Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

In Las Vegas, air from the naturally ozone-rich stratosphere is sometimes an unwelcome intruder, making it difficult for the region to meet the national ground-level ozone standards in the springtime, according to a new NOAA-led study published online this month in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“We found that the ozone coming down from the stratosphere is pushing the Clark County area up to and even over the limit,” said Andrew Langford, a research chemist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the new study. “Our finding means that the region would be especially hard pressed to meet the even tougher ozone pollution limits now being considered,” said Langford.

The stratosphere is a region 8-30 miles above Earth that contains over 90 percent of the atmosphere’s ozone. It’s this ozone layer that’s the “good ozone,” filtering harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. But lower down, at Earth’s surface, ozone is a pollutant that’s harmful to human health and other living things.

Areas at higher elevations, particularly in the intermountain western United States, are especially prone to atmospheric events called stratospheric intrusions that bring air from the stratosphere down to Earth’s surface. With background levels of surface ozone gradually rising over the last few decades due to increases in human emissions of pollutants, the “extra” ozone that comes occasionally from the stratosphere now pushes some areas over the ozone standard.

"For air quality managers in Clark County, Nevada, these results explain why they’ve frequently seen ozone values that exceed the national air quality standard in springtime—well before the midsummer peak expected for ozone formed as a result of local pollution. This new study will help them identify when they are being affected by natural events beyond their control."

In different regions of the United States, different factors contribute to elevated ozone levels. In some places, oil and gas activities can release very high levels of chemicals that react to form ozone. In other places, the precursors of ozone sweep in on winds from distant locations, even Asia. This study shows that in the Las Vegas region, at least in the springtime, the stratosphere is the source of some of the ozone at ground level. “Pollution from Los Angeles or Asia, wildfires, and local production are smaller factors,” said Langford.

Researchers used models to analyze the observations they gathered during a roughly 6-week period from May to June 2013, in NOAA’s Las Vegas Ozone Study. A lidar (light detection and ranging) instrument, a remote sensing method, measured ozone from the Earth’s surface to about 1.5 miles overhead, and other instruments measured gases and meteorological parameters at a mountain site about 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“The stratospheric intrusions added at least 30 ppb of ozone in some of the high-ozone events we observed,” said Christoph Senff, a scientist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, who analyzed the lidar observations from the study. “With the normal ‘background’ level of ozone usually at 50-60 ppb, this meant that ozone frequently pushed above 80 ppb."

If the current 8-hour ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) were lowered to 65 parts per billion, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering, the researchers estimate that the Las Vegas region and other high-elevation sites in the Intermountain West would likely exceed the air quality standard over half of springtime days.

The study’s findings have implications for air quality management in the U.S. Previous studies have shown that several areas of the western U.S. receive pollution from sources that are beyond local control strategies, with some sources—such as transport from Asia and wildfires—on the rise and likely to increase further in the future.

“Our work shows that not only do air quality managers have to contend with pollution coming from across the continent or across the ocean; they also have to consider what’s coming down from far above their heads,” said Langford.


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Authors of "An overview of the 2013 Las Vegas Transport Study (LVOS): Impact of stratospheric intrusions and long-range transport on surface air quality" include 12 scientists from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; CIRES; the Laboratoire de l'Atmosphere et des Cyclones; Princeton University; NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; and the NOAA/NESDIS Center for Satellite Applications and Research, Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.



A high-resolution image is available for download on CIRES' Flickr account, News Release album.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Recovering the past to understand the future

In 1964, the Beatles took the world by storm, Lyndon Johnson won his second term as President—and NASA launched the first of seven Nimbus spacecraft to study Earth from space.

Fifty years later, experts at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder are recovering long-lost images from old Nimbus data tapes and black and white film, and finding treasures in the pictures.

“By extending the satellite record back to the 1960s, we can understand more about the history and natural variability in things like sea ice extent in the Arctic, and the Antarctic,” said David Gallaher, technical services manager at NSIDC. The modern satellite record of sea ice goes back only to 1979.

In the Arctic, sea ice extent was larger in the 1960s than it is these days, on average. “It was colder, so we expected that,” Gallaher said. What the researchers didn’t expect were “enormous holes” in the sea ice, currently under investigation. “We can’t explain them yet,” Gallaher said.

