IV. NCAR Imperatives

Innovation and Creativity [] Promote innovation and creativity within our institution and across the community of atmospheric, solar, and related sciences

As a national center that provides service and leadership for the scientific community, NCAR must be a venue where new ideas, methods, tools, and practices are developed, gathered, evaluated, and shared. NCAR should serve as a hub for community interactions, collective definition of grand challenges, and development and implementation of collaborative research activities to address such challenges. To fulfill this role, NCAR has to maintain a world-class scientific workforce, a high standard of excellence, strong collaborations, and a broad spectrum of fundamental research that leads to new understandings, and more-focused programmatic research (such as described in the imperatives that follow). Programs that encourage innovation and creativity contribute to intellectual and programmatic renewal at NCAR and in the community and help build the foundations for continuing scientific advancement. To support this imperative, NCAR will

  • Conduct discovery-oriented research across the atmospheric, solar, and related sciences to identify emerging issues, develop new approaches, and guide the direction or redirection of ongoing research programs
  • Develop and support collaborative research efforts that combine ecological, hydrological, biogeochemical, and social science expertise with core atmospheric disciplines to address challenging and multifaceted Earth system science problems
  • Build an expanded scientific visitor program with the flexibility to entrain a broad community of scholars and reward NCAR staff for spending time in other research organizations to encourage exchange of information and development of new perspectives
  • Work with universities, the broader science community, and public- and private-sector decision makers to identify grand challenge problems of societal and scientific interest, in order to define new approaches and methods for research
  • Enhance supercomputing, observational, and modeling facilities by evaluating new technologies; experimenting with advanced computational architectures; and developing prototype instruments, models, and model components 
  • Provide regular opportunities for staff to pursue high-risk, potentially path-breaking research projects

Provide Capabilities for Accuracy

Climate change, weather extremes, atmospheric pollution, and space weather have significant societal, environmental, and economic costs. More accurate prediction can help reduce these costs by providing advance warning of dangerous conditions. But the development of effective long-term strategies to minimize damages is hampered by incomplete ability to attribute observed changes in the atmosphere and Earth system to specific causes and mechanisms. For instance, the precise mix of factors driving regional climate variability is not fully understood. There are also many unanswered questions about the relationships among atmospheric change and ecological, biological, and societal processes. Improved understanding of such relationships would, for example, enable us to better anticipate how continued climate change will affect water availability, agriculture, and urban development in the western United States or to project the rate of loss of biodiversity from the combination of climate change, degraded air quality, and land use change. Enhancing our ability to analyze and determine the causes of changes and their impacts will help ensure that mitigation and adaptation strategies are focused on the right problems.

NCAR, with its university partners, is well suited to address the twin challenges of prediction and attribution because of our broad strength in process studies, observational research, model development, and simulation, as well as our long experience in collaborative interdisciplinary research. NCAR's deep experience in modeling complex processes provides a strong foundation for accurately quantifying the uncertainty associated with predictions - an important component of making them more useful for decision making and informing policy. Over the next three to five years, we will

  • Produce experimental high-resolution climate forecasts for the next few decades, with companion measures of uncertainty, and work with collaborators to use these for investigating regional-scale climate impacts
  • Conduct research and develop models to improve the accuracy and utility of forecasts of high-impact weather, focused on hurricane landfall and intensity, severe thunderstorms, and other extreme events
  • Use models and observations to more accurately identify the natural and anthropogenic processes driving atmospheric changes as well as related societal and environmental vulnerabilities, impacts, and feedbacks
  • Develop new techniques for predicting changes in air quality and their impacts on ecosystems and human health
  • Analyze and predict the Sun's variable magnetic, radiative, and particulate outputs and their impacts on the terrestrial environment
  • Collect critical measurements needed to improve our understanding of physical processes and test and improve models and their predictions of the atmosphere and the Sun
  • Develop a comprehensive model of interactive processes throughout the Earth's atmosphere-ionosphere-magnetosphere systems, analyze how these are affected by solar variability, and begin prediction of space weather

