Land-surface Atmosphere Research Group


Land-surface Atmosphere Research

My research philosophy can be summarized best as:

The overarching theme of my research has been the interaction between the land surface and the atmosphere. My primary tools in this endeavor are computer simulation models of the land surface and the atmosphere. My major research area is in physical meteorology and climatology, specifically the fluxes of energy and mass between the surface and the atmospheric boundary layer. Much of my research has focused on radiative fluxes between vegetated surfaces and the atmosphere, but I have also conducted NASA-funded modeling and field studies investigating energy exchanges over the Greenland ice sheet and their impact on the amount and extent of surface melting. I am currently involved in several research projects concerning land surfaceatmosphere interactions in the Nebraska Sand Hills. One of these is investigating how the Sand Hills' unique soil properties affect generation of warm-season mesoscale precipitation over the Sand Hills and surrounding plains. Our findings show that the Sand Hills have a complex set of effects on the atmosphere — in some cases acting to inhibit convective precipitation while in others acting to enhance convection and precipitation generation in the region. These investigations originally were part of a large, multi-investigator NSF grant to study the Sand Hills as a complex ecosystem. This team of researchers included ecologists, physicists, geologists, hydrologists and meteorologists.

Paleoclimate Modeling

Shortly after the Meteorology/Climatology Program was merged with the Geology Department to form the Department of Geosciences in 1997, one of my geologist colleagues, Dave Loope, poked his head into my office and asked, “Can we model the climate of the Jurassic?” My answer was, “It can be done, but I’ve never done anything like that.” Thus, I embarked on a completely new research track – paleoclimate modeling. For me, this meant learning a completely new modeling system, along with developing new datasets to provide the appropriate boundary conditions needed for the Jurassic environment. Along with another colleague, Bob Oglesby, we are using the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Climate Simulation Model (CCSM) to simulate the climate of 200 million years ago as part of our research into the environment that led to development of vast eolian formations in what is now the southwestern United States. We were successful in obtaining NSF funding for the early stages of this research and are seeking additional funding to continue our investigations. When we first started this project, I had some difficulty fitting it into my overall theme of land surfaceatmosphere interactions until I realized that it was just a matter of scale. A primary control on the atmospheric circulation is the global distribution of land and ocean and, as the assemblage of the continents into Pangea during the Jurassic represents a significantly different land/ocean configuration than today, land surface-atmosphere interactions – at a global scale – is the major focus of our research.

My collaboration with Loope and Oglesby has led to other paleoclimate investigations into the causes of past periods of extreme aridity in central North America which led, for example, to reactivation of dunes in parts of the Sand Hills. While large-scale changes in atmospheric circulation seem to be primarily responsible for initiating the dry conditions, we are currently seeking funding from NSF to conduct high-resolution modeling to investigate the role of local and regional feedbacks in exacerbating and sustaining these droughts.

Regional Climate Modeling

As basic climate science research has made it increasingly clear that human-induced climate change is occurring, more scientists are focusing on understanding the impacts of climate change. A fundamental aspect of this shift in focus is the need for accurate and precise climate predictions and information at local and regional scales – a capability yet to be developed. A second fundamental need is to make this information available in an understandable and accessible format to the stakeholders and policy-makers who must develop and implement strategies for adapting to climate change. Together with colleagues in Computer Science and Engineering (Swanson, Goddard, Ramamurthy), the School of Natural Resources (Hayes, Istanbullouglu) and other University of Nebraska campuses (Larsen, Bishop, Shambaugh-Miller) and with support from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Bob Oglesby and I have proposed to establish the Nebraska Center for Regional Climate Modeling (NCRCM). This center’s long-term goal is to fill a major gap in climate change research capability at the regional, national, and international levels: the need for accurate and precise information on climate change at local and regional scales that will enable the accurate forecasting needed for informed decision-making about adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. This center will focus resources on further developing two existing clusters of expertise – climate modeling and decision support systems – and increasing ancillary expertise in hydrologic and land-cover modeling, water law and public policy, and rural health. The NCRCM will develop the capability to downscale the predictions of global climate models to predictions at the regional level, such as the Great Plains, the Northeastern U.S., or the Himalayas, use these results to determine likely impacts of climate change on the region, and develop decision support systems that deliver climate change information to policy-makers and stakeholders in an understandable, easily-accessible format.

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