“And the Antarctic blew us away,” he said. In 1964, sea ice extent in the Antarctic was the largest ever recorded, according to Nimbus image analysis. Two years later, there was a record low for sea ice in the Antarctic, and in 1969 Nimbus imagery, sea ice appears to have reached its maximum extent earliest on record.

When NASA launched Nimbus-1 50 years ago, the agency’s key goals were to test instruments that could capture images of clouds and other meteorological features, Gallaher said.

The Nimbus satellites dished up such excellent observations, NASA eventually handed over key technologies to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for use in weather forecasting, including hurricane forecasts.

But even with such success, data tapes and film that recorded Nimbus observations slipped through the cracks.

“At the time, the satellites’ real-time observations, including clouds, for example, were what people wanted most of all, for weather forecasting,” Gallaher said.

He and colleagues with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, tracked down old Nimbus film to a NOAA facility in Suitland Maryland, where they were stored for about 25 years, and then Asheville, North Carolina. There, hundreds of 35-millimeter film reels lay in an old storage facility.

With funding from NASA, the researchers located and made operational an old film reader that could digitize the images. The team figured out how to determine geographic location for each image, given the orbit of the satellite. And they’ve now made more than 250,000 images public.

NSIDC, the world’s leading source of information on sea-ice changes at Earth’s poles, is part of CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Download the first image from Nimbus-1, captured August 31, 1964.
Watch a short video about the Nimbus data rescue project at NSIDC.
Check out and download Nimbus data.
Learn more about the data rescue project.

David Gallaher, technical services manager, NSIDC: 720-878-8448,
Garrett Campbell, data specialist, NSIDC: 303-492-5194
Katy Human, CIRES communications: 303-735-0196

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

NOAA-led study says September 2013 floods not due to climate change

Last September’s widespread flooding in northeast Colorado, which saw just over 17 inches of rain in one week in the city of Boulder, was not made more likely or more intense by the effects of human-induced climate change, according to a new NOAA-led study published today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

"There’s clear evidence that overall, our greenhouse gas emissions are making the planet warmer and moister, but we found such climate factors had little appreciable effect on the frequency of heavy 5-day rainfall events in this area during September," said Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the new study, which also included researchers from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and NASA. In fact, the study suggests that in this region, the likelihood of heavy rainfall events may have slightly decreased because of human-induced climate change.

2013 Colorado Floods - Total Storm Precipitation for the Region. Map created with Storm Precipitation Analysis Software (SPAS) through a collaborative effort by Applied Weather Associates, LLC, MetStat, Inc. and the Colorado Climate Center. Radar data supplied by Weather Decision Technologies, Inc.

Last summer’s extreme rainfall—17 inches is close to the city’s typical total for the entire year—was very unusual, but it wasn’t the first time Colorado experienced such heavy rains. Widespread flooding rains fell over the Front Range during several days in September 1938, before human-caused climate change was detectable. The two events were similar in many ways: they happened over a large area, lasted a long time, and were characterized by a slow-moving weather system that pulled lots of moisture into the region.

To tease out the impact of climate change on the 2013 floods, Hoerling and his colleagues used a climate model, developed by NASA, that contained detailed information on how various climate factors—such as greenhouse gas levels, ocean temperatures, and sea ice extent—have varied since the late 19th Century. Run many times, the model produced occasional heavy September rain events both at the end of the 19th Century (1870-1900) and in a recent 30-year period (1983-2012). Comparing those two time periods, the researchers found that the extra greenhouse gases, warmer oceans and lower amounts of sea ice of recent decades did not increase the likelihood of rains as heavy as those in September 2013.

The researchers also explored what the future may hold for such rain events in this area, as greenhouse gases continue to rise. The team examined climate projections used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments and found no significant changes in the risk of summer heavy 5-day rainfall events over the High Plains region, including Colorado.

Hoerling and colleagues stressed, however, that with further increases in water vapor in a warmer world, many parts of the world are likely to see more frequent episodes of very heavy rains. They said that what happens globally doesn’t necessarily explain what happens in one particular place, where local to regional processes may trump global ones. To figure out why that is, the researchers are doing further studies with other models.

