such god was Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. Janus is often depicted with two heads facing opposite directions. They simultaneously peer into the past and the future. He looked over pathways, causing all actions and presiding over all beginnings. Our first month, January, was named after Janus. The symbolic icon of Janus is a great metaphor for the 92nd AMS Annual Meeting’s theme – “how we got here and where we’re going”. Asking that question can lead one to think about the transition from past to future and put into motion a plan to bridge the gap between research and operations. I call that a Janus moment.
Where We’ve Been. Technological innovations enabled quick advancement of weather and climate services. Radar, satellites, numerical weather prediction–each helped revolutionize meteorology and its related disciplines. But to get here, the development and understanding of these technologies had to transition from research to operations. Each had a Janus moment.
Today, as our sensitivities to climate variability become more pronounced and the demand for climate data and forecasts steadily increases, it is time for another major push of innovation – a new Janus moment. I believe that weather and climate services can help society adapt to climate change by helping people mitigate its negative impacts and capitalize on its favorable impacts.
The Role of Innovation in Weather and Climate Services. My favorite category of innovation is the disruptive or discontinuous kind, which addresses existing market needs or creates new markets by enabling customers to solve problems in new ways. Such innovations change the world. We can all think of many examples. In the early days of the Internet, I tried to be disruptively innovative by creating Although now woefully outdated, the website changed the way people consumed radar imagery, surface maps, satellite imagery, forecast images, and the like. The site was ranked in the top 3% of the entire Internet in 1999 by Alexa Internet.
A new era of Weather and Climate Services is now possible — a discontinuous, disruptive, and transformative innovation helping weather and climate sensitive clients solve problems in new ways with new data products.
Henry Ford once said: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Weather and climate services should not be making faster horses.
Steps to Accelerate Innovation in Weather and Climate Services: 3E’s. So how do we answer the demands of society without simply producing faster horses?
1. Be engaged. At the end of many episodes of Star Trek TNG, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard sets course for a new destination and embarks on his next mission with his favorite word:

It was a metaphor for the entire story: to learn, teach, and improve humanity. Engagement, in the context of weather and climate services, is about increasing society’s climate literacy, learning about society’s weather and climate sensitivities, and building a mutually beneficial relationship so that data and science can be made useful. Engagement also includes increased collaboration with one another. Transdisciplinary engagement, that which transfers knowledge across disciplinary boundaries, is also needed to create a new generation of weather and climate services.
2. Be entrepreneurial. This may be peculiar and even uncomfortable to many of us, especially in government. However, Rosabeth Kanter writes in her book, On the Frontiers of Management, “Innovative accomplishments are strikingly entrepreneurial.” Entrepreneurship is about creating something new with value by demonstrating initiative, creative thinking, and by organizing social and economic mechanisms to turn resources and situations into practical outcomes. Saras Sarasvathy crisply summarizes the entrepreneurial way of thinking as

believing in a yet-to-be-made future that can be shaped by human action and realizing that, to the extent that such action can control the future, one need not expend energy trying to predict it. It is much more useful to understand and work with the people who are engaged in the decisions and actions that bring it into existence.

Entrepreneurial characteristics for weather and climate service providers include: communications excellence, focus, transparency, adaptive ability, cohesive partnerships, hands on management, and effective incentives. Entrepreneurial behavior is also tolerant of ambiguity and failure. Blogger Max Pucher, a long-time IBM engineer said as much recently:

Tom Watson had called a VP to his office to discuss a failed development project that lost IBM in the range of $10 million. Expecting to be fired, the VP presented his letter of resignation. Tom Watson Jr. just shook his head: “You are certainly not leaving after we just gave you a $10 million education.” In those days, failure was not a problem at IBM as long as it was turned into a learning experience….During my tenure in IBM’s Havant plant I had learned that I needed to turn my thinking upside down: Not failure is the outlier, but success is! Trying to understand why we couldn’t fully control and predict how a complex system would work led me to learn about evolutionary concepts and complex adaptive systems.

