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NCAR's Program for Young Scientists Celebrates 50 Years of Innovative Weather Research

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has been at the forefront of many significant meteorological developments.

NCAR, which is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), built the first portable Doppler research radars to help diagnose how microbursts produce dangerous wind shear. The organization has also continued to design innovative instrument packages used to "measure high winds, moisture and other key aspects of hurricanes and other storms," according to UCAR's website.

One of NCAR's programs that allow such advancements to continue into the future recently reached a significant milestone.

NCAR's Advanced Study Program (ASP) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The ASP, created four years after NCAR was founded, has fostered the careers for some of the brightest young scientists.

The ASP offers a variety of educational opportunities geared toward young scientists, but the biggest piece of the budget goes to the two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. The prestigious program accepts 10 students per year out of 120 to 130 applicants, although some students may leave early to take jobs, according to Chris Davis, the ASP program director.

The mission of this program is to help NCAR and the scientific communities it serves prepare for the future. Alumni of the program have landed jobs in different parts of the atmospheric science community including government, UCAR member universities, private organizations and NCAR itself, according to a recent press release.

According to Davis, the focus on early-career scientists is to give them flexibility to do important research and give them a chance to develop their skills to become more competitive for jobs while also setting themselves up for a career as a leader in the field of atmospheric science. This way, the whole community benefits from their participation in this program.

Davis said contributions from this program to the atmospheric science community have been substantial, and the students that are selected have demonstrated the potential to produce innovative scientific developments.

"Many of them do produce highly innovative work, go in new directions," Davis said. "They're rather unconstrained in what they do when they're here in ASP and that's really the point."

Davis cited several examples of students showcasing their ingenuity.

In one case, a student with a chemical engineering background entered the program and examined atmospheric and oceanic interaction. The student was looking at simulating individual particles, such as water droplets and their properties.

"This is a very different kind of simulation than we normally have and I would consider that work particularly innovative," Davis said. "It led to some really interesting insights because this problem is relevant for hurricanes and then trying to model hurricanes and understanding what the net effect of sea spray might be, for instance."

"It tends to be things like that where someone comes in, they have an expertise that's pretty well defined and they branch out into a new area, so they can apply that expertise to a new problem which generates the innovation and insight that wouldn't otherwise be possible."

Another postdoc student examined phased array radar and worked on a prototype which NCAR ultimately hopes to be able to deploy on one of its aircraft and lead to the next generation of aircraft weather radar.

One student has found novel ways to examine resolution climate modeling by trying to looking at the underlying processes of climate models, Davis said.

Davis added that continuing to make advancements in long-range climate and forecasting models could prove valuable to decision makers in many industries, but there is still work to be done.

In the case of extreme drought, for example, those who are involved with long-term water management strategies could be particularly interested in models that could make long-term predictions in average temperatures and potential decreases in precipitation.

This is a key aspect of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather-Ready Nation initiative, which along with ambassadors such as UCAR and AccuWeather, is working to help communities become better prepared to face extreme weather events.

In order for the program to accomplish its goals, it must rely on partnerships formed between the American Weather Enterprise which includes government organizations, the private sector and academic institutions.

This November, a computer upgrade at the National Weather Service will bring improved American forecast models, which will greatly benefit the meteorological community and general public by empowering earlier and more accurate forecasts.