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History of ARL The Air Resources Laboratory traces it's origins back to 1948, as the Special Projects Section (SPS) of the U.S. Weather Bureau. SPS was set up to serve as an interface between the research needs of other agencies and the meteorological products provided by the Weather Bureau. It's existence was later underpinned by a formal directive (OMB-62) that charged the Weather Bureau with providing meteorological services to all agencies who desired them. ARL continues in this mold, operating in accordance with the NOAA Strategic Plan, while providing the meteorological expertise required by other agencies as they conduct research related to both their own and NOAA's missions.

In the 1940s, as the nuclear age was emerging, it became clear that we were no longer faced with simple environmental problems with simple remedies. It was eminently apparent that radioactive fallout was an exceedingly complex issue, involving extremely long range transport through the air and affecting all aspects of the environment. The nature of the concerns generated a view that the problem was not only atmospheric, but also related to the way in which the atmosphere interacted with other parts of the environment. In this sense, it was not only the atmospheric resource that was endangered, but also other components of the environment with which the atmosphere interacts. The Air Resources Laboratory grew out of such considerations, soon leaving its radioactive fallout origins behind and focusing on all situations in which mankind and society influence the quality of the atmosphere and the nature of its interaction with other components of the environment.

Today, the Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) operates as one of twelve research institutions of the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research of NOAA, with a mission that has remained largely unchanged throughout its lifetime -- to learn how to predict air quality, and to institutionalize these skills for assessment, policy development, public and environmental protection, and emergency response purposes. It is the ARL charter to monitor the quality of the atmosphere, to assess its interaction with other parts of the environment, and to learn how to predict future changes. In this regard, ARL stands on three legs -- monitoring, research, and assessment. It is the continuing ARL philosophy that these three activities must progress in parallel, as closely coupled as is possible. ARL monitoring activities emphasize the concept of INTEGRATION between research and monitoring, with a focus on learning how to extend data records into the future. The results are intended to help guide sound environmental policy, reducing the risk of making costly regulatory errors. The assessments that ARL promotes integrate across media and disciplines; we are at the intersection between the atmospheric environment and other parts of the global ecosystem. We view the atmosphere as a part of the total environment that mankind is putting at risk, and we seek the knowledge to safeguard this resource.

Almost all of the major accomplishments of ARL have been published in the open literature, in conference or symposia proceedings, as technical memoranda and technical reports, or occasionally as “in-house” reports.

Early History

In 1948, the Weather Bureau formed a Special Projects Section (SPS) to engage in research utilizing meteorology to assist the emerging atomic energy program. During the early stages of the Cold War, many of these developments were involved in weapons testing.

Dr. Lester Machta accepted the directorship of the unit in 1948 and was joined by four other meteorologists. At that time, funding for the Special Projects Section was entirely from the Department of Defense and (a little later) from the Atomic Energy Commission, the predecessor of the Department of Energy. For a protracted period, outside financial support was the exclusive or overwhelmingly dominant source of funds. This status was and still is often criticized because “soft money” is viewed as being less dependable than internal base funding. However, these outside funds have proved to be very stable until quite recently, when they have shared the same uncertainties as have influenced NOAA's budget. In time, the initial ARL inter-agency role began to be questioned within ESSA (NOAA's predecessor). Recently, there has been some welcome return to the early recognition of the importance of the ARL role as an interface between NOAA and other federal science users. There is special recognition in other agencies of the relevance of NOAA science and products related to the quality of the atmosphere, the transport and dispersion of pollutants in it, and their deposition from it. The contemporary awareness of the need to consider all aspects of our environment in order to protect against unforseen repercussions of regulatory actions feeds directly into the ARL view of the atmosphere as a resource that is intimately coupled with the other media, both living and otherwise.

One noteworthy contribution of the SPS was the publication of Meteorology and Atomic Energy(1960). This handbook summarized the state of the science related to PBL processes and air pollution meteorology, including plume rise, turbulence and dispersion, and atmospheric stability. With contributions from SPS scientists and other experts, this book remained a primary source of practical and theoretical information for more than two decades, until supplanted by later revisions that were also prepared with substantial ARL input.

