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NOAA satellite image of the Earth taken at 9:45 a.m. EST on Jan. 8, 2007.Jan. 8, 2007 Scientists from the NOAA Earth System Research Lab and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, will build the first complete 20th Century database of global weather maps—a major next step to improving computer models of past and future climate. The team has been awarded two million supercomputing hours to complete the project through a 2007 Department of Energy INCITE Award (Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment), the DOE announced today in Washington, D.C. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of the Earth taken at 9:45 a.m. EST on Jan. 8, 2007. Please credit “NOAA.”)

Called the 20th Century Reanalysis Project, the new dataset will double the number of years for which a complete record of three-dimensional atmospheric climate data is available, extending the usable digital dataset from 1948 back to 1892. The project will provide climate modelers with surface pressure observations never before released to the climate community for Australia, Canada, Croatia, the United States, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain and 11 West African nations. The team expects to complete the dataset within two years, including observations currently being digitized around the world. The final maps will depict weather conditions at every six hours from the Earth's surface to the level of the jet stream.

"We expect the reanalysis of a century's worth of data will enable climate researchers to better address issues such as the range of natural variability of extreme events including floods, droughts, hurricanes, extratropical cyclones and cold waves," says Gil Compo of CIRES. Other team members are Jeff Whitaker of the NOAA Earth System Research Lab and Prashant Sardeshmukh, also of CIRES, a joint institute of NOAA and the University of Colorado.

Since climate models are validated against the climate record, a longer record will provide greater opportunities for validating and improving the models. Improved validation of the current generation of climate models will shed light on important findings announced in the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to Compo.

The daily climate datasets in use today extend back only to 1948. As a result, climatologists have been unable to compare the patterns and severity of recent and projected climate changes with such early-century extremes as the 1930's Dust Bowl.

The new dataset will provide missing information about the conditions in which early-century extreme climate events occurred and about the climate variations that may have misinformed early-century policy decisions. Of note is the prolonged wet period in central North America that led to overestimates of precipitation and over-allocation of water resources in the Colorado River basin.

"Our reanalysis data will enable modelers to rigorously evaluate past climate variations. This is critical for building confidence in model projections of regional changes and high-impact, extreme events," says Whitaker.

The Boulder researchers will extend the atmospheric climate record to 1892 using little more than surface pressure observations to recreate a six-hourly climate database for the full troposphere, or lowest six miles of the atmosphere

The team also aims to reduce inconsistencies in the atmospheric climate record, which stem from differences in how and where atmospheric conditions are observed. Until the 1940s, for example, weather and climate observations were mainly taken from the Earth's surface. Later, weather balloons were used. Since the 1970s, extensive satellite observations have become the norm. Discrepancies in data resulting from these different observing platforms have caused otherwise similar climate datasets to perform poorly in determining storm track variability, and tropical and Antarctic climate variability. In some cases, the datasets also have produced spurious long-term trends.

The INCITE program seeks computationally intensive, large-scale research projects. The DOE announced 45 awards today for the coming year.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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