Head in the clouds

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Jul 172006
 
Authors: Mike Donovan

Usually when people’s heads “are in the clouds,” they’re merely daydreaming, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) is financing $19 million for scientists to get their heads up there and focus.

The NSF awarded the money on Monday to CSU to build a Science and Technology Center that will help meteorologists predict the weather using clouds. The 20,000 square foot center will be located at CSU’s Foothills Campus.

The main project at the center will be a climate model that will collect and read cloud samples. These samples will then be compared to a corresponding global atmospheric model. This will revolutionize the way clouds are used to predict the weather and will be used by scientists from all over the world, according to Hank Gardner, the interim vice president for research at CSU.

The NSF Science and Technology Center for Multi-Scale modeling of Atmospheric Processes will be the first NSF center in the state of Colorado, said David Randall, professor of atmospheric science. The center’s stated goal is to more accurately depict cloud processes and to improve weather forecasting.

Randall, who will be the director of the center, believes the center will have a major impact on meteorology.

“I think that we will make much faster process to get to the bottom of the problem of what clouds do and how they work,” Randall said.

The NSF will be giving $19 million over the first five years of the project with the option of a five-year renewal. The money will be used mainly to pay the approximately 30 faculty members, research students, and staffers who will work at the center.

The center will be the continuation of a six-year project that will help predict the weather in both the short and long term. Randall believes that the agreement with the NSF legitimizes the work that has already started.

“A lot of people did a lot of work over a period of six years to achieve this,” Randall said. “It is very gratifying that our hard work has paid off like this.”

CSU President Larry Penley believes that having a Science and Technology Center at CSU will enable the university to continue its high standard of research in various fields.

“What this program does is it enables us to continue what is already great world-class research,” Penley said. “CSU is one of America’s great research universities.”

While CSU will be home to the center, scientists from around the nation will work for the center. John Helly of the University of California-San Diego and Chin-Hoh Moeng of the National Center of Atmospheric Research will join CSU professors as principal investigators on the project.

“This center is truly a international consortium of scientists working on global problem,” Gardner said.

The center will be just the fourth NSF center on atmospheric science ever and will join the University of Arizona’s center on sustainability of semi-arid hydrology and riparian areas as the only active atmospheric science centers.

The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science and to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare.

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