The Special Projects Section, and it's successor, ARL, were among the first organizations to use meteorology to interpret air quality measurements and to contribute to assessment of hazards from the release of radionuclides and other pollutants to the atmosphere. This activity, now conducted in a far more sophisticated fashion, continues as ARL's chief function. Partially as the result of the success and reputation of the Special Projects Section and other Weather Bureau research activities for other agencies of the Federal Government, the predecessor to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a directive to agencies other than the Department of Defense (which even then had its own military weather service) to refrain from creating separate meteorological units independent of those of the Weather Bureau. (1)

Silver Spring, Maryland

Silver Spring Headquarters of ARL

In its early years, the Headquarters unit was located at 24th and M Streets, N.W., Washington, DC. The Special Projects Section and its successor, the Headquarters component of the Air Resources Laboratory, remained at the same address except for a short period when it was temporarily located at Connecticut and Rhode Island Avenues in the District of Columbia. The transfer to Silver Spring, the Gramax Building on East West Highway and Georgia Avenue (actually 8060 13th Street, Silver Spring), took place in the late 1970's. During 1983-1984, the unit was housed in Rockville, but it returned to the Gramax Building until early 1990 when ARL Headquarters moved to a nearby Silver Spring location at 1325 East West Highway, adjacent to the Metro Station. In 1992, the unit moved again, from 1325 to the adjacent building at 1315 East West Highway.

Within a decade after the Special Projects unit was formed in 1948, it expanded substantially to support the AEC and the US Public Health Service. However, all of the professional staff were meteorologists -- the era of air chemistry emphasis arrived later. There were, however, plenty of problems dealing with radioactivity and air pollution involving transport and deposition to keep the research staff very busy. In general the ARL role was (and continues to be) to determine the scientific basis for the atmospheric problems that are encountered. In this sense, ARL provides the scientific basis for policy decisions that are often made in other agencies.

On some occasions, policy decisions were made against ARL scientific advice. As an example, the use of tall stacks to solve local pollution problems was against the strong advice of senior ARL staff. The ARL contention was that the pollution would simply be moved farther downwind - a realization that proved correct. The long-range transport of pollution that was exacerbated by the tall stack approach subsequently plagued rural areas far downwind of industrial complexes. The National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) was largely created to address the issue of long range transport of sulfur and nitrogen emissions from power plant stacks. ARL played a leading role in NAPAP, representing NOAA in discussion of policy matters as well as leading several scientific subcommittees.

Likewise, ARL scientists joined in early efforts to ensure that controls intended to reduce ozone pollution did not have the opposite consequences. It was recognized by ARL and EPA scientists that controlling emissions of volatile organic compounds without addressing nitrogen oxides, or vice versa, would not universally reduce ozone production. (Both VOCs and nitrogen oxides are precursors of ozone in surface air.) Unfortunately, it was politically expedient at that time to proceed with controls on VOCs alone, a step that indeed gave rise to a rural ozone problem and which generated a substantial scientific backlash in later years. The lessons learned in these early conflicts between scientific guidance and regulatory feasibility led to the current ARL view that regulations and pollution policies should be broad-based, not the simple one-chemical-at-a-time approach of the past. Within NOAA and within the Department of Commerce this philosophy resonates with the call for a regulatory strategy with no surprises. The ARL contribution is to provide the best possible scientific guidance concerning the behavior of the atmosphere and how it interacts with other media.

Most interaction between ARL scientists and other agencies remains at the research level. ARL scientists provide meteorological research guidance and support as needed by other agencies to perform their own functions. Through it's position at the intersection of NOAA and other agencies, ARL can inject NOAA policy into decision-making processes that would otherwise not consider NOAA interests. This positioning of NOAA scientists at the center of other-agency research activities also provides an opportunity for NOAA policy to be anticipatory more than reactionary on environmental matters.