Most weather and climate service providers cannot afford such mistakes, yet the ability to tolerate failure and learn from it is critical because it will happen and enables failure to occur at earlier and cheaper stages of investment.
3. Evaluate progress. Success is a moving target. To make continuous improvements, all weather and climate service providers should employ a balanced suite of metrics and performance tools to evaluate performance. And of course we need to continue efforts to quantify the value of weather and climate services.
I am excited about the 2012 Annual Meeting because several sessions and papers strike me as embracing at least one of the above components. For example, the session about Risk, Vulnerability, and Decision Support for Weather and Climate Hazards on Tuesday (11 a.m., Room 335/336);  a papers by Awdesh Sharma et al. (11:15 a.m., Thursday, Room 242) on NOAA/NESDIS’s reasearch-to operations process, and the Town Hall (Monday, 12:15 p.m., Room 244) following up on themes from the AMS Summer Community Meeting on building a stronger weather and climate enterprise. I look forward to these talks and many others.
Where We’re Going
Back in the heyday of, I was interviewed by a radio station about my prediction for the future of weather and climate information delivery. My answer: “One day, we will be able to simply push a button and get timely, relevant information for where ever you are and whatever you’re doing.” I stand by this prediction. Timely, relevant, actionable, translated weather and climate information for the farmer in the field, the truck driver on the highway, the airline diverting planes, the insurance company underwriting policies, the engineer constructing a building, the energy company trading watts, the municipality planning for future water demand, and yes, even the newly engaged couple picking a wedding date.
We see a growing, $1+ billion weather services industry. The same level of economic development is possible with climate services. Government, academia, and private sector each have a major role to play in growing this industry and making our world a better place.
That is where we’re going.
Make a Janus Moment
Janus moments are not exclusive to technology, science, or innovation. Janus moments may also be found within each of us. Ancient Romans viewed Janus as a representation of new beginnings and transitions. As you experience this week, think about how you got here and where you’re going. Meet people outside your area of expertise. Sit with someone new at each meal. If you’re following this conference from home, connect with your colleagues who are here and join the online discussions, on Facebook, Twitter, and in this blog. Where ever you are, consider how to bridge the gap between research and operations. Perhaps you will have a Janus moment.

Oh Weather, Where Is Thy Sting?

A word of warning to the victorious.
Election results are in, and as reported on the AMS web site, J. Marshall Shepherd of the Univ. of Georgia is our new President-Elect. He’ll become President for a year starting at the 2013 Annual Meeting.

AMS President-Elect J. Marshall Shepherd: Fortunately for us, allergic to bees, not thunderstorms.

But…first, Shepherd must survive our upcoming meeting, which will transform the New Orleans Convention Center into a buzzing hive of meteorological activity.
The first big test of the President-Elect’s resolve will be the temptation to check out the poster by Paul Croft et al. on Monday 23 January (2:30 p.m.-4 p.m., Hall E) about how students have been tracking insect species as part of an overall study of cranberry bog restoration in New Jersey and how this might affect local weather. Then there’s a poster on Thursday (9:45-11 a.m., Hall E) by Sarah Tessendorf (NCAR) et al. on how pine bark beetles affect the microclimate (and ultimately snowpack) in Colorado mountain forests.
But the real test will be “The Vector Mosquito Aedes Aegypti At the Margins,” presented by Andrew Monaghan (NCAR) et al. Monday at 2 p.m. (Room 333). Monaghan and his colleagues have taken their research to the hinterlands to solve the question of what environmental and social factors affect breeding and movement of mosquitos carrying Dengue Fever.
Simple measures of temperature changes or degree days might work in tracking the behavior of some mosquito borne disease (like the outbreaks of West Nile Virus in the American Midwest), but they aren’t adequate in this sensitive climate-health interaction run amuck.

In the last decade, the Americas have experienced a dramatic increase in severe disease cases (dengue hemorrhagic fever), with devastating public health consequences. Of particular concern is the potential for the expansion of intense dengue virus transmission into cooler, high altitude cities that are presently outside of transmission zones but may be at risk under scenarios of climate change, such as Mexico City.

We’ll remind Dr. Shepherd that this research is no clean and pure modeling exercise: NCAR tells us that Monaghan and other researchers have been poking through trash such as old tires in Mexico looking for pools of water where mosquitoes might fester.

Because the dengue-carrying mosquito only breeds in urban areas, a key challenge is understanding how human behavior and infrastructure influence mosquito populations in combination with climate.  Even if climate change eventually creates favorable conditions for the dengue mosquito’s survival in new areas, societal factors—such as the amount of time people spend outdoors, whether they use screens in their homes, and whether they have reliable access to piped water and municipal trash collection—may hinder the mosquito’s survival in new areas, or its ability to transmit dengue to humans.

Why recommend insect avoidance when it all sounds so intriguingly interdisciplinary? It turns out that Dr. Shepherd, who is well known for his research on climate and land surfaces, originally intended to be an entomologist:

It wasn’t a flash of inspiration but a rather a sting-a bee sting, to be exact-that got Shepherd interested in meteorology. [A]s a child growing up in Canton, Ga., he dreamed of becoming an entomologist. Discovering the hard way that he was allergic to bee stings led him to consider other options, and the success of a middle school science fair project-in which he constructed weather instruments from scratch and used them to forecast the weather in his neighborhood-revealed a talent that would blossom into a career.

