New Leadership at NCAR

New Leadership at NCAR

Three new leaders have recently taken the helm at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The center has also gained a new president at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Science (UCAR), NCAR's managing body. All are well known to NCAR and its scientific community. They are Michael Thompson, associate director of the High Altitude Observatory (HAO), Vanda Grubišić, associate director of the Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL), Jim Hurrell of the NCAR Earth System Laboratory (NESL), and Thomas Bogdan who becomes UCAR president in January 2012.

While the details of NCAR's leaders' agendas differ, Michael, Vanda and Jim all have research and program plans aimed at better serving the scientific community and pushing forward research being done in their respective organization's area of expertise.

Of the three, Michael is, relatively speaking, a veteran director at this point. Taking up the baton on July 1, 2010, Michael has visited Boulder annually since completing a postdoctoral visiting-scientist appointment with HAO in 1988-89; he became an NCAR affiliate scientist in 2003. Michael comes to NCAR from the University of Sheffield in England where he had a dual role as the head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics and professor of applied math and solar physics. His research there focused on helioseismology, asteroseismology, solar physics, and inverse problems. With luck and some juggling, he intends to continue his research along with his duties as HAO Director. Michael takes over from Michael Knölker, who held the director position since 1994.

Vanda comes to NCAR from the University of Vienna. There, she was hired as the first female full professor of any geoscience discipline in the University's 640-year history to lead the Chair of Theoretical Meteorology, the position once held by Felix Maria Exner. Vanda first visited NCAR in 1991 as a Yale graduate student, then returned as an ASP post-doc in 1995-1997, becoming head of EOL on July 11, 2011. Also, like Michael, she spent time at NCAR after her postdoc, working closely with scientists in NESL's Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology (MMM) division studying mesoscale atmospheric dynamics, before leaving NCAR for the Desert Research Institute for 10 years; she became NCAR affiliate scientist in 2008. Her research has always included strong observational and modeling components. Vanda succeeds Roger Wakimoto, who took on the role of NCAR Director.

Newest laboratory head of the three, Jim took the reins of NESL on September 1, 2011, taking over from Greg Holland who acted as interim head, filling in the gap between former AD Guy Brasseur's departure from the position and identification of Jim as NESL's new leader. Working in the Climate and Global Dynamics division (CGD) since graduating with his doctorate degree in atmospheric science from Purdue, Jim arrived at NCAR to work with Warren Washington in the Climate Analysis Section of CGD. A post-doc for nine months, Jim was hired as a ladder-track scientist in 1991 when an opening occurred. His career includes leadership of CGD, and Chief Scientist of the Community Climate Projects, among other roles; he is currently Co-Chair of the World Climate Research Programme on Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR).

Michael Thompson

Both his experience at NCAR and HAO's international reputation were draws for Michael to the director position.

"HAO has reputation of being one of the greatest solar physics institutes in the world, it measures far above its budgetary weight in terms of new research output and instrumentation," says Michael. "Observatory research capabilities and focus recently have been extended to include Earth's magnetosphere – so HAO expertise ranges from the Earth's upper atmosphere to the solar core."

HAO has one of the strongest visitor programs at NCAR; programs range from postdoc positions that extend for up to two years to visiting graduate students who have co-advisors at HAO to affiliate scientists, as well as short- and long-term visitors. The student-based and postdoctoral programs, Michael explains, give HAO greater access to graduate students, who provide a source of new ideas and growth for HAO, and let HAO offer the community a service in terms of training future researchers in solar-terrestrial physics. Since Michael's arrival, focus on affiliate scientists has increased, with greater visibility of these visitors to HAO, NCAR, and the scientific and solar physics community. Among the methods to achieve this end is a dedicated section on HAO's web site introducing each of these scientists.

Both HAO and visitors benefit, says Michael, from the intellectual ties and technical skills, opportunities to work one-on-one on a given research problem, and sharing insights and expertise on HAO's community models and data sets. Strategically speaking, visitors' know-how has an added benefit in that it can help deliver on the Imperatives and new Frontiers in HAO's plan cost effectively.

COSMO – the Coronal Solar Magnetism Observatory – features as a big part of Michael's vision for HAO, with plans for COSMO to be built, and three cutting-edge instruments to be housed at the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO) in Hawaii. Among the instruments will be a new K-coronagraph, a white light telescope that detects the evolution of white light reflected from the solar corona, and a chromosphere and prominence magnetometer that will be used to take disk and limb measurements of magnetic fields in the chromosphere and solar prominences, which can be precursors to coronal mass ejections. COSMO's centerpiece will be a large coronagraph, comprising a 1.5-meter lens feeding light to a larger, more light-sensitive version of the Coronal Multi-channel Polarimeter (CoMP); this will provide information on magnetic fields and oscillations (Alfvén waves) in the Sun's corona. Each of these instruments will provide new insights on solar coronal dynamics, which can affect space weather that, in turn, affects the Earth.

Vanda Grubišić

Vanda's affiliation with NCAR and EOL extends back to her graduate-school days at Yale when as a first-year student she worked on the Hawaiian Rainband Experiment (HARP) project, which focused on investigating formation and dynamical and microphysical structure of rainbands offshore of Hawaii's Big Island. Flying on the NSF/NCAR Electra offered a rocky introduction to airborne atmospheric research. Summed up as a five-hour encounter with virtually non-stop boundary-layer turbulence, Vanda describes it as one of the most miserable flights ever.

"Everyone on board was green. The late Joachim Kuettner, a veteran field project manager and researcher who was a science observer on the same mission, leaned over to assure me the flight would be over soon," Vanda recalls.

Not remaining on terra firma for long, Vanda hopped back on the research plane at the earliest possible moment, and thus a career of field campaigns and research commenced.