During the 1970's, the atmospheric science community was increasingly interested in climate change, specifically the possibility of global cooling due to increasing atmospheric aerosol loading related to air pollution. In addition, the possibility of global stratospheric ozone depletion by emissions from a planned fleet of supersonic aircraft was worrying the environmental community. ARL scientists began to monitor stratospheric ozone levels using data from a global network of ground-based sensors. This work, initiated as a collaborative effort involving ARL scientists in Silver Spring, MD and in Boulder, CO, was responsible for a large part of the global ozone network. It provided the first estimates of global ozone variations, including the effects of volcanos and stratospheric temperature on ozone. The study of time trends in ozone and other stratospheric and upper tropospheric quantities (specifically temperature and humidity) has continued; it is a main source of information about secular trends available to the international scientific community.

Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

As a consequence of the OMB directive, the Air Pollution Unit of the Public Health Service (PHS; this later became the EPA) requested the Weather Bureau to provide it with meteorological expertise. A special Weather Bureau air pollution unit was formed in 1955 and assigned to the Special Projects Section. This field operation was physically located in Cincinnati, Ohio, until 1969, when it moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. The unit was organizationally integrated with the Public Health Service, the only such arrangement within ARL. Under this arrangement, which continues today, the NOAA/ARL Division Director and Branch Chiefs are regarded as holding similar positions in the EPA National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL). Currently NOAA ARL meteorologists and supporting staff are assigned under an EPA/NOAA interagency agreement.

As part of the establishment of the North Carolina facility, scientists designed and built the Fluid Modeling Facility (FMF), originally consisting of large and small wind tunnels, and a water channel/towing tank. In recent years, FMF obtained the widely-known Willis/Deardorff convection tank from the University of Oregon, and rebuilt it to include differential surface heating and an automated laser optical measurement device. Measurement data obtained with this equipment are used to develop and evaluate models for various types of pollutant dispersion around natural and manmade obstacles.

The NOAA/ARL group in Research Triangle Park works closely with the EPA Office of Research and Development, the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, the EPA Regional Offices, and state and local agencies to provide user-appropriate and scientifically credible air quality meteorological programs to support regulatory applications. This meteorological support primarily involves development and evaluation of air quality dispersion models for pollution abatement, direct and indirect exposure assessments and, control strategy formulation.

In light of the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act, air quality models and the manner in which they are used are expected to evolve considerably over the next few years. In the area of pollutant deposition, the understanding of nitrogen, oxidant, and sulfur chemistry will help clarify the roles of cloud processes, radiative transfer, and air/surface vertical exchange in air quality model predictions. This will allow evaluation of inter-pollutant effects resulting from the variety of control programs that are now or will be in place.

Airborne inhalable particles are a growing concern at this time. To address this issue, dispersion models are being enhanced to predict aerosol growth from precursors over regional and local transport distances. To evaluate the contribution of various sources to regional air degradation, inert tracer and tagged species numerical models are being developed.

Oxidants and ozone are among other contemporary issues that ASMD modeling is addressing. The roles of volatile organic compounds (man-made and otherwise), rural nitrogen oxides, and vertical transport are being elucidated. A better understanding is being developed of the ozone nonattainment problem. Much of this research is part of the North American Research Strategy on Tropospheric Ozone (NARSTO) program, in which NOAA plays a leading role.

Research in human exposure modeling includes microenvironmental monitoring and modeling, and development of exposure assessment tools. Microenvironmental algorithms are being developed based on field data to predict air quality in buildings, attached garages, and street canyons. Modeling research is also being conducted to define the atmospheric presence of endocrine disruptors.

In addition to these major areas, dispersion models for inert, reactive and toxic pollutants are under development and evaluation on all temporal and spatial scales, e.g., indoor, urban, complex terrain, mesoscale, and regional. Efforts include construction and application of air pollution climatologies; modeling of agricultural pesticide spray drift and of fugitive particles from surface coal mines; and modeling of trace metal deposition to the Great Lakes, nutrient deposition to Chesapeake Bay, and mercury deposition to the Florida Everglades.

