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Welcome to ARL!


Welcome to NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory. The Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) is now well into its sixth decade, however the evidence of its beginnings is still noticeable. To this day, ARL serves as the source of atmospheric transport and dispersion capabilities to the National Weather Service (NWS), to NOAA as a whole, and to a wide range of external users. But whereas the early focus was simply on the prediction of concentrations downwind of some specific emission source (e.g. a nuclear test), today the dispersion skills have broadened into many related areas of specialty. Out of the early awareness that radioactive fallout was a global issue grew the current activities related to climate and global change. From the need to consider the chemistry of pollutants arose the present emphasis on air quality and its prediction. From the recognition that mankind could modify the atmosphere on global scales came the ARL emphasis on climate and methods to detect changes in it. And from the awareness that pollutants are removed from the air through deposition processes came the ARL role in measuring and understanding wet and dry deposition. All of these activities are directly related to NOAA's core mission - the protection of people, and the stewardship of the environment and the prediction of changes in it.

NOAA is primarily an operational agency. It is the role of ARL, within NOAA, to conduct such research as is needed to improve (and expand, as necessary) NOAA's operational products. It is not ARL's role to compete with other research entities, but instead to draw upon the products of such research as is needed and to supplement it as might be necessary. In addition, it is a role of ARL to make such measurements as may be required by the new capabilities being developed, and to safeguard the continuity of the observations that then evolve.

Today, ARL operates with five research groups1, each with its own research agenda but also each with a specific function within the ARL structure. The group at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, develops models to describe the processes of diffusion and deposition of pollutants. The group in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, assembles the process understanding into coupled meteorology and air chemistry models, for application in air quality programs of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, the Research Triangle Park group is currently developing and deploying a real-time ozone forecasting system in collaboration with EPA and the NWS. The group at Idaho Falls, Idaho, specializes in conducting field studies to test the validity of dispersion models. At Silver Spring, Maryland, work concentrates on the development of models tailored for operational use, such as by the NWS. At Las Vegas, Nevada, the dispersion capabilities are applied routinely in support of the nuclear missions of the Department of Energy (DOE). In whole, the set of ARL field offices constitutes an end-to-end model development, testing, and implementation capability. The success of the process is well illustrated by the fact that many models developed by ARL scientists are now fully operational, in DOE and the EPA as well as in NOAA.

The horrific events of September 11, 2001, elevated ARL's dispersion expertise to a new level of importance. The dispersion work of ARL is now the nucleus of a rapidly developing program to institutionalize a next generation dispersion forecasting system, as a component of a more general air quality forecasting capability. In concert with this, there is a growing demand for the sort of measurements made in ARL programs. It is an ARL goal to couple measurements with analysis and simulation as closely as possible. A related goal is directly related to the ARL mantra - the atmosphere as a part of the global environment. This latter goal is to develop a capability to predict the consequences on the whole environment of changes occurring in the atmosphere, and especially in air quality. This kind of multi-media view is seen as a path to a future in which society is protected against the risk of inadequate or counter productive regulations.

No research laboratory is any better than its personnel. ARL benefits from having an experienced enthusiastic, and productive scientific core. It is to the staff of the laboratory that credit is due for the breakthroughs of the past, and it is upon the capabilities and foresight of this cadre of scientists that the future of the laboratory rests.

1Note: On October 1, 2005, the Surface Radiation Research Branch of ARL merged into the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) as part of the Global Monitoring Division.

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