This study is part of a Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society special report on 2013 extreme weather events.If climate change didn’t cause the 2013 floods, then what did? “For this event, the weather pattern was much more important than climate change, or other climate factors such as ocean temperature variations and changes in Arctic sea ice,” Hoerling said. In this case, a slow-moving low pressure system pulled up moisture from the south and essentially stalled at the Front Range, dropping that moisture as heavy rains.

Authors of "Northeast Colorado Extreme Rains Interpreted in a Climate Change Context" include Martin Hoerling and Randall Dole from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Klaus Wolter, Judith Perlwitz, Xiaowei Quan, Jon Eischeid, and Henry Diaz from CIRES; and Hailan Wang and Siegfried Schubert from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.



Area of Research

Recent Stories

Chemicals released into the air by oil and gas exploration, extraction and related activities can spark reactions that lead to high levels of ozone in wintertime, high enough to exceed federal health standards, according to new NOAA-led research, published today in Nature.

The study comes at a time when new technologies are helping to accelerate oil and gas development in Utah’s Uintah Basin, elsewhere in the United States and in many other countries, and its findings may help air quality managers determine how to best minimize the impact of ozone pollution. When ozone levels spike, Environmental Protection Agency experts recommend that people, especially those in sensitive groups—children, the elderly, and anyone with pre-existing respiratory conditions—limit time outdoors.

Winter ozone pollution is surprising because normally, the more intense sunlight of the summer season can spark the chemical reaction that creates ozone pollution, said lead author Peter Edwards, a scientist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder at the time of the study, and now with University of York in England.

However, Edwards and his colleagues showed that in winter in northeastern Utah, levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) build high enough that they can trigger pollution-forming reactions, themselves.

“This is not the usual spark for ozone formation, but it’s a potent one,” Edwards said. “Under certain wintertime conditions, it can cause extreme levels of ozone pollution.”

In winter, warm air aloft can trap cold air below, creating an "inversion" that traps and concentrates air pollutants. The presence of snow increases light reflection and accelerates ozone production.

For instance, in 2013, ozone in Ouray, Utah, exceeded the national air quality standards 49 times. By contrast, in the densely populated, urban area of Riverside, California, the standards were exceeded about half as often that same year, but during the summer.

“So it’s the same starting ingredients, nitrogen oxides and VOCs, that form ozone in Riverside, but it’s a different spark in Utah in winter,” said coauthor Steven Brown, a scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colorado. “Under wintertime conditions, the much higher VOCs in Utah break down to make carbonyl compounds, which set off the ozone production.”

The research is based on data collected during a series of wintertime studies in Uintah Basin, led by scientist James Roberts, also with NOAA ESRL. “We encountered a range of conditions during the three winters, from snowy in 2013 and 2014, to virtually no snow in 2012,” Roberts said. “Oil and gas emissions of VOCs were high in all three years, but high ozone occurred only in the cold, snowy, stagnant periods.”

Researchers from NOAA, CIRES, and other institutions made detailed measurements of ozone and the chemical ingredients, such as VOCs and nitrogen oxides, that “cook up” into the pollutant, and they used chemical models to better understand the system.

“These studies in Utah have caused us to think about air pollution chemistry a little differently,” said coauthor Joost de Gouw, a researcher with CIRES working at NOAA ESRL. “Our findings could help state and local air quality managers who are faced with ozone episodes to design policies, and industry representatives to meet air quality standards in the regions where they operate.”