Over the next five to ten years, we expect to move from independent predictions of climate, weather, and air quality to more unified environmental predictions that include aspects of all three. Fundamental research conducted at universities, NCAR, and other scientific institutions will significantly improve our understanding of basic atmospheric, oceanic, biological, hydrological, solar, and ecological processes. New modeling systems will permit integrated analysis of the relationship among changes in atmospheric composition, climate, and weather. We also expect significant advances in understanding how such changes affect ocean acidity, plant and animal species, ecosystems, human health, and communities. This should enable the attribution of observed impacts to specific causes and lead to more detailed, accurate, and useful prediction of potential future impacts, thus underpinning development of effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Advance Numerical Models

NCAR has a proud and unique tradition of collaboration with scientists from universities, national laboratories, and other research organizations to create, maintain, and distribute "community" climate and weather models that integrate the best available expertise across institutions. This effort extends from continuous basic theoretical and observational research, which underpins model development and evaluation, to provision of user support services. NCAR emphasizes ongoing advancement and redefinition of the atmospheric model components, integration and maintenance of complete models, and user support, while partners often lead in the development of additional model components such as sea ice and oceans. Scientists all over the world rely on these openly available tools to perform their research. In return, they contribute to model evaluation and development. During the past 30 years, community modeling has become one of the most important services provided by NCAR to university researchers and other interested users, and it will continue to be one of our top priorities. Over the next three to five years, NCAR will work with its partners to

  • Improve the Community Climate System Model (CCSM) and the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model
    • Develop and release CCSM version 4, with improved representation of the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and atmospheric chemistry
    • Develop and release Advanced Research WRF version 4, with improved data assimilation and microphysical and boundary-layer processes and exchanges
    • Continue development of WRF and CCSM variations, such as WRF-Chem, WRF-Fire, and the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM)
  • Develop and release new community modeling systems that incorporate new atmospheric components, offer state-of-the-art representation of a greater number of Earth system processes, and select and involve full testing of appropriate discretizations, grid refinement, and data assimilation approaches
  • Continue research on data assimilation methods and parameterization, evaluate the impact of these new techniques on model performance, and continue enhancing the data assimilation capabilities of the NCAR community models
  • Build innovative, extensible, and maintainable software design into the initial definition of Earth System Models. Determine a set of best practices for developing and modifying scientific model software, including requirement specifications, design reviews, and procedures for software testing and validation. Establish organizational incentives to follow these best practices
  • Develop new software capabilities and infrastructure, including advanced software for massive parallelization, as well as new computational methods and experimental modeling platforms to advance numerical modeling and basic algorithmic and computational fluids research across the atmospheric and related sciences

Over the next decade, NCAR will move towards unified atmospheric and Earth system modeling. We will continue the integration of chemical, upper atmosphere, climate, and weather modeling, with particular attention to land surface modeling and dynamical processes work across our weather and climate groups. We plan to push ahead rapidly with use and evaluation of a first-generation combination of WRF with CCSM, the Nested Regional Climate Model (NRCM), described in more detail in the climate frontier section below. We will enhance our efforts in integrated assessment modeling (IAM), focusing both on improving capabilities and better integrating IAM approaches and experimentation with larger-scale Earth system modeling. Over the longer term, we plan to create a new, unified atmospheric modeling system capable of accurate prediction on time scales from hours to decades that is useful for both weather and climate prediction. This system will provide the basis for an advanced community Earth System Model that will include representation of oceans, sea and land ice, land cover, the upper atmosphere, and a large number of biogeochemical and ecological processes. We foresee extensive collaborations with existing and new partners in these efforts.

Provide State-of-the-Art Supercomputing [] Develop and provide state-of-the-art supercomputing and data services that will drive the advancement of the atmospheric and related sciences

NCAR plays a critical national role in the development and provision of effective, end-to-end cyberinfrastructure (CI) for the atmospheric and Earth sciences community. NCAR's robust, innovative, and accessible supercomputing and data services have made customized high-end resources available to thousands of scientists and students, supported the creation and ongoing improvement of world-class atmospheric models, and enabled numerous cutting-edge simulations.