NOAA ARL participation in the EPA component of the interagency High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program is enabling increased efficiency in air quality modeling through research on parallel implementation, with the subsequent transfer of these achieved efficiencies to the user community. The HPCC Program is also developing a flexible environmental modeling and decision support tool (Models-3) to deal with multiple scales (urban to regional) and multiple pollutants simultaneously, thus facilitating a more comprehensive and cost effective approach to related single-stressor and multi-stressor human and ecosystem problems. Models-3 provides a framework to support the constant evolution of environmental models to handle more complex issues such as fine particulate, visibility, toxic pollutant, and multi-media (air and water) environmental assessments.

There have been six directors of the group that is now known as the ARL Atmospheric Sciences Modeling Division -- Ray Wanta, Bob McCormick, Larry Niemeyer, Ken Demerjian, Frank Schiermeier, and currently Dr. S.T. Rao. The strong technical capabilities of these managers have generated a relatively high level of NOAA credibility in the air pollution community in an arena in which adverse criticism is stimulated by large dollar stakes and, in more recent years, by intense competition and criticism (of EPA regulatory policy) both inside and outside the Federal Government. The NOAA ARL role as a provider of meteorological scientific guidance inside the EPA regulatory structure is one that could serve as an example of the ways in which different government agencies have learned to work together to mutual benefit, in precisely the way that is currently being advocated at the highest levels of government.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

In 1948, a U.S. Weather Bureau (USWB) Research Station was set up at Oak Ridge, where the Manhattan Project had been located through the later years of the Second World War. For the first two decades of its existence, most of this group's funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NOAA, or their respective predecessors. However, beginning in the early 1970s agency budget constraints and increasing demands by other agencies for access to NOAA resources and skills resulted in the development of a broader base of funding through a number of interagency and interlaboratory agreements. In recent years, support for joint research activities has been provided by many federal and state agencies, ranging from the Department of Defense to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). In all cases, the work performed is collaborative. All other-agency work represents a contribution to NOAA research goals (in this case, towards the accomplishment of the ARL mission to develop methods to predict air quality) as well as an example of exercising NOAA skills and specialties to support other agencies.

Dr. Frank Gifford was appointed Director of the Weather Bureau office in Oak Ridge in 1955. At that time, the focus was to document and understand the dispersion characteristics of the Oak Ridge area, in support of programs of the Atomic Energy Commission related to the emerging nuclear industry in the area. In 1964, a specialized laboratory was created to study the processes of atmospheric diffusion -- the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Laboratory, ATDL. This mission has changed little over the following decades, however the name of the organization has changed. It is now the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division of the Air Resources Laboratory -- ATDD.

Oak Ridge ARL facilityThe laboratory was initially housed in the AEC Administration Building. In 1964, it moved to Cheyenne Hall (a war-time dormitory converted to office space). In 1970, it moved yet again to the then-new Oak Ridge Federal Office Building. Since 1972, the group has occupied a building located on a 4.5 acre tract in central Oak Ridge. The building is one of the oldest in the city -- recently identified as a State Historic Site and awarded a prize by the City of Oak Ridge for the way in which it has been preserved. The main building, built in 1943 while construction was under way for the Manhattan Project, was initially designed for temporary use as a field hospital to handle emergencies and minor injuries.

ORAU and ARL continue to work together In 1974, the Energy Research and Development Administration ( ERDA, the successor to the AEC and a forerunner of the Department of Energy -- DOE) entered into an agreement with Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) on behalf of ATDL whereby “computer, engineering, and library services” would be provided by ORAU. This enabled permanent ORAU staff assignments to the ATDL and opened the way for close collaboration with ORAU in scientific, administrative, and technical work.

Following Dr. Frank Gifford as Director was Bruce Hicks, who took over in 1980. In 1990, Dr. Rayford P. Hosker Jr. was appointed when Bruce Hicks assumed the ARL Directorship, and is presently serving in this role.

Ecology, air pollution, oil embargoes, and the energy shortage of the early 1970s aroused national interest in regional-scale environmental impacts of energy generation facilities. As the size of power plants and industrial facilities grew, the potential atmospheric effects of waste heat and moisture became of increasing concern. Although ATDL had addressed these issues for some time, research activities became more strongly oriented toward solving the problems of a lack of suitable computer models and adequate observations for testing the models.

