Atmospheric Sciences

The Atmospheric Science group is composed of scientists who share a common interest in using the unique vantage point of the polar regions to study the physical, chemical and dynamical processes of the atmosphere. We consider ourselves lucky to be working in Alaska during a time of unprecedented concern about the climate of the Arctic and the wider world.

The students in the Atmospheric Sciences research group at the Geophysical institute captured it well when they chose the phrase, "Studying at one of the few places where homogeneous nucleation occurs naturally."

Sunrise at Sanctuary Creek Denali National Park Todd Paris

The Atmospheric Sciences research group's interests cover a broad spectrum of topics in atmospheric sciences, with our research results often bearing directly on societal issues surrounding climate variability and change. Many of the group also maintain research interests in other regions of the globe. We strive to understand the polar atmosphere and its role within the earth system. Our projects utilize a variety of observational, modeling and remote sensing techniques and can be divided into several topical areas:

We provide opportunities for students to participate in exciting field experiments, apply theoretical concepts and use cutting-edge modeling to understand our atmosphere better.
  • Atmospheric remote sensing
  • Atmospheric chemistry
  • Chemistry transport modeling
  • Cloud/aerosol physics
  • Climate variability and change
  • Hydrometeorology
  • Mesoscale modeling
  • Meteorology of the middle and upper atmosphere

Location

Our location in the sub-arctic positions us perfectly for arctic research. Additionally, the local environment provides an excellent location for observation of unique scientific phenomena and outdoor exploration.

Fairbanks’ location allows for many opportunities for winter and summer recreation in a land of unspoiled beauty. Visit the Atmospheric Sciences Research page to learn more about ongoing and past projects.

Research

Atmospheric Chemistry

The Atmospheric Chemistry subgroup investigates high-latitude chemical reactivity through a combination of field and laboratory studies. The subgroup works closely with the aerosol, radiation and meteorology groups in these studies. The listings below describe some current research foci. Interested students should investigate our excellent research and education opportunities.

Cathy Cahill
Investigates the chemistry of atmospheric aerosols through field and laboratory studies. She is currently researching the size and composition of particles entering the Arctic from other regions of the globe.  cfcahill@alaska.edu​

Nicole Mölders
Employs chemistry transport models to examine the interaction between the trace gas, water and energy cycles.  cmoelders@alaska.edu

Glenn Shaw
Investigates atmospheric aerosols and cloud physics. He is interested in global climate change issues and long-range transport.  geshaw@alaska.edu

Bill Simpson
Investigates arctic radical chemistry through field measurements of trace gases and reactive radicals. Developing laser-based instruments using cavity ring-down spectroscopy and tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy. Active projects include development of a nitrate sensor using visible diode laser absorption and balloon-based sensing of ozone and carbon monoxide. wrsimpson@alaska.edu

Cloud & Aerosol Physics

The Cloud & Aerosol Physics subgroup studies cloud/aerosol physics and cloud dynamics, and works on arctic problems such as arctic haze and arctic stratus clouds, and global problems like cloud-radiation feedbacks. For more information on research opportunities in this group, contact one of the faculty members listed below.

Rainbow disappears behind ridge at Denali National Park Todd Paris

Cathy Cahill
Investigates the chemistry of atmospheric aerosols through field and laboratory studies. She is currently investigating the size and composition of particles entering the Arctic from other regions of the globe.  cfcahill@alaska.edu

Kenneth Sassen
Research activities include cloud remote sensing with LIDAR and radar, atmospheric optics, and the study of cloud physics and related instrumentation. Beginning in the early 1980s, his Mobile Polarization LIDAR facility was widely applied to field measurement programs in the areas of aerosol scattering, winter storm weather modification and cirrus cloud research. Currently, he is involved in the FIRE, ARM, SASS, and EOS research projects. ksassen@alaska.edu

Glenn Shaw
Investigates atmospheric aerosols and cloud physics. He is interested in global climate change issues and long range transport. geshaw@alaska.edu

Arctic Facility for Atmospheric Remote Sensing

AFARS CirrusThe Arctic Facility for Atmospheric Remote Sensing conducts research on the peculiar clouds and aerosols of the Interior and North Slope of Alaska. Of special interest are the frigid clouds of the upper-troposphere, cirrus clouds and aircraft condensation trails (contrails), because these clouds can have a profound effect on Earth's climate, and yet are almost completely unstudied in polar regions. Also of interest are the aerosols of this region, wintertime arctic haze, springtime Asian dust storm particles and summer smoke from western forest fires. 