This track record of leadership, service, and success will continue. We will marshal the necessary facilities, equipment, software, and numerical and intellectual capabilities to meet the ever-expanding scientific goals of the geosciences community. In particular, we anticipate a 20-fold increase in the atmospheric community's demand for cyber-resources by 2012-requiring a capability comparable to the NSF "Track-2" or "petascale" centers. To be effective, this Track-2 -scale supercomputer must also be connected to a balanced and customized set of data systems, including petabyte-scale high-performance file systems shared with advanced data analysis and visualization resources, all backed up by a hundred-petabyte mass storage system. The entire facility must be connected, via high-performance networking, to the nation's other leading CI facilities, particularly those centers operated by NSF and the Department of Energy. The power, space, and cooling requirements of this facility will certainly exceed the capabilities of the NCAR Mesa Laboratory. Constructing and beginning operation by 2012 of a new supercomputing facility capable of housing Track-2-scale systems is, therefore, NCAR's top priority. Over the next three to five years, NCAR will

  • With our Wyoming partners, construct the NCAR/University of Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Acquire and begin operating a suite of Track-2-scale supercomputers, networks, and data storage systems that are customized to support the requirements of the atmospheric and related sciences community
  • Develop and support the software infrastructure specific to the simulation, analysis, and forecasting needs of the atmospheric and related sciences community
  • Curate and develop research data sets, enable information extraction, and make the data and information openly and easily available to users
  • Develop, maintain, and provide numerical analysis, visualization, archive, and access tools
  • Develop, maintain, and provide robust and portable observational cyberinfrastructure to support field campaign operations, acquisition of data from instruments and observing platforms, and near-real-time analysis

Looking further ahead, higher wide-area-network bandwidth, more powerful computers, and specialized software are creating a grid that promises to provide simplified access to distributed high-performance computing resources. A grid strategy offers several potential benefits. By working together, geographically dispersed partners can scale up processing cycles to meet increasingly large scientific challenges. In addition, complementary expertise and resources can be combined across centers to tackle the complex and interdisciplinary challenges in computational science that are difficult or impossible for one center to address in isolation. These challenges include many computational problems in the geosciences, such as climate and earthquake modeling. Furthermore, the grid is part of a cluster of technologies forming a trend in high-end computing toward "cloud computing": system virtualization, center automation, service-oriented architectures, and distributed workflows. Keeping up with and even leading the evolution of these ideas is essential to the long-term health of the laboratory.

Provide State-of-the-Art Observational Facilities

Observational science is central to NCAR, and helping to define and conduct field campaigns and observational experiments is one of the most important services NCAR provides to the broader scientific community. To fulfill this imperative, NCAR must maintain a robust and reliable set of deployable observing facilities (aircraft and ground-based) and seek opportunities to develop and upgrade observational technology and instruments. NCAR also maintains and operates stationary observing facilities such as those at Mauna Loa; participates in the definition, design, and development of satellite-based and balloon-based instrumentation; and provides access to extensive archives of observational data sets. All of these activities are dependent on NCAR's proven ability to attract and retain an experienced cadre of engineers, technicians, scientists, and logistics experts who provide world-class support for planning, development, and implementation. Over the next three to five years, NCAR will

  • Ensure that the atmospheric observing facilities required for anticipated community research remain in ready-to-deploy status and operate these systems in support of those research programs
  • Complete development and begin operation of all initial instruments on the NSF/NCAR G-V high-altitude research aircraft
  • Distribute and manage observational data sets from new and archived experiments and meet the challenge posed by the increasing size and complexity of observational data sets by developing suitable systems and procedures for archival and access
  • Enhance the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory through upgrade of existing instruments and addition of new instruments
  • Develop life-cycle plans for major facilities and instruments, considering anticipated changes in technology and observational needs, in order to formulate a long-range strategy for replacement and upgrades
  • Develop specific plans for a future airborne weather radar system (to replace or upgrade the ELDORA system) and for ground-based profiling of wind, moisture, and temperature (to replace, complement, or upgrade the Integrated Sounding System)
  • Advance ground-based radar systems, with a near term focus on collaborating with CSU/CHILL to develop and deploy an integrated and networked multi-facility Doppler weather radar system
  • Conduct a small set of exploratory development projects (often in partnership with others) selected for their potential to provide new observational capabilities
  • Advance observational capabilities for atmospheric chemistry research, including developing and deploying time-of-flight mass spectrometry systems for analyzing organic trace gases and aerosols

If the observing systems that NCAR operates for the community are to remain at the state of the art, NCAR must also pursue long-term development projects with time scales of a decade or more. One such project is the Coronal Solar Magnetism Observatory (COSMO), which will provide unprecedented insights into coronal structure, heating, and dynamics, as well as the activity responsible for space weather, through synoptic observations of coronal magnetic fields. The centerpiece of COSMO will be a meter-class coronagraph with instruments to measure the coronal magnetic field using the polarization of forbidden infrared emission lines. Supporting instruments will provide context, and the suite will eventually replace the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory, operated by NCAR for over 40 years.