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Authors of “High winter ozone pollution from carbonyl photolysis in an oil and gas basin” are: Peter M. Edwards (CIRES and NOAA), Steven S. Brown (NOAA), James M. Roberts (NOAA), Ravan Ahmadov (CIRES and NOAA), Robert M. Banta (NOAA), Joost A. deGouw (CIRES and NOAA), William P. Dube´ (CIRES and NOAA), Robert A. Field (University of Wyoming), James H. Flynn (University of Houston), Jessica B. Gilman (CIRES and NOAA), Martin Graus (CIRES and NOAA), Detlev Helmig (University of Colorado), Abigail Koss (CIRES and NOAA), Andrew O. Langford (NOAA), Barry L. Lefer (University of Houston), Brian M. Lerner (CIRES and NOAA), Rui Li (CIRES and NOAA), Shao-Meng Li (Environment Canada), Stuart A. McKeen (CIRES and NOAA), Shane M. Murphy (University of Wyoming), David D. Parrish (NOAA), Christoph J. Senff (CIRES and NOAA), Jeffrey Soltis (University of Wyoming), Jochen Stutz (University of California, Los Angeles), Colm Sweeney (CIRES and NOAA), Chelsea R. Thompson (University of Colorado), Michael K. Trainer (NOAA), Catalina Tsai (University of California, Los Angeles), Patrick R. Veres (CIRES and NOAA), Rebecca A. Washenfelder (CIRES and NOAA), Carsten Warneke (CIRES and NOAA), Robert J. Wild (CIRES and NOAA), Cora J. Young (CIRES and NOAA), Bin Yuan (CIRES and NOAA), and Robert Zamora (NOAA).


High-resolution images are available for download on CIRES’ Flickr account, News release album:

  • Towering measurements NOAA and CIRES scientists installed instruments on a tower....
  • Drilling rig in Uintah Basin, Utah.
  • Sunset over a field in Uintah Basin where natural gas and oil development has increased.
  • more

Oil and natural gas production fields can emit large amounts of air pollutants that affect climate and air quality—but tackling the issue has been difficult  because little is known about what aspects of complex production operations leak what kinds of pollutants, and how much. Now a CIRES-led study in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics sheds light on just that, pinpointing sources of airborne pollutants.

The results have important implications for mitigation strategies in the nation’s oil and natural gas production.

“Before you can stop a leak, you have to know where it is,” said lead author Carsten Warneke, an atmospheric chemist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This study tells us where the largest emissions are coming from, and that, in turn, helps industry identify what they can do to reduce emissions as cheaply and effectively as possible.”

Oil and gas production fields emit the greenhouse gas methane and also other air pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include the air toxics benzene, a carcinogen, and toluene. VOCs, present naturally in oil and natural gas, are chemical precursors for ozone pollution, which, at high levels, can harm people’s lungs. The new study focuses on the emissions of VOCs in the oil and gas fields of the Uintah Basin in Utah, where the landscape is dotted with 8,000 gas wells and 2,000 oil wells in operation, and about 1,000 new wells are added each year.

The study shows that in the Uintah Basin, equipment located on well pads—such as condensate tanks, dehydrators, and pumps—are key sources of pollutants. It also found that well operations frequently emit high levels of benzene and toluene, and that emissions vary by production method.
The study is one of the first to use fast-response and highly sensitive instruments to measure VOCs from individual gas and oil well pads and other point sources. To collect the data, Warneke and his team, in February 2012, drove an instrumented van downwind of 38 gas wells, 12 oil wells, one newly producing well, one refractured well with a flowback pond and 17 other point sources such as evaporation ponds, storage tanks and compressor stations. The mobile laboratory approached closer than 300 feet of most sources, measuring the VOCs in the air.

The researchers detected high amounts of VOCs at almost all the locations, but large differences existed among sources. Specifically, they found:

  1. On well pads, some equipment leaks more VOCs than others. The main emitters include separators, dehydrators, and oil and natural gas liquid (condensate) tanks. Separators divide natural gas into its liquid and gas fractions, and dehydrators remove water from natural gas.
  2. Different production techniques result in different emissions. For example, dehydrating gas on-site (at the well pad) leads to higher emissions of VOCs than dehydration carried out off-site at a centralized facility.
  3. The scientists found high ambient levels of benzene and toluene (another air toxic) at specific sites in the basin, with measurements reaching up to 1,000 parts per billion (1 part per million) by volume. “In urban areas, values are closer to 0.1 to 0.2 parts per billion by volume,” Warneke said. One such site was a recently re-fractured well with a flow-back pond. Evaporation ponds were also a large source of VOCs. 
  4. In Rangely, Colorado, where the team also took measurements, they found fewer emissions, probably because of two key factors: Rangely’s gas field is drier than Uintah Basin’s, and most wells have electric power. Both factors lessen the need for production equipment, such as dehydrators and storage tanks. “Less equipment means fewer opportunities for leaks,” Warneke said.

