Skip to Main Content U.S. Department of Energy
Breakthroughs Magazine

Special Report: Computational Science — Behind Innovation and Discovery

The sky's the limit

Earth's climate is noticeably changing over time. Glaciers are smaller, droughts last longer, and extreme weather events like fires, floods and hurricanes occur more frequently. PNNL researchers involved in the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program are working to understand these phenomena through improved cloud representations in the computer models that simulate changes in the earth's climate.

The ARM Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, addresses the impact of clouds on the energy balance of the climate system and improves the treatment of clouds and radiation in climate models.

In order to increase the understanding of clouds and other atmospheric processes, ARM uses ground-based instruments to gather data. The instruments provide detailed measurements of radiometric and cloud properties, aerosol characterizations, and wind, temperature, and humidity measurements. The data come from ARM sites in three different climate regions; the Southern Great Plains, North Slope of Alaska and the Tropical Western Pacific. As part of a national user facility, these sites are available for use by scientists worldwide through a structured proposal process.

The data systems for the ARM Program collect, process, and transfer data streams of known and reasonable quality to the ARM data archive for long-term storage and delivery to users. Users interact with the data archive through a website, ordering specific data sets from an automated data storage system. Currently, the archive user list includes 2,100 registered users from nine U.S. agencies, 140 universities and 44 countries.

The ARM sites have become a standard for new climate research sites that are under development by other nations across the globe. The result is an international network of research sites. ARM's research efforts will have a lasting impact on the ability to simulate climate and adapt to future climate changes.

PNNL is developing a technology that allows an analyst to view a large dataset in a scaled-down graph on small, limited hand-held devices such as personal digital assistants.

NVAC: visualizing a safer homeland

September 11, 2001 forever changed how Americans view national security. The responsibility for protecting citizens from future attacks has fallen on government shoulders in an increasingly discontented world.

One way the Department of Homeland Security has responded is with new visual analytic technologies that transform volumes of documents, emails, images, videos and voice recordings into interactive visuals. To carry out this visual, science-based approach to risk assessment, DHS established the National Visualization and Analytics Center (NVAC™) at PNNL. NVAC has risen to become one of the Lab's internationally-recognized knowledge centers.

To aid analysts in quickly understanding the mountains of incoming intelligence, NVAC has taken visual technologies to new heights. New technology graphically depicts collected data, grouping common themes and patterns. As more occurrences of a theme are collected, the software automatically adjusts the visual to give it higher visual context to the analyst. Themes and patterns are then observed more quickly, enabling analysts in uncovering hidden threats and making calculated predictions-a critical capability when security is at stake.

NVAC also is leading several other endeavors, including the creation of the national R&D agenda. The agenda outlines new technology approaches and investments to address growing homeland security threats; this effort has resulted in the book, Illuminating the Path. Organizing consortiums for advancing visual analytics software also is high priority for the knowledge center. That also involves recruiting and educating future scientists who will continue this important work.

With technology and talented researchers, NVAC will see the homeland safely into the future.

Breakthroughs Magazine

In this issue...