Today's research activities at ATDD carry the memory of the early years, with a continuing focus on turbulence and its consequences on pollution dispersion, although now directed mainly towards improving understanding of behavior at night and in complex terrain. A recent major initiative has been directed towards improving the ability to describe air-surface exchange in numerical models. To this end, new flux-measuring techniques have been developed, and an aircraft program has evolved. The air-surface exchange activity is now a central contributor to the national environmental monitoring array, with it's AIRMoN-dry(2) component forming the mechanism by which research results of ATDD and other programs are rapidly transferred to derive dry deposition rates from routine observations of air chemistry and key meteorological and surface variables. In recent years, new areas of study have grown from these general interests, such as the chemistry and deposition of airborne mercury and the effects of local terrain on concentrations of ozone.

Boulder, Colorado

As a contribution to the International Geophysical Year of 1958, a routine program to monitor atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide was started. NOAA provided a small amount of funding and an ARL meteorologist to support the program initiated by Scripps Institute of Oceanography (Dr. Dave Keeling). The Observatory at Mauna Loa was established primarily to house the C02 analyzers used in this program, although a similar measurement program had been started the previous year at the South Pole observatory. The operation of Mauna Loa was assigned to the Special Projects Section. It was soon recognized that there was need for a network of such observatories (a recognition that was shared by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)), but it was not until considerably later that additional funding was assigned to form what then became the Global Monitoring for Climate Change Division of ARL. The importance of long-term global monitoring was recognized and provided the basis for a long-term commitment of ARL to the problem.

Most SRRB employees are associated with CIRES In 1990, the GMCC component was split from ARL to create a new, self-standing laboratory -- the Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory (CMDL). Before the separation of GMCC from ARL, climate-related research was distributed among the ARL divisions. The separation of GMCC and the formation of CMDL had repercussions on all ARL components, because the integral linkages that had been forged within ARL were fundamentally interrupted. A small ARL presence in Boulder remained following the separation of CMDL, and was restructured to form the Surface Radiation Research Branch (SRRB), initially operating as a field component of the Headquarters Division. SRRB headed the national radiation monitoring activity. Two ARL programs were involved -- the Integrated Surface Irradiation Study (ISIS), which monitors incoming solar and ultraviolet radiation, and the more extensive SURFRAD array where outgoing radiation components are measured as well as incoming.

Solar radiation has been a long-standing topic for ARL study. Soon after the rise in oil prices in 1973 the Federal Government decided to assess its data about renewable resources including solar radiation and wind energy. ARL took on the responsibility to revive the failing NOAA solar radiation monitoring network and to try to correct past defective data. No NOAA funds were involved; funding derived from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy after the solar energy program was transferred out of the NSF. The NOAA-DOE understanding was that after the DOE funded a revival of the network, the continuation of network operation would be a NOAA responsibility. However, the expected new funding from Congress was not received by NOAA, and in the absence of this support the network drifted towards yet another period of decay and disarray. In 1993, ARL accepted responsibility for refining and rebuilding the nation's solar radiation monitoring network. The new array is now in place and is operating well, although still suffering from a lack of money. It should be emphasized that the ARL interest in this activity is not strongly related to climate issues, but more to the expectation that the next generation of prognostic models will require radiation data as input. First steps towards developing this new generation of prognostic models are now being taken.

Ultraviolet radiation monitoring has been a part of the ARL activity, for more than two decades. In the 1960s, there was speculation that the stratospheric ozone layer might be destroyed by emissions from high-flying supersonic aircraft. NOAA accepted the role of measuring ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the 290-315 nm range - the part of the spectrum (UV-B) that might be affected by the loss of the ozone layer and which is biologically important. A UV network was established, using simple broad-band instruments that proved too crude for the challenge they were given. Today, a few of the original instruments are still operated, in a conscious attempt to learn more about their behavior and in an attempt to reveal meaningful information from the historic record. Main emphasis today is on the use of new broad-band sensors operated at ISIS stations.