The new findings are qualitatively similar to emissions "inventories," which are estimates of emissions based primarily on well counts and production data. Like the measurements, inventories identify well heads themselves, dehydrators and tanks as major VOC emission sources.

The researchers’ measurements were part of a larger experiment to unravel the mystery of why the sparsely populated Uintah Basin experiences frequent wintertime exceedances of ozone air quality standards.  The research shows that these exceedances trace back to oil and gas activities—and to the VOCs that Warneke and his colleagues have now detailed in the new study.

“To understand ozone pollution, we need to understand both the chemistry behind it and the major sources that start this chemistry, and we went right to the source of the emissions to study them,” Warneke said.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

More on the Web:

  1. Paper Link 
  2. OSHA / NIOSH standards for benzene exposure:
  3. High-resolution graphics available on the CIRES Flickr page, News Release album

Authors of “Volatile organic compound emissions from the oil and natural gas industry in the Uintah Basin, Utah: Point sources compared to ambient air composition,” published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, are Carsten Warneke (CIRES and NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, ESRL), Felix Geiger (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), Peter M. Edwards (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), William Dubé (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), Gabrielle Pétron (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), Jonathan Kofler (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), Andreas Zahn (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), Steven S. Brown (NOAA ESRL), Martin Graus (CIRES and NOAA ESRL),  Jessica Gilman (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), Brian Lerner (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), Jeff Peischl (CIRES and NOAA ESRL), Thomas B. Ryerson (NOAA ESRL), Joost A. de Gouw (CIRES and NOAA ESRL) and James M. Roberts (NOAA ESRL).


New study shows that false-negative errors may be just as important as false-positives

Understating the effects of climate change could be as costly and dangerous to human well-being and economics as overstating the impacts, according to the authors of a new analysis published today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

“Scientific papers and assessments such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may err too much on the side of caution,” said lead author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Such hedging can prevent decision makers and the public from understanding the full range of risks.”

Anderegg and his co-authors, including Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) Fellow Max Boykoff, evaluated “type 1” and “type 2” errors related to IPCC reports released in 2007. Type 1 errors are false positives. These would include, for example, a case in which scientists accidentally identify a stronger relationship between a certain type of weather pattern and climate change, than exists in reality. In a type 2 or false-negative error, scientists might inadvertently fail to identify a real relationship, concluding that none exist.

Boykoff is also an associate professor in the University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Studies Program.

Anderegg, Boykoff and their colleagues examined two scientific topics widely covered by the media during 2007: The IPCC’s estimates of future sea level rise, which were relatively low compared to other sea level rise estimates; and a well-publicized typo in Himalayan glacier melt rates, which amounted to an overstatement. The researchers described the latter as a possible “type 1” error.

“Climate scientists are very aware of type 1 errors, and are very averse to them,” Boykoff said. “No one wants to make a mistake like reporting a too-high figure for Himalayan glacier melt rates. But in an attempt to avoid these kinds of errors, scientists may accidentally make more type 2 errors.”

In the case of sea level rise, for example, scientists involved in the IPCC report of 2007 chose to be extremely conservative in estimating future likely sea level rise, because of some uncertainty regarding how major land ice sheets, such as on Greenland and Antarctica, will behave in a warmer world. The IPCC report carefully noted the fact that such land ice was not included in the 2007 analysis, and was a reason for the low estimate. However, only about 30 percent of media reports mentioned that important caveat.  

“Type 2 errors can hinder communication of the full range of possible climate risks,” the paper concluded.

The authors argue that climate scientists, and those in other policy relevant fields such as medicine, must better recognize both type 1 and type 2 errors. They urge that scientists accurately report the full range of possible outcomes, even if improbable, controversial or poorly understood.

“Climate change is fundamentally a problem of managing risk,” Anderegg said. “In order to do that as a society, we have to know the full range of possible futures from the science. The available evidence suggests that in many crucial areas climate science likely understates these risks.”  

CIRES is a partnership of CU Boulder and NOAA.

