UCAR wins funding for new weather forecasting tools to aid scientists and the public

September 24, 2003

BOULDER--The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and seven other institutions have won a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to create a series of powerful tools for weather forecasters and the public. The project, known as the Linked Environments for Atmospheric Discovery (LEAD), will set up a network of high-performance computers that incorporates newly developed software to enable scientists, educators, students, and anyone interested in weather to gain new insights into storms. UCAR's share of the grant is $1.8 million over five years.

"LEAD elevates the use of prediction systems, especially the sharing of data and results, to a whole new level," says Mohan Ramamurthy, director of UCAR's Unidata Program Center, which provides data, software, and technical support to universities. "This powerful tool will help researchers collaborate, and it will also provide forecasters with the newest technology to help them predict the path of a major storm, like Hurricane Isabel. Furthermore, anybody will be able to get on the Internet and take advantage of state-of-the-art weather prediction models."

At UCAR, Unidata researchers will develop many of the key technologies to enable users to access the LEAD environment. For example, users will be able to share weather information across a supercomputer network on a real-time basis, and scientists at different sites will have the ability to work collaboratively over the phone on the same data files. A researcher who wants to simulate a particular storm will be able to build on data and models constructed by other colleagues, creating more accurate ensemble predictions. UCAR will also incorporate its integrated data viewer into the new system. This visualization tool will allow users to transform weather data that may be stored on remote and distributed computers into recognizable forecast maps.

"The goal is to provide on-demand computing for scientists and the public--anyone who needs more information about potentially hazardous weather systems," Ramamurthy says.

Today's weather forecast models run on fixed schedules over fixed regions, independent of any weather that may be occurring. LEAD will be able to detect, predict, and simulate hazardous weather systems such as thunderstorms and lake-effect snows on demand. When storms such as Hurricane Isabel strike in the future, people will be able to create their own simulations and download predictions of the hurricane's path, thereby gaining the most accurate information possible about potentially dangerous conditions.

Kelvin Droegemeier at the University of Oklahoma is the project director of LEAD. Oklahoma is a member institution of UCAR, as are four other universities participating in the project: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Alabama, Huntsville; Colorado State University; and Howard University. A sixth, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, is a UCAR academic affiliate. The final participating institution is Indiana University at Bloomington.

LEAD is one of eight projects this year funded by NSF's Information Technology Research (ITR) program. Beginning October 1, LEAD will receive $2.25 million a year for five years, for a total of $11.25 million. Others projects funded by ITR this year focus on such issues as protecting individual privacy, getting information in emergency situations, and monitoring wetlands.

"This year's ITR awards demonstrate how fundamental computer science research, combined with other research disciplines and practical activities, makes it possible to address new scientific questions and urgent national priorities," says Peter Freeman, head of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate.
-end-
On the Web: For the ITR program: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/03/pr03103.htm.

Visuals: Images are available at ftp://ftp.ucar.edu/communications. Filenames: storm1.jpg; storm2.jpg.

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

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