NCAR Annual Report > RAL Annual Report Contents > Director's Message

Director's Message

Brant Foote, RAL Director

Brant Foote, RAL Director

Welcome to the Research Applications Laboratory's Annual Report for FY2006.  Our mission is to conduct directed research that contributes to the depth of fundamental scientific understanding, to foster the transfer of knowledge and technology for the betterment of life on earth, and to support technology transfer that expands the reach of atmospheric science.  We are, at present, an organization with an annual budget of more than $30M and a staff comprised of nearly 200 scientists, software engineers, and management/administration personnel. Although NCAR as a whole is largely funded by the National Science Foundation, RAL receives the vast majority of its funding from other sources such as domestic and international government agencies and private companies interested in exploiting the latest advanced weather technologies. 

In 2005 we reorganized the Laboratory into five programs dealing with research and applications in topics related to aviation, homeland security, hydrometeorology, weather systems and assessments, and numerical testbeds. The activities within each of these programs are detailed on the RAL website. In this year's Annual Report we take the opportunity to present our program in a different way, highlighting the many areas in which our work supports and advances the NCAR Strategic Plan.

Given our focus on applied atmospheric research and technology transfer, it is natural that much of our work contributes to Strategic Goal 2, Priority 2:  "Building capacity for coping with weather and climate hazards."  It is also interesting to note that many parts of our program map easily into other goals and priorities of NCAR’s Strategic Plan.  RAL scientists are engaged in fundamental investigations of earth-atmosphere interactions, in improving community models, in connecting science to decision making and public policy, in building scientific and technical capacity in developing countries, in creating new mathematical and statistical tools, and in improving instruments used to observe the atmosphere.  In each of these activities, RAL works to bring science and technology to bear on problems that affect society. 

A New Way of Looking at the Earth from Space


Historically, RAL’s success has hinged on our ability to think creatively and develop innovative solutions to problems.  Twenty five years ago we prototyped the first windshear warning system for aviation which continues to save lives today. This year, in the process of conducting programs for their sponsors, two of our scientists made discoveries that we highlight here in the Annual Report. Joshua Hacker, a Scientist I working on several Department of Defense-funded efforts, considered the potential for surface observations to provide information about the overlying atmosphere, particularly in the planetary boundary layer (PBL). Surface observations have proven difficult to assimilate in the past, but with mesoscale data assimilation and forecasting applications becoming common, surface observations offer a dense, robust, and inexpensive source of data that fills gaps not accurately observed by the synoptic balloon network or satellites.  He asked, "What if we could assimilate surface observations via an ensemble filter to take advantage of flow-dependent covariance information without imposing additional dynamic balance constraints?" He then uses a simple column model and an ensemble filter to quantify the information available in surface observations over the Southern Great Plains. 

David Johnson, a Project Scientist II, had a similar "what if?" moment.  While considering how to use NASA satellite observations in FAA aviation weather products, David began to think about how to improve the observations themselves.  Views from space, particularly from geostationary orbit, are inherently limited by an increasing loss of image resolution as one approaches the edge of the visible earth disk. This foreshortening of earth features is due to the curvature of the earth and the increasingly oblique viewing angle as seen from the satellite. David wondered, "What if we used new technology imaging systems based on two-dimensional charge coupled devices and focal plane arrays to offset the loss of resolution due to earth curvature?"  The correction would be based on an optical adapter, either a lens or mirror depending on the design of the imaging instrument, which would stretch the imagery as one moves away from nadir just enough to offset the normal loss in resolution as one moves towards the edge of the earth disk. David has designed a lens to do just that, and has filed a patent application for this innovative discovery.

Refractivity Experiment For H20 Research And Collaborative operational Technology Transfer (REFRACTT)


This Annual Report provides short narratives on more than 30 programs conducted at RAL.  Here I highlight five programs that significantly advance NCAR's strategic priorities.

Investigating the interactions of the atmosphere, the broader Earth system, and human society

Highlight:  The REFRACTT experiment

The lack of detailed, high-resolution water vapor measurements in the atmospheric boundary layer is one of the primary limiting factors in being able to predict convection initiation and produce accurate quantitative precipitation forecasts from numerical weather prediction models. During the summer of 2006, scientists took an important first step in addressing the need for an improved national, high-resolution moisture field by conducting the Refractivity Experiment For H20 Research And Collaborative operational Technology Transfer (REFRACTT).  This effort is directed, not only toward improving our understanding of near-surface water vapor variability and the role it plays in the initiation of thunderstorms, but also on building operational advocacy for installing a new refractivity moisture retrieval technique on the national network of NEXRAD radars.

Improving prediction of weather, climate, and other atmospheric phenomena

Highlight:  Pentagon Shield program

RAL scientists and engineers have developed and implemented a sophisticated transport and dispersion system aimed at diagnosing and forecasting hazards in the vicinity of the Pentagon.  The system assimilates meteorological and contaminant observations from remote and in situ sensors into a complex linked system of models which operate together to represent atmospheric processes from the mesoscale to the building scale. In the event of a hazardous-material release, the system calculates the properties of the contaminant source (e.g., location), the current characteristics of the contaminant plume, and the future path of the plume.  To honor this program's many accomplishments, we have nominated it for the 2006 UCAR Outstanding Performance Award for Scientific and Technical Advancement.

Pentagon Shield Program

Investigating weather and climate information needs and decision making

Highlight:  Societal Impacts Program

While we understand that weather affects all aspects of our lives as well as the nation's economy, no definitive assessment of weather's impacts has yet been performed.  The Societal Impacts Program, a collaborative effort with ISSE, works to address this deficiency by conducting primary research, education and outreach efforts, and developing, and providing support for the weather impacts community. We are especially proud of the new Weather and Society*Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) effort, an innovative series of workshops, education and outreach activities, and community building efforts aimed at improving the integration of weather and social science practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders. In fact we have nominated WAS*IS for the 2006 UCAR Outstanding Performance Award for Education and Outreach.

Building capacity for coping with weather and climate hazards

Highlight: Developmental Testbed Center

As part of the reorganization of NCAR in 2005, the Developmental Testbed Center (DTC) was moved into RAL.  The DTC is a national facility created in 2003 to facilitate the interaction of the operational and research communities in facilitating the transfer of new numerical weather prediction (NWP) technology from research to operations, thereby accelerating the improvement of numerical weather prediction for the nation. The DTC tests and evaluates various WRF model configurations so that the operational community can plan for changes and upgrades to the operational models and the research community has access to the latest NWP systems for testing and research. The DTC invites members of both communities to visit its facilities to participate in the testing and evaluation of WRF, and it provides a support system to aid users in accessing and using WRF codes.

NCAR Strategic priority: Conducting computer science, computational science, applied mathematics, statistics, and numerical methods research and development

Highlight: Verification research and development

Much of the work we do at RAL is focused on improving weather forecasts.  But how do we know if a new forecast is better than an existing one? Forecast verification by nature is a mathematical activity, and development of improved verification methods requires the application of advanced mathematical, statistical, and computational approaches.  To develop and disseminate new forecast verification approaches, RAL scientists conduct research in several areas, including statistical methods, exploratory data analysis, statistical inference, pattern recognition, and evaluation of user needs. Their goal is to produce statistically-valid approaches (e.g., object-based evaluation of precipitation and convective forecasts, distribution-based schemes, etc.) that can provide more meaningful and relevant information about forecast performance, both for those who develop forecasts and for the decision makers who use them