Authors of “Awarness of Both Type 1 and Type 2 Errors in Climate Science and Assessment,” published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society October 30, include William Anderegg (Princeton University), Elizabeth Callaway (University of California, Santa Barbara), Maxwell Boykoff (CIRES and CU Boulder), Gary Yohe (Wesleyan University), and Terry Root (Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University).


Bill Anderegg, lead author and Princeton University postdoc,, 970- 739-4954
Max Boykoff, co-author and CIRES Fellow, available by email only,
Katy Human, CIRES communications, 303-735-0196 and

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Politicians and others often overstate the role of climate change in the growing toll of natural disasters, according to a new book by Roger Pielke Jr.: The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change.

Pielke—director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder—writes  that the increasing costs of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or droughts cannot yet be pinned on more frequent or extreme events, according to a broad scientific consensus. Saying otherwise can undermine public and policy makers trust in the science of climate change, Pielke said.

“Science tells us that humans are influencing the climate system and that there are very real risks,” he said. “But if advocates for action go beyond what science can support, then they risk their credibility on the climate issue more generally.”

Disasters and Climate Change, which is written for the general public without technical jargon, will be available tomorrow, November 1. The book is part of a series titled The Rightful Place of Science, edited by Gregg Zachary at Arizona State University’ Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes.

Pielke said he was motivated to write the book after hearing President Obama state in a June, 2013 Weekly Address that drought, floods and hurricanes have all become more common.

“That’s not the case,” Pielke said, referencing a recent climate report by Obama Administration and recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For example, these reports found very little evidence that tropical cyclones or hurricanes have become more frequent or intense. The reports, however, did find a link between accumulating greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and more frequent extreme heat waves around the world. Pielke’s book summarizes the state of science with respect to climate trends for various types of extreme weather.

“For those wishing to maintain credibility in public debates over the long term, it’s important to play it straight with the science,” Pielke said.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Roger Pielke Jr., book author, CIRES Fellow, Director of CSTPR,, 303-735-0451
Katy Human, CIRES Communications,, 303-735-0196

Roger Pielke Jr. is a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) where he is Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is also author of The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell you About Global Warming (2011, Basic Books).

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

The University of Colorado Boulder was ranked second in the world in geosciences by U.S. News & World Report last week.

CU Boulder trailed only the California Institute of Technology. Rounding out the top five are the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Harvard University and the University of Washington. U.S. News & World Report ranked the top 100 universities in geosciences in 2014 based primarily on their research and reputation.

Geosciences is considered the study of Earth, from its structure to the history of its formation. Studies in the field of geosciences include geology, geophysics, geochemistry, climatology, oceanography and petroleum geology.

Check out CU Boulder's news release here. And learn more about:

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

A measles vaccine made of fine dry powder and delivered with a puff of air triggered no adverse side effects in early human testing and it is likely effective, according to a paper to be published November 28 in the journal Vaccine. The paper is now available online.

In 2013, measles killed 145,700 people, most of them children, according to the World Health Organization. That’s despite the fact that the conventional injectable vaccine against the measles virus is effective.

“Delivering vaccines in the conventional way, with needle injections, poses some serious challenges, especially in resource-poor parts of the world,” said Robert Sievers, co-author of the new paper, a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and also a professor in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

His team innovated a dry delivery technique for the measles vaccine to eliminate the need for injections, liquid storage, and other challenges, such as vaccine contamination. “You don’t need to worry about needles; you don’t need to worry about reconstituting vaccines with clean water; you don’t need to worry about disposal of sharps waste or other vaccine wastage issues; and dry delivery is cheaper,” Sievers said.

The new paper represents the first successful phase 1 clinical trial for a dry powder vaccine, he said. Sievers and his co-authors identified no adverse effects of the powdered and inhaled vaccine, when tested in 60 healthy men who were already immune to measles. In this safety-focused clinical trial, they tested delivery with two devices—the Aktiv-Dry PuffHaler® and BD Technologies Solovent™—compared with the usual under-the-skin liquid injection method.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we test first in people who have already had the disease, or been injected earlier by needles with liquid vaccines,” he explained. The men in all three groups responded similarly, with no clinically relevant side effects and some evidence of a positive immune response to vaccination. Because the men were already immune to the disease, this experiment could not yet compare effectiveness of the vaccines, measured by immune response. That will be the primary goal of follow-on Phase II/III pivotal trials.