One among many reasons for her return to NCAR is a passion for EOL's mission. EOL provides end-to-end support for observational science that is unmatched elsewhere, says Vanda. Lab staff designs and builds new sensors and instruments, integrates them onto existing and new platforms, offers support in field mission design, on-the-ground mission support and coordination, data collection, data quality control, as well as data tools and services.

The service EOL provides has given a considerable boost and sustained support to observational science for the NSF-funded atmospheric science university community we primarily serve, explains Vanda.

"All services benefit through being informed by the science done at NCAR and EOL, and by EOL scientists working closely with the members of the community. The science is complex, and a lot is done by EOL staff behind the scenes that is easy to miss even by the experienced user – I have always had a great appreciation of EOL staff and all of EOL's efforts and accomplishments," she explains.

Vanda notes that EOL closely watches the direction in which the science evolves given that the lab has to be able to anticipate where the new frontiers will be in order to provide service in the future. In the process, EOL scientists and engineers reflect on how the science will be done and how new observations and related tools might help these efforts. Since becoming EOL's director, Vanda says she has gained new appreciation of the lab – especially on the development side. As a university user, she has been aware of EOL's deployment and data capabilities and expertise. Since taking on her new role, she has immersed herself in learning first-hand the full extent of the development activities and how they interplay with the rest of the activities within the lab.

As an observationalist and a modeler, her knowledge and skills bring new perspective to EOL. She sees her job as bridging the two research approaches, assisting with ensuring communications and closer interactions between the modeling and observational communities. For science to advance, a close interplay between these two areas is needed – Vanda says that EOL is and will increasingly be more engaged in this realm. In the process, strengthening the collaboration with NCAR's other labs will continue to be a focus.

Her vision for EOL is to start from its existing position of strength – advanced observational science and technology. This includes a suite of ground-based and airborne instruments and platforms suitable for physical process studies. Historically the focus for EOL has been on mesoscale and microscale phenomena. Given the current direction of science focused on climate and Earth system science, as well as the new capabilities provided by the long-range high-altitude NSF/NCAR Gulfstream V (HIAPER) aircraft and its state-of-the art instrumentation, Vanda sees EOL's challenge in extending observational science support to climate-related process studies. Part of that challenge lies in strengthening the ties to the climate community, in particular the climate-modeling community, both within and outside of NCAR. On bringing these two traditionally disparate communities together within NCAR, Vanda plans to work with Jim Hurrell to ensure the needs and talents of both groups are met and the science frontier moved forward.

Jim Hurrell

Skilled at sports, but considering odds slim of either making the Major League baseball cuts or earning a living in the U.S. Professional Golfers' Association, Jim looked to other career options in college. Synoptic meteorology proved hard to ignore, having grown up with Indiana's tornadoes and a father fascinated by the daily weather forecasts; his dad regularly tuned in to NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts, and flipped through all three local news channels' forecasts every evening.

His father's influence and interest in meteorology followed Jim to college where, as a freshman, he signed up for the same introductory atmospheric science class his dad had taken at the University of Indianapolis several years earlier for fun. His atmospheric science professor – who also taught Jim's dad – had ties to the local NWS station in Indianapolis, where he helped Jim get a job as an announcer, reporting on the weather to help pay for college. This added fuel to the academic fire because here Jim had a chance to learn meteorology from veterans working in the field. Then, as a graduate student at Purdue, Jim's interest shifted to climate as a way to understand the dynamics driving synoptic weather patterns, and ultimately led him to NCAR as a postdoc to work with Warren, and soon after to the Climate Analysis section, where he took on a ladder-track scientist position.

Jim's research focuses on regional climate change, global warming, atmospheric patterns such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and computer modeling of climate. He is particularly interested in understanding the interaction between human-induced global warming and natural climate patterns such as El Niño and the NAO.

His 20-year tenure at NCAR and leadership roles within the climate community have led to strong relationships across NESL's divisions, NCAR and the wider research community. This history and experience also feeds his vision for NESL. His knowledge of NESL scientists' deep expertise in the realm of weather, climate and chemistry, combined with the tools and technologies (models, instruments, observing platforms) developed with community input, offers synergistic opportunities for researchers, both at NCAR and within the broader community, to gain further understanding of fundamental Earth processes. This knowledge will be critical for informing society and decision makers about environmental issues that humans will have to manage now and into the future.

"Supporting the cross-pollination of scientific expertise across fields is an ongoing increase in computing power," Jim says. "Together, the potential exists for NESL and the community to develop the predictive capability needed to answer pressing societal questions related to extreme weather and climate, among other questions, on national, regional and local scales."

At this point, he explains, climate change is unavoidable, however the magnitude depends on what society decides to do about the problem. This reality is driving a need for local and regional information, attribution and prediction with lead times of hours, days, and years into the future. This is where Jim sees NESL stepping in. Bringing together and integrating expertise from across the laboratory will be critical to understanding future climate regimes and extreme weather.

Thomas Bogdan

Tom takes over the leadership of UCAR early next year. Currently, he is the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). Prior to joining the SWPC in 2006, Tom was a senior scientist at NCAR, where he began work as a postdoctoral scientist in 1983, researching solar magnetic activity. Richard Anthes, who has led UCAR since 1988, and was previous to that NCAR's director, will hand the baton on to Tom on January 9, 2012.

Tom earned his Ph.D. (1984) and master's degree (1981) in physics at the University of Chicago and his bachelor's in mathematics and physics from the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, in 1979. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 papers in solar-terrestrial research. He is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and serves on its Council of the Members. Tom also works closely with the World Meteorological Organization as the U.S. point of contact for space weather issues. He has chaired and served on numerous National Science Foundation, NASA, and National Research Council committees and panels that provide advice to federal agencies and policymakers, and serves on the Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University at Buffalo.