The ARL group in Boulder has had three leaders -- Dr. Joe Boatman, Dr. John DeLuisi, and Dr. Joseph Michalsky, who joined ARL from SUNY Albany in early 2003. At first, the focus of the group was aerosols. Under the leadership of Dr. DeLuisi, the group gelled into a major player in the international solar radiation community, with a special emphasis on UV-B and surface radiation budget measurements.

On October 1, 2005, SRRB was merged into the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) as part of the Global Monitoring Division.

Las Vegas, Nevada

The original purpose of the Special Projects Section (SPS) (initially under Dr. Harry Wexler's Weather Bureau Research Division) was to carry out sensitive, classified research related to the United States nuclear weapons and atomic energy programs, hence the uninformative name. The testing of atomic weapons began on the Nevada Test Site (NTS) (formerly the Nevada Proving Grounds) in January 1951 with Operation RANGER, a series of five independent tests. All meteorological support for these tests was centered at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dr. George Cressman headed the military forecasting team for Operation RANGER, and SPS personnel provided meteorological oversight and expertise. The SRS team recognized the uncertainties in forecasting the fallout pattern and potential exposure rates and recommended a research program be implemented by SPS. This effort began in 1953.

In subsequent weapons tests, which were conducted in a campaign style, SPS staff served as members of the AEC Test Manager's Advisory Panel. This Panel always included a representative of the national laboratory conducting the test, an expert on radiation medicine, meteorology, and public health. The Panel always met prior to each test to assess weather and other safety issues.

In 1956 the AEC began plans to use the NTS more frequently for the testing of atomic weapons and to test nuclear rocket engines. At this time it became apparent that support to these programs by military personnel was not consistent with the policy of nuclear weapons stewardship being under civilian management. These large projects, as well as potential future activities, required significant meteorological support and parallel research. These requirements were not compatible with the military mission, would have required a major commitment by the military which did not have the necessary scientific or technical skill mix to support these programs, nor was it DOD's desire to provide this support. A logical alternative was the U.S. Weather Bureau. The SPS group that had supported past test operations was an obvious choice. The use of another federal agency was viewed as cost effective and prudent. Moreover, considerable advantage was perceived as accruing to the AEC, through public perception and acceptability, of another department of the Executive Branch of government furnishing impartial and independent input to the assessments of potential impacts on public safety and health, to national security, and in some cases to international relations. Consequently, in March 1956, the AEC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Weather Bureau Research Station (WBRS) in Las Vegas to provide full meteorological support to NTS activities.

The first Director of the WBRS was Phil Allen who took over in 1956, setting up office facilities, establishing communications links, and procuring equipment. The first office was located at 1229 South Main Street in downtown Las Vegas. By the end of 1956 there were 12 personnel on duty. Direct support to test operations began in early 1957. Research efforts at the WBRS focused on improving the accuracy and reliability of the predictions of test-specific weather conditions, fallout patterns, hot-lines, debris cloud arrival times, and potential exposure rates. The resuspension of radioactive debris was also of concern. Operational experience demonstrated the essential requirement for site-specific characterization of atmospheric conditions just prior to each test. The better the definition of winds aloft and atmospheric stability, the more reliable the predictions of the transport, dispersion, and deposition (fallout) of radioactive material. A major accomplishment of the WBRS research staff was the development of a technique for predicting the fallout pattern, hot-line, and potential exposure rates. In addition, the techniques of optimizing, collecting, analyzing, and displaying meteorological data in real time were perfected as computer and communications technology improved. WBRS, and presently ARL/SORD, management, with AEC (and DOE) support, kept informed of advances in technology and science within the U.S. Weather Bureau, ERDA, and now NOAA, and transferred these improvements to the customer. In 1962 the office moved to a location at 2753 South Highland Dr. in Las Vegas. Then in (1999?) the office moved into the new DOE Nevada Operations Office at the Nevada Support Facility at 232 Energy Way.