“It is very good news that we encountered no problems, and now we can move on,” Sievers said. The next phase of tests could include work in people who are not yet immune to measles, including women and children.

The authors of the new paper include researchers from the Serum Institute of India, Ltd., in Pune, India, which is the largest manufacturer of childhood vaccines used in developing countries; an Indian medical college; a North Carolina medical technology company; and the Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several of the authors are also affiliated with the Boulder company, Aktiv-Dry, LLC; Sievers is president and CEO.

In preclinical research, Sievers’ team has already demonstrated that the vaccine protects rhesus macaques and cotton rats from infection by the measles virus. The researchers have also shown that their dry vaccines can be safely stored for 6 months to 4 years, at room temperature or in 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (2-8 degrees Celsius) refrigerators, respectively.

This work was funded in part by a $20 million grant from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health through the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, which was created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Short bio:
Bob Sievers is a CIRES Fellow, a professor in the CU Boulder Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and Director of the Environmental Program. He was director of CIRES from 1980 to 1993, and has also served on the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents from 1990 to 2002.

Sievers is an atmospheric chemist by training and spent years focused on the chemistry of atmospheric particles, called aerosols, which contribute to Denver’s wintertime brown cloud and other air pollution. During that research, he and his colleagues created instruments that allowed them to make extremely fine particles, tiny enough to stay airborne for a long time, enabling study. The same process, which creates the fine powders from liquid solution, works for aerosol vaccines, he found.

CIRES is a partnership of CU Boulder and NOAA.

Robert Sievers, 303-492-7943,
Katy Human, CIRES communications director, 303-735-0196,

High-resolution photos available for download [ 1 ] [ 2 ]

San Francisco, California —A combination of new tools and old photographs are giving scientists a better view of Greenland’s ice, and recent discoveries promise to improve forecasts of the region’s future in a warmer world. Overall, the findings show Greenland's ice is vulnerable to periods of rapid change including vicious cycles of warming promoting further warming.

“In the next century, Greenland melt may raise global sea level by one to three feet,” said Mike MacFerrin, a researcher with CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “As melting increases in Greenland, we’re discovering that melt water interacts with the ice sheet in unexpected ways. Understanding these mechanisms is crucial to predicting how Greenland’s ice responds to a warming climate, now and in the future.”

MacFerrin spoke during a news briefing at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California. There, four experts on Greenland highlighted several new findings related to water and ice on the northern island. Some emerged from the discovery and analysis of historic photographs of coastal glaciers; others from hard work dragging ground-penetrating radar across the ice sheet and a series of new imaging techniques innovated during NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission.

The researchers discussed the implications of newly discovered ice layers perched just underneath the surface high on the ice sheet: they likely contributed to damaging coastal floods in 2012 and are poised to contribute more in the future. Firn aquifers, recently found beneath porous snow layers, store substantial amounts of liquid water year round and represent a vast reservoir within the ice. This water contributes to a complex hydrologic system within the ice, both storing and releasing water. And surface lakes that hold liquid water through Greenland’s frigid winters are likely warming the ice sheet, priming it for further melt during summer.

"Many of these discoveries are clears signs of a warming ice sheet,” MacFerrin said. “New tools are allowing us to see these subsurface processes for the first time. If we’re going to understand Greenland’s melt contribution to sea-level rise, we need to understand these new melt features and dynamics.”

Old photos, new insights

Greenland’s glaciers retreated rapidly between 1900 and 1930 as the Little Ice Age lost its grip on the region and temperatures climbed. By analyzing early photos of Greenland paired with contemporary ones, researcher Anders Bjork with the Natural History Museum of Denmark has for the first time mapped out the retreat of those glaciers over time.

“Satellites obviously do not cover the early 1900s, when the region experienced a rapid increase in temperatures,” Bjork said. But with time constraints provided by historic photographs, he and his colleagues recorded a remarkably quick ice response between 1900 and 1930, more rapid than seen in the last 15 years, he said. The new data promise to help researchers understand how quickly glaciers can react to temperature changes, which is important today as the Arctic climate warms again.