Two other prominent efforts in the early planning stages are the next-generation airborne radar that will replace the ELDORA system and the next-generation system for wind profiling (see planning efforts described in the actions above). NCAR also has developed proposals for a remote-sensing suite of airborne instruments (the Community Airborne Platform Remote-Sensing Interdisciplinary Suite, or CAPRIS) and for a "virtual operations center" (VOC). CAPRIS will include development of several lidars and short-wavelength radar for airborne use, and the VOC will integrate advanced networking and communications capabilities with analysis and visualization tools for remote access and interaction with researchers and students during field experiments. Finally, we see many opportunities for continued participation in the development of space-borne instrumentation for observations of the Sun and Earth system.

These major efforts, along with continued development of smaller component instruments for community use, represent the long-term vision for observational capabilities.

Develop Applications, Technology, and Products for Societal Needs

It is central to NCAR's mission to transition research results into information, science-based applied technologies, and decision systems that protect life and property and benefit society. Conducting directed research that is relevant to societal needs, providing scientific information to support public and private sector decision making, and contributing to national and international scientific assessments are important responsibilities. We collaborate with university partners, other research organizations, and the private sector to carry out these activities. In addition, many governmental and private sector organizations (domestic and international) provide funding to create applications that are tailored to their needs. Over the next three to five years, NCAR will

  • Define and undertake climate simulations that contribute to scientific assessments of climate change, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report and U.S. national assessments expected under the U.S. Global Change Research Program
  • Develop decision-support systems in partnership with universities and other research organizations to assist the renewable energy, water, national security, agricultural, health, manufacturing, and transportation sectors
  • Develop, test, and transfer to operational agencies state-of-the-art numerical techniques for atmospheric, climatic, and space weather modeling, and support the research community by providing repositories of tested code, tutorials, and help desks
  • Integrate atmospheric and social sciences to assess and improve the utility of weather products and services and provide information on the societal impacts of weather and climate
  • Develop and transfer advanced observational systems to the research and operational communities in collaboration with our university partners

Looking farther ahead, we will begin to apply integrated assessment modeling techniques traditionally used for climate studies to weather-scale problems and needs. Additionally we will begin to experiment with "interactive" science and technology transfer systems in which a decision maker or planner will be able to enter cyberspace, specify certain parameters that define the problem they are addressing, and get a nearly instant response consisting of explicit decision information, guidelines for developing a tailored decision system, or further references relevant to their inquiry.

Attract Scientists to Atmospheric Sciences

A steady flow of talented new participants into the atmospheric and related sciences is essential for scientific progress on many of the most compelling problems facing society. NCAR is committed to fostering graduate and postgraduate research and education, providing opportunities for undergraduate participation in NCAR research, and promoting students' interest in the atmospheric and related sciences. As a national laboratory active in research, modeling, and observational activities, we can provide unique hands-on educational experiences and many opportunities for students, advisors, and early career scientists to collaborate with a wide variety of scientists and engineers. Over the next three to five years, NCAR will

  • Increase the number of postdoctoral appointments at NCAR
  • Increase the size of NCAR's graduate fellowship program, which supports joint work among graduate students, their university advisors, and NCAR researchers
  • Conduct educational activities/programs that integrate research and education in each NCAR laboratory, including work-study and summer programs for undergraduates in engineering, applied mathematics, and computer sciences that supplement the educational experiences they receive at universities
  • Continue aggressive outreach to qualified candidates for educational programs, with particular attention to attracting candidates from diverse backgrounds and disciplines
  • Bring science and engineering to students by providing Web-based access to near-real-time information about field campaigns and experiments and deploying NSF and NCAR observational facilities at or near universities and colleges
  • Increase the involvement of NCAR scientists and engineers in teaching, supervising students, and other educational activities in the university community, and engage this community in increasing diversity
  • Maintain a variety of early career employment options that provide entry points and pathways to different aspects of atmospheric and related research at NCAR and in the broader community