July 22, 2002
For more information on these science news and feature
story tips, contact the public information officer
listed at (703) 292-8070.
Editor: Josh Chamot
Contents of this News Tip:
Now Possible in Chesapeake Bay
Those planning an outing on the Chesapeake Bay may
soon be able to check the jellyfish forecast along
with the weather forecast. A team of scientists funded
by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has
developed a prototype forecasting system that predicts
the likelihood of sea nettles, a stinging jellyfish,
in the bay.
Researchers are able to take advantage of new technology
and improved communication to continuously monitor
environmental conditions in the bay, the East Coast's
"Sea nettles are ideal organisms for evaluating this
approach," says NOAA oceanographer Christopher Brown,
because their occurrence is closely related to salinity
and sea-surface temperature, two variables that are
already observed in near-real time.
Brown, lead scientist on the study, hopes that once
the forecasting model has been refined and validated,
the same techniques can be extended to other noxious
organisms, such as algal blooms, or red tides, that
negatively affect tourism worldwide.
The economic effect of sea nettles is not limited to
vacationers who may shun Chesapeake Bay beaches to
avoid painful allergic reactions from contact with
jellyfish tentacles. In fact, says Brown, sea nettles
are voracious predators, devouring copepods (minute
crustaceans), fish eggs and larvae, and comb jellies,
affecting the food web and possibly the abundance
of fish in the bay. [Cheryl Dybas]
For the latest maps showing the current likelihood
of sea nettles in the Chesapeake Bay and its major
tributaries, see: http://coastwatch.noaa.gov/seanettles.
Top of Page
Model Projects Detailed Picture of Worldwide Climate
Capping two years of research, a nationwide group of
more than 100 scientists has created a powerful new
computer model of the Earth's climate. The model is
more accurate than its predecessors and handles higher-resolution
information for such variables as ocean currents and
Researchers will use the model, called CCSM-2 (Community
Climate System Model, version 2), funded by NSF and
the Department of Energy, to probe how climate works
and to experiment with "what-if" scenarios to predict
future climate changes. Researchers also plan to look
at past climate; for example, performing an extended,
multi-century simulation of past shifts in climate.
The model's increased capabilities will permit new
types of studies, such as the "Flying Leap Experiment"
which will track fossil fuel carbon emissions as they
are dissolved in the oceans and subsequently released
back into the atmosphere.
Jeffrey Kiehl, a key developer of the model at the
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in
Boulder, Colorado, expects the CCSM-2 to play an integral
role in the next climate assessment by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, the international organization
that issues periodic assessments of global climate
"The model is better [than its earlier version] at
simulating phenomena with worldwide climate implications,
such as El Niño," says Kiehl. "The new version
has higher spatial resolution in both oceans and sea
ice, and the atmosphere is represented by a larger
number of vertical layers."
To achieve the extensive modifications in the latest
version, which was released last month, scientists
applied the model to specific problems. For example,
they weighed the climatic impacts of past volcanic
eruptions, fluctuations in ocean salinity, changes
in land vegetation, and the thickness of sea ice.
For more information about CCSM, see: http://www.ccsm.ucar.edu/.
Researchers interested in working with the model's
data, see: http://www.ccsm.ucar.edu/experiments/ccsm2.0.
Top of Page
May Become More Predictable
Meteorologists have long known that summer thunderstorms
and heavy rains are difficult to predict. They pop
up quickly and disappear within a few short hours.
But after looking at three years of radar image data,
scientists at NCAR discovered a systematic pattern
of rainfall across the continent. That knowledge may
make the rainiest summer thunderstorms more predictable.
The research was funded in part by NSF.
Researchers analyzed three years of summer thunderstorm
radar data, uncovering a pattern for blocks of rainfall
moving from the Rockies in the West to the Appalachians
in the East - even when typical weather patterns,
such as fronts or low-pressure systems, are absent.
Individual storms pop up quickly and disappear in a
few hours within the blocks, but the researchers found
that older storms actually give birth to new storms
as the activity moves across the country. Thus, there
is a much greater chance that a particular location
will feel the effects of a thunderstorm when one of
the activity areas is passing by.
"Heavy rain from thunderstorms is hard to predict,"
said Richard Carbone, NCAR scientist and lead author
of a paper appearing in the July 1 issue of the American
Meteorological Society's Journal of Atmospheric Science.
"But our work shows some clusters of storms actually
spawn new clusters of storms. If we can follow this
pattern, we may be able to greatly improve our predictions
of where the new storms will develop."
The researchers can track afternoon thunderstorms in
the west as they travel more than 500 miles on a typical
midsummer day, said Carbone. "You could say, for example,
that yesterday's storms in Colorado have a lot to
do with the likelihood of storms in Chicago today
- and watch out on the East Coast tomorrow!"
Ongoing research includes looking more deeply into
how these episodes of thunderstorm activity form and
what controls the speed at which they propagate across
the central United States. [Cheryl Dybas]
Top of Page
Students Intern in Big Sky Country
Students from San Francisco with diverse backgrounds
and limited research experience are spending the summer
at the University of Montana studying pharmaceutical
sciences, biotechnology and environmental sciences.
The NSF-supported Undergraduate Summer Diversity Research
Program links San Francisco State University, which
serves a large minority student body, with the University
of Montana. There are nine students who come to Missoula,
Mont. where they experience "Big Sky Country" in addition
to learning more about research. Most of the students
have never traveled outside the San Francisco area
and none has had laboratory experience.
The students work with top-notch scientists in seminars
throughout the summer and are required to conduct
research and present their findings at the end of
the program. The program is in its second year.
Previous students report they have found opportunities
to work at labs and been encouraged to continue their
educations, in medical school for instance, as a result
of their experiences. The program is supported through
NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive
Research (EPSCoR). [Bill Harms]
Top of Page