Congratulations, Dr. Shepherd! And we promise not to bug you about this again.

Slick Science: How Storms Spread Oil Spills

“The Deepwater Horizon explosion reopened debate on the role of synoptic weather features versus ocean currents in transporting the oil spill,” says Pat Fitzpatrick of Mississippi State Univ. in his abstract for a presentation in the upcoming AMS Annual Meeting.
This debate is a result of conflicting experiences with oil spills in windy storms. A storm notoriously expanded the Exxon Valdez oil slick in Prince William Sound in 1989, but on the other hand Hurricane Henri in 1979 basically had little effect on the plume of the Ixtoc spill and paradoxically cleaned up soiled Texas beaches.
We’ll know what chances this case has of settling the debate over how winds and storms move oil slicks around after seeing the data Fitzpatrick presents (Monday, 23 January, 4:30 p.m., Room 337) from the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. For now, Fitzpatrick writes, “Lagrangian models generally assume oil concentrations travel largely proportional (80-100%) to ocean currents’ speed and direction, plus an additional 3% contribution from surface winds, diffused with each time step. However, cyclones are known to highly perturb water pollutants….”
Add another finding to this mix, however: A paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms previous reports that most of the oil in the Deepwater Horizon disaster never made it to the surface. Of course, it makes sense that oil plumes from an undersea explosion might stay underwater. In this case, scientists say, the plumes consisted of microscopic particles of pollution–invisible to the naked eye (with or without a scuba mask). More than a third stayed deep in the Gulf; a quarter of the is unaccounted for. From the Sarasota Herald Tribune:

“The visible surface slick that people were riveted by during the months of the spill was really only 15 percent of the total mass,” said Thomas Ryerson, a research chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who led the study.

It will be interesting to see if such varying conditions of oil releases from different disasters over the years will add up to a coherent understanding of the interaction of ocean and atmosphere that can be used to improve predictions of the movement and effects of the next big spill.

The Return of the Ozone Layer

It’s always nice to hear good news: The ozone layer is recovering, and by around 2032 the amount of ozone in the atmosphere should return to 1980 levels, according to the 2010 Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion. At last fall’s symposium on Stratospheric Ozone and Climate Change, co-sponsored by AMS, Paul Newman gave a talk about this progress–and what the world would have looked like had the landmark Montreal Protocol not been implemented in 1987.  Here’s his message, in a nutshell, courtesy of a NASA video:

(You can see Newman’s in-depth presentation on the Assessment from the Bjerknes Lecture at the AGU Fall Meeting as well).
Comprehensive data are available in the links, but a couple of highlights from Newman’s talk are that 1) amounts of chlorine and bromine in the lower atmosphere are in decline, and 2) if the Montreal Protocol had not been implemented in 1987, two-thirds of the ozone layer would be have disappeared by 2065, while the UV index would have tripled. Not only would this have led to a marked increase in occurrences of skin cancer and other health problems, but it also would have caused crop yields across the world to decline by up to 30%, potentially leading to food shortages.
The technology used in ozone research will be the topic of a number of presentations at the upcoming AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. One device of particular interest is the Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS), a state-of-the-art instrument onboard the recently launched NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite.
Angela Li of NASA and colleagues will discuss the collection and evolution of OMPS data in a presentation titled “End-to-End Ozone Mapper Profiler Suite (OMPS) Mission Data Modeling and Simulation” (Tuesday, 1:45 p.m., Room 343/344).
Glen Jaross of Science Systems and Applications, Inc. will lead an examination of the calibration of instruments like OMPS in the discussion, “Evolution of Calibration Requirements and Techniques for Total Ozone Mappers” (Tuesday, 8:30 a.m., Room 257).
Lawrence Flynn of NOAA/NESDIS will lead a talk (Monday, 5:00 p.m., Room 245) on recent advances in ozone sensors, with a focus on those that make solar Backscatter measurements in the Ultraviolet–a list that includes not only OMPS but also the EuMetSat Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME-2), the Chinese Meteorological Administration (CMA) Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Sounders (SBUS) and Total Ozone Units (TOU), and the NOAA Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet instruments (SBUV/2).
Early results from OMPS and other instruments on NPP will be the subject of a panel discussion (Monday, 12:15 p.m., Room 343/344) of NPP science team members and designers.