NCAR National Center for Atmospheric Research

NCAR's Boulder Location

First Stop: The Weather Gallery

Participate in a weather experiment to understand convection.

Learn that tornadoes are formed because of differing air pressures in the sky and on the ground.

Thunderstorms happen when a convection cell of rising and falling warming and cooling air creates clouds and condensation. Lightning accompanies these storms because as water crystals fly up into the cloud, it becomes polarized, with the top of the cloud positively charged and the bottom negative. An electron stepladder is expelled from the cloud and attracted to the earth below it.

Snowstorms require below-freezing temperatures, moisture in the air, and warm air rising above cold air to form.

Explore the cloud exhibit, in which condensed water vapor pools into the large basin. What kind of shapes can you make? What is happening to the water vapor as new shapes are made, and what does this have to do with the electrical bonds between the water molecules?

Next, we'll visit the climate exhibit up on the second floor.

(Right) Earth from space as recorded by NASA depicts the climate patterns of the Earth. Climate is defined as the amount of energy received by the sun and the amount of energy trapped in the system. (Top Left) Factors which effect the Earth's climate include the sun (Earth's magnetic orbit around the sun has changed over time, inducing Ice Ages), volcanic eruptions (the release of particles into the air can clog the atmosphere and cause temporary cooling), greenhouse gases, snow and ice (once melted, the energy that would have been reflected into the air stays on the Earth, causing more warming), and other factors such as clouds, particles in the air called aerosols, and water levels. (Bottom Left) The Greenhouse Effect induces climate change. While the effect can keep out harmful UV rays from the Sun, human intervention is doing more harm than good to Earth's climate.

Video describing the physics of climate change.

Now for a quick trip to the basement to visit the supercomputers!

"The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) provides advanced computing services to scientists studying a broad range of disciplines, including weather, climate, oceanography, air pollution, space weather, computational science, energy production, and carbon sequestration. It also houses a landmark data storage and archival facility that will hold, among other scientific data, unique historical climate records."

IBM was chosen to design the supercomputers for the organization. During testing, one computer, called Yellowstone, took up approximately 1.6 megawatts of electricity. The organization states that originally 10% of the energy needed to run the computers will come from wind energy but that percentage may be expanded later.

Finally, we'll visit the exhibit on Sun-Earth Connections back on the first floor!

Here is the exhibit, with each picture coming from the technology NCAR needs to observe the sun.
Sunspots are dark spots on the sun's surface caused by disturbances in the sun's magnetic field.
Coronal Mass Ejections (CME's) are explosive outbursts of solar plasma from the sun. They are often in the vicinity of solar flares, but scientists are unsure how they are related. CMEs originate in the magnetically disturbed upper atmosphere of the sun, the corona. CME's travel outward into space. If their radiation storms come into contact with Earth's magnetosphere, the gas molecules in the atmosphere glow, causing the Northern and Southern Lights.

Thanks for visiting the NCAR visitor's center in Colorado, Boulder! 

"The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a federally funded research and development center devoted to service, research and education in the atmospheric and related sciences. NCAR's mission is to understand the behavior of the atmosphere and related Earth and geospace systems; to support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the university community and the broader scientific community, nationally and internationally; to foster the transfer of knowledge and technology for the betterment of life on Earth. The National Science Foundation is NCAR's sponsor, with significant additional support provided by other U.S. government agencies, other national governments and the private sector." (NCAR Website)

Created By
Margo Schumann

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