Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

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:

San Francisco, California—In a major citizen science effort, geophysicists are asking smart phone users around the world for help mapping Earth’s magnetic field.

During the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Dr. Manoj Nair asked people around the world to download the CrowdMag application. The app takes advantage of cheap digital magnetometers embedded in smart phones.

“Our goal is to see if low-quality but high-frequency magnetic measurements around the world can help us improve navigation systems,” said Nair, who is a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and works in NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center.

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Earth’s magnetic field shifts continually, rippling as a gust of solar wind arrives from the sun or shifting with the construction of a new underground pipe. For those who want to protect infrastructure from damage by space weather, or those who simply want to make better navigation systems, it’s critical to understand such magnetic field dynamics.

Right now, expensive instruments on satellites and stationary observatories help researchers and engineers take measure of the planet’s magnetic field. Those data can be extremely accurate, but they’re very limited in time and space. Even a satellite can probe only one region at a time.

Enter the smart phone with a map app! Across the planet, more than 1 billion people carry smart phones with digital magnetometers. These are not sophisticated instruments, but they’re generally accurate enough to tell a person whether she’s walking north or east, or if her meeting is in the building on this side of the street or the other.

“The question we have is if we can reduce the noise in our measurements by making a lot of them,” Nair said.

The work may help improve navigation systems, and it may also help researchers better understand the shifting magnetic field itself, he said. For example, right now, when a shock wave