Across wide areas of Greenland researchers are finding, that water can remain liquid, hiding in layers of snow just below the surface, even through cold, harsh winters. The discoveries—made by teams including Rick Forster of the University of Utah and Lora Koenig of the National Snow and Ice Data Center—mean that scientists seeking to understand the future of the Greenland ice sheet need to account for relatively warm liquid water retained in the ice. This discovery also means that the surface hydrologic system, once thought to freeze solid during the winter, can remain active year-round.

Using airborne radars flown during NASA’s Operation IceBridge, Koenig and her colleagues were surprised to see the signature of liquid water under snow. They now report these “buried lakes” are common and extensive on the western margins of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The volume of water retained in buried lakes is small compared with the total mass of water melting from the ice sheet every year, but the lakes can warm the ice and prime the system for melt in spring and summer.

While Koenig was studying persistent “buried lakes” in Western Greenland, Forster was using similar radars and satellite measurements to show extensive water retention in a large aquifer concentrated in southeastern Greenland.

Together these findings present a picture of water remaining just below the surface year round around nearly the entire perimeter of the ice sheet. “More year-round water means more heat is available to warm the ice,” Koenig said. “Simply put, for ice sheet stability, lots of water is not good.”

Ice lenses focus runoff

Two years ago, CIRES graduate student Michael MacFerrin was studying snow compaction on the southwest Greenland ice sheet when their drill hit something completely unexpected: dense layers of ice more than 15 feet thick just under the surface. This high on the ice, the researchers expected to find mostly firn (porous, partially compacted snow) with thin, patchy ice layers or “lenses” scattered within. Such firn acts as a sponge of sorts, soaking up surface meltwater and preventing runoff from high up on the ice sheet.

MacFerrin and his colleagues wondered if the ice layers became thick enough to block surface meltwater, how long might it take for meltwater to pool at the surface and run off toward the coast? Two months later, during the record-breaking melt of July 2012, they got an answer: Landsat 7 satellite images showed unprecedented lakes and rivers forming and draining westward. Meltwater poured into the Watson River 90 miles away, contributing to the worst flooding on record and destroying major portions of a bridge in Kangerlussuaq that had spanned the river for 50 years.

MacFerrin returned to Greenland the following year, armed with the tools needed to survey these ice layers on a larger scale. He and his colleagues dragged a ground-penetrating radar system for over 100 miles behind a snowmobile, and have pored over IceBridge radar data from the ice sheet to find where else in Greenland these thick subsurface layers appear. They now report that continuous, thick ice lenses extend dozens of miles further inland than ever recorded before and cover more than 27,000 square miles, the approximate size of New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. Recent record-breaking warm summers (2002, 2005, 2007, 2010, and 2012) appear to have generated large amounts of meltwater, which trickled down, refroze, and fattened once-thin ice layers.

With continued warming in Greenland, more melt water will be generated, adding to the processes recently discovered. “Every few years, the ice sheet surprises us, doing something we never knew it could do,” MacFerrin said. “As melt water expands and feeds all these mechanisms, it’s anybody’s guess what we might discover within the next several years. Using the tools we currently have, we’re doing our best to keep up right now.”

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder.

AGU Scientific Session information:

  • C12B-01: 110 Years of Local Glacier and Ice Cap Changes in Central and North East Greenland (Bjork). Monday morning talk: 10:20-10:35 am Moscone West 3005
  • C21B-0335: Recent results on the Greenland Aquifer from remote sensing and in situ measurements (Forster). Tuesday morning poster: Moscone West Poster Hall
  • C51C-06: Radar Detections of Buried Supraglacial Lakes Across the Greenland Ice Sheet (Koenig). Friday morning talk, 9:15-9:30 am, Moscone West 3007
  • C21B-0316: Massive Perched Ice Layers in the Shallow Firn of Greenland’s Lower Accumulation Area Inhibit Percolation and Enhance Runoff (MacFerrin). Tuesday morning poster: Moscone West Poster Hal


Downloads and links: