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Arctic-accurate weather modeling focus of two-day meeting

Submitted by Debra Damron
Phone: 907-450-8662

05/08/08

More than 40 scientists will meet in Fairbanks May 12-13 to discuss how to improve current weather forecast models and develop new, more accurate modeling methods in one of the nation's most extreme environments.

Alaska's size, geography and location create a variety of distinct climate types, yet there are few ground-based weather stations throughout the state that forecasters can use to make more accurate weather predictions or to use for model evaluation and development of improved modeling methods.

Accuracy is vital when lives and millions of dollars are at stake. Alaska's airspace is heavily used for cargo and passenger transport, tourism drives much of the state's economy and the exploration and extraction of natural resources are all impacted by weather.

According to Greg Newby, chief scientist with the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center and one of the organizers of the two-day symposium, participants from academic, research, government, military and private sectors will focus on exchanging operational and research information related to the Alaska, Arctic and sub-Arctic environment.

"We are actually breaking the symposium into three, distinct areas of interest: one, how are we gathering the data and using it effectively; two, looking at the processes we're developing to improve forecasting, and three, climatology," Newby said.

UAF's atmospheric sciences department chair Nicole Mölders is also one of the symposium's organizers.

"This is actually our second symposium," Mölders said. "We hope to build on last year's meeting and attract more scientists and graduate students - the next generation of scientists - who are interested in modeling the weather over Alaska for various application purposes."

Highlights of the meeting include a presentation on how the 2006 Augustine Volcano eruption impacted daily weather in Alaska, how to develop models that more accurately predict weather patterns influencing volcanic ash transport and dispersion of smoke from wildfires, and development of a polar-specific, high-resolution Weather Research and Forecasting model.

"One of our activities at ARSC is the twice-daily run of the WRF tool on Midnight, a 2,312-processor Sun Opteron cluster," Newby said. "On the weather.arsc.edu Web page, you can see the data these runs produce."

"Each run provides several days of numerical weather forecasting over the Western Arctic at 16-kilometer resolution as well as the Fairbanks National Weather Forecast area at 6 km. This resolution is higher than currently provided by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration," Newby said.

According to Newby, these runs support various research activities, along with operational needs of NOAA's National Weather Service. "The calculations and speed required to develop these models are only possible with a supercomputer," Newby said.

In addition, pairing information from established computer models permit greater understanding and improved forecasting. For instance, coupling a fire danger prediction model of Alaska with a weather forecast model will enhance fire weather forecasts. In addition, pairing volcanic ash dispersion models with weather forecast models allows improved warnings to air traffic when there's an active volcano spitting ash into the atmosphere.

The symposium is cosponsored by ARSC, the International Arctic Research Center, Alaska Region-NOAA National Weather Service, the UAF Geophysical Institute and the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, demonstrating the interdisciplinary approach needed to create better weather models and improved modules for climate models. The symposium will take place 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., May 12-13 in the Elvey Auditorium and Globe Room of the Geophysical Institute.

CONTACT: Greg Newby, chief scientist, ARSC, at 907-450-8600 or email at newby@arsc.edu. Nicole Mölders, atmospheric sciences department chair, at 907-474-7910 or email at molders@gi.alaska.edu. Debra Damron, ARSC communications director, at 907-450-8662, or via e-mail at damron@arsc.edu.

ON THE WEB: More information and symposium agenda at weather.arsc.edu/Events/LAWS08/