With the formation of the Environmental Sciences and Services Administration (ESSA) and the Environmental Research Laboratories (ERL) in 1965, the WBRS became the Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) Field Research Office (ARFRO). In 1967 the name was modified to ARL-Las Vegas (ARL-LV). In 1976, the program was transferred to the National Weather Service (NWS) and became the Weather Service Nuclear Support Office (WSNSO) with Hal Mueller as the Meteorologist-in-Charge (MIC), followed by Bob Titus in 1985, and Mark Fair in 1989. Due to the changing needs of the DOE at the NTS for more focus on research, emergency response issues, solar energy, special military projects, and sub-critical nuclear experiments, the WSNSO was transferred back to ARL as the Special Operations and Research Division (SORD), with Dr. Darryl Randerson as the Director.

Through its contribution to the weapons-related programs in Las Vegas, the Department of Commerce has had a long and positive relationship with DOE, and its predecessors, for 40 years. During this tenure, SORD has added significantly to our knowledge of atmospheric processes over complex terrain, to techniques for predicting the atmospheric transport, dispersion, and deposition of radioactive materials, to information on thunderstorm and precipitation processes in a desert environment, to the development of mesoscale forecast techniques, and to the organization of a unique emergency response capability.

Meteorological support to DOE/NV has included the transfer of NOAA technology and science to DOE, meteorological monitoring, specialized weather forecast services tailored to customer needs, climatological analyses and summaries, emergency response assistance, mission oriented research, and a mobile remote-sensing capability. Moreover, SORD serves as the hub of the NOAA/DOE meteorological communications network, providing other DOE field offices with access to NOAA meteorological data bases and forecast products. SORD is also part of the NOAA Integrated Surface Irradiance Study project, designed to measure and evaluate the solar radiant energy resource.

SORD meteorologists and technical personnel also support a wide variety of emergency response programs. An essential part of this mission is the SORD communication linkage with the ARL Regional Specialized Meteorological Center (RSMC) and the ARL Real-time Environmental Applications and Display sYstem (READY).

As it is now organized, SORD operates with close linkages with several DOE functions, including the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST). Following the formation of the Cooperative Institute for Atmospheric Studies and Terrestrial Application, a new research emphasis on air quality in an arid environment is evolving. The research underway is directed towards issues related to atmospheric particles and optical transmission, of interest and revelance to both NOAA and DOE.

Idaho Falls, Idaho

In the late 1940's, the predecessor to the U.S. Department of Energy selected an isolated U.S. Navy weapons test range in the Upper Snake River Plain of Idaho as the site for a nuclear research facility. The mission of the site was to develop peaceful applications of nuclear energy -- primarily the generation of electricity. In 1952, the Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 produced the world's first commercial electricity by lighting the nearby town of Arco. Further research has produced many nuclear applications to medicine, and to nuclear and chemical waste management.

The Field Research Division began at the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) in 1948 as a Weather Bureau Research Station, another part of the Special Projects Section. The initial objective was to describe the meteorology and climatology of the NRTS. The focus was on protecting the health and safety of site workers and nearby residents. The first studies were aimed at learning micro-meteorological behavior e.g., how meteorology effected iodine deposition and subsequent uptake into the food chain, and how to quantify nuclear radiation doses.

Early attempts to accurately describe atmospheric behavior around the site were frustrated by a lack of knowledge of atmospheric transport and dispersion processes, which was compounded by a lack of observations and data. Therefore there arose an early need to develop technology to observe and understand the boundary layer atmosphere. By the late 1950's, the Division was developing tetroon technology to conduct Lagrangian experiments of air flow and dispersion. Tetroons, quasi-constant-volume (about 1 m3) mylar balloons that follow isentropic surfaces, were released and tracked by radar with Division-developed miniature transponders. The Division's data were in high demand by other researchers in the Weather Bureau. Soon, other agencies such as the Atomic Energy Commission, signed on to participate in experiments to aquire unique data sets in specialized studies. The technology quickly migrated to experiments along sea coasts to study sea-land breezes, to mountain valleys where nocturnal drainage and daytime heating induced flows were studied, and on to large cities to study urban heat island effects.

By the 1960's, the Division had earned a reputation as developers and implementers of atmospheric tracer technology. Experiments were devised using fluorescent dyes such as methyl iodide. The technology eventually expanded to include fluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.

The small network of meteorological stations of the 1950's was expanded for more frequent, closely spaced data over the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (former NRTS). Better resolution data allowed Division scientists to develop transport and diffusion models. In particular, one of the earliest-known puff dispersion models (a forerunner of the current MDIFF model used at the INEEL for a wide range of emergency planning, emergency response and dose reconstruction applications) was developed by FRD. The use of Division data by other modelers and the development of it's own puff model brought the group in close contact with the modeling community. The current 31 station mesonet was designed and constructed in the 1990's.

By the mid-70's, the Division was a major participant in experiments ranging from building wake studies to continental scale transport. A series of studies of aircraft wake vorticies for the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration were begun in the 1970's, adding another dimension to the Division's micrometeorological expertise. In recent years, these initial studies involving aircraft have evolved into a major airborne geosciences program, employing specially equipped light aircraft.

The Division was an early pioneer in adapting electron capture technology to measure perfluorocarbon and sulfur-hexofluoride tracers. The currently-used modern whole air sampler was designed and tested in the 1980's. In the 1990's, the Division further developed continuous tracer measurement techniques to accompany whole air sampling. This technology has been adapted to a wide range of mobile platforms, from vans to aircraft to boats. Laboratory analyses, data management and results presentation have been automated to where 24-hour turnaround is possible after each day's field collection. This allows for nearly realtime quality control of data processes.

Field Research Division support to the Department of Energy and it's contractors has expanded over the years from a narrow health and safety focus to one which covers a full range of activities involving state, local, tribal and contractor organizations. Climatological studies, most recently a study of excessive precipitation return periods, provide the basis for construction design and planning. Routine daily and special criteria forecasts based on a solid knowledge of Snake River Plain meteorology are used for operational planning on and around the INEEL. Meteorologists staff the DOE Emergency Operations Center to interpret meteorological conditions and model descriptions during emergencies, such as the devastating range fires of 1996. Meteorological conditions, based on archived data, are tailored to emergency-specific exercise requirements for the EOC using the same INELVIZ display system which communicates 31-station mesonet data, forecasts and advisories to over two dozen INEEL client workstations.

Much of FRD's success is attributable to it's leadership. Two recent Directors, C. Ray Dickson and G. E. “Gene”, together directed FRD for over 30 years. In the interim following their respective retirements, David George and Dr. Kirk Clawson served as Acting Directors. Dr. Timothy Crawford was appointed the Division Director in December 1998 until his tragic death in 2002. Currently Dr. Kirk Clawson is serving as Acting Director.


NOAA ARL also maintains relations with foreign countries to promote exchange of research meteorologists and research results pertaining to meteorological aspects of air pollution. One of the more active areas of cooperative research has involved Russia, under the 1972 Nixon-Podgorny Agreement forming the US/USSR Joint Committee on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection, and under the 1993 Gore-Chernomyrdin Agreement forming the US/Russia Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. Similar agreements are in place with Canada, Japan, China, Mexico, and several European countries. NOAA ARL plays an active role in the International Joint Commission between the US and Canada, and in the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Association treaty).

ARL has spent its lifetime at the interface between NOAA and other agencies. ARL serves as a point of contact for access to NOAA science by other agencies with requirement for products related to atmospheric dispersion and air quality. The way in which ARL works with other agencies is in complete accord with standard NOAA procedures -- ARL provides the science for other agencies to tailor, as necessary, to satisfy their own needs. ARL also serves as a mechanism by which special tools developed in other agencies can be utilized in studies directly in support of NOAA's Strategic Plan. Government policy is increasingly in favor of inter-agency cooperation. ARL has been operating in this mode for over fifty years, and looks forward to this new era in which even more cooperation is required to conduct meaningful scientific research.

There is now a website dedicated to the history of NOAA at In addition, ARL field offices have their own history pages at:

1. It is not clear whether this directive (OMB-62) is still in force. However, a recent effort of the Federal Coordinator of Meteorology has been to obtain agency-wide approval for the intent of the directive, regardless of its current official status.

2. AIRMoN is the Atmospheric Integrated Research Monitoring Network. AIRMoN has two main components -- AIRMoN-dry and AIRMoN-wet. The former is an ATDD activity. The latter is led by ARL Silver Spring.

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