The instruments comprising AFARS are drawn largely from the facility Prof. Sassen established over 15 years at the University of Utah to study midlatitude clouds.

Current plans at UAF include the establishment of a multiple remote sensor facility on campus to  be located on the roof of the Elvey Building. An additional facility, the mobile Polarization Diversity LIDAR will be located initially at the Poker Flat LIDAR site and then at the Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation site in Barrow, Alaska.

Alaska Climate Research Center

Alaska Climate Research Center logoThe Alaska Climate Research Center focuses  on Alaska and polar regions climatology — we archive climatological data for Alaska. We conduct research on a number of high latitude meteorological & climatological topics and provide useful links for related data. 

Visit the Alaska Climate Research Center site for:

  • Climate data
  • Up to date summaries
  • Alaska weather
  • Historic data
  • Information for tourists
  • Weather on campus and
  • Daily data from 51 stations across Alaska

Lidar Research Laboratory

The mission of the Lidar Research Laboratory is to support laser radar (lidar) and associated studies of the Arctic atmosphere.

Poker      Flat LIDAR Lab


Like a radar, lidar transmits a pulse of light into the sky and measures the echoes to make a profile of the atmosphere from the ground up to heights as far as 75 miles (120 km).  

The laboratory is located at Poker Flat Research Range in Chatanika, Alaska, and operated by the faculty, staff and students of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Completed in 2000, the LRL is a 5.325 square foot (495 square meter) facility that houses several laboratories and shops that are equipped to support field experiments. The Geophysical Institute invites investigators who wish to conduct lidar and associated research to make use of this facility.

  • The LRL contributed to the International Polar Year as part of the Arctic Observing Network. Observations at the LRL were used to study the middle atmosphere during the IPY to better understand the physics and chemistry of the Arctic polar vortex.
  • The LRL supports studies of noctilucent clouds. The Eighth International Workshop on Layered Phenomena in the Mesopause Region was held at the Geophysical Institute on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in August 2007.

In the image above, the aurora borealis and a laser radar beam light up the sky on a winter's night at the Lidar Research Laboratory, Poker Flat Research Range, Chatanika, Alaska. The Geophysical Institute and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology operate lidar as part of an international collaborative study of the polar atmosphere.

Lidar, like other experiments at Poker Flat Research Range, not only serves to study the atmosphere, but also provides hands-on research education opportunities for students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

The following have and/or continue to support research activities at the LRL: the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Department of Defense, State of Alaska, and the Japanese National Institute of Information and Communications Technology.

Learn more at www2.gi.alaska.edu/splidar/

For more information contact:
Dr. Richard Collins
Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks,
903 Koyukuk Drive, Fairbanks, AK 99775.

Tel: 907-474-7607
Email: rlcollins@alaska.edu

Photo by T. Matsuo
Text by D. Coccia Manning

Our Group

Faculty and students have access to world-class research facilities, including the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center, Poker Flat Research Range and several observational networks. Students gain international exposure conducting research in cooperation with scientists from all over the world.

As faculty and students, we also are an integral part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Atmospheric Sciences and closely collaborate with other campus scientists, including those from the International Arctic Research Center. In addition, there are close research ties to the National Weather Service's Fairbanks Forecast Office.

 

Cold Air Funnel

A cold air funnel in a thunderstorm over the Fairbanks area on July 21, 2010, as seen from the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.  Photo by Uma Bhatt.

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