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News Tip


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

Jellyfish Forecasting 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 largest estuary.

"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:

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New Computer 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 land-surface temperatures.

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 change.

"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. [Cheryl Dybas]

For more information about CCSM, see:

Researchers interested in working with the model's data, see:

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Summer Thunderstorms 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]

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San Francisco 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]

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