Hurricane, Air Quality Research Receives Boost at UH

Atmospheric Sciences Program Recognized by Prestigious National Group UCAR

A unanimous vote from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), naming the University of Houston as its newest member, will give a boost to UH’s already notable research into hurricanes and pollution.

Through research of the Earth’s climate, the sun and weather patterns, UCAR’s mission includes expanding the capabilities of universities with regard to understanding the behavior of atmospheric and related systems, as well as fostering the transfer of knowledge and technology among institutions for the betterment of life on Earth. UCAR also manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the federally funded research and development center dedicated to exploring and understanding the atmosphere and its interactions with the sun, oceans, biosphere and mankind.

UH is now one of only five UCAR members in Texas.

“UCAR’s membership is comprised of universities in the United States that do important work on atmospheric sciences, such as meteorology, climate modeling and atmospheric chemistry,” said John Bear, dean of the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM). “UH’s membership demonstrates the dedication and high level of research being done on the challenging issues in this field. We are committed to enhancing research and education in the atmospheric, environmental, mathematical and geophysical sciences and are currently investigating the Earth’s atmospheric environment through sophisticated computational tools and state-of-the-art instrumentation.”

While a number of factors led UCAR to its recent decision, perhaps one of the most compelling has been the growth of research in the atmospheric sciences at UH in the last few years. While NSM’s geosciences department has been leading the effort, the college’s physics, mathematics and chemistry programs also have contributed significantly.

Most notably, the Institute for Multi-dimensional Air Quality Studies (IMAQS), a diverse group of researchers from the fields of geoscience, math, computer science and chemistry, has been the integrating force for UH’s atmospheric sciences research becoming a contender for UCAR membership. Using premier scientific tools to understand the complex issues of air quality and climate change, this institute’s modeling and measurement efforts address critical components simultaneously that include emissions inventories, meteorology and atmospheric chemistry. Current IMAQS project sponsors include the EPA, NOAA, NSF, NASA, USDA and the State of Texas.

Contributions from the physics department include the UH Upper Atmospheric Research Program that conducts research in areas ranging from atmospheric electricity to space physics. A primary objective of this group is to provide a source of qualified, trained personnel to the space-oriented employers in the Houston area. Equally important, contributions from the UH Aerosol Research Program in the math department focus on projects dedicated to the modeling and simulation of atmospheric aerosols, which result in pollution that affects climate, human health and crops.

“During our membership committee’s visit to UH in September, we were very impressed by the scope and quality of the research program, as well as by the faculty and students and the across-the-board dedication of the UH administration to continued growth and support of the atmospheric sciences program,” said Richard Anthes, president of UCAR. “They are clearly addressing many of the important scientific questions of our time, and I’m confident that society will benefit greatly from work being done at UH. It will be interesting to watch the growth in this program, and we look forward to working closely with them in the years ahead. We’re proud to have UH as our 69th member of UCAR.”

While the members of the UH atmospheric science group will continue to pursue their diverse research interests, their efforts also will be coordinated to prepare for the August 2006 Texas Air Quality Study – II (TexAQS-II). This study will involve multiple aircraft and several ground sites throughout the region, with two new UH ground stations fully operational by early 2006, as well as hosting scientists from other universities and research labs at the university’s two existing tower facilities – the UH Moody Tower Atmospheric Chemistry Facility and the UH Coastal Center Flux Facility, both of which measure meteorological and air chemistry, allowing researchers to gain a better understanding of the unique challenges facing Houston’s atmospheric environment. UH’s Moody Tower site has, in fact, been designated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as a super site for sophisticated atmospheric chemistry and meteorological measurements. Ultimately, the TexAQS-II will allow institutions like UH to serve as a neutral party, offering unbiased scientific analysis needed to educate both the general public and politicians on how to potentially solve air quality issues in the most cost-effective manner.

With a core of faculty, research scientists and students already pursuing research in the atmospheric sciences, UH is looking to expand its degree offerings. Undergraduate degrees are offered in earth sciences, geophysics and environmental sciences through NSM with an option in one of three specializations of atmospheric chemistry, environmental modeling or atmospheric science. Membership in UCAR will assist UH in attracting top-notch scholars, as well as offering additional options to current graduate students, with an M.S. and Ph.D. option exclusively in atmospheric science expected to be approved by the UH Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board within the year. Currently, master’s and doctoral degrees in atmospheric science are offered under the umbrella of geophysics.

“I am delighted that the University of Houston has been elected as a full member of UCAR, which is an extraordinarily important group in the atmospheric sciences community,” said Donald Foss, UH senior vice president and provost. “This election is testimony to the high regard the profession has for UH scientists. It will allow faculty at our university to help shape the future of this key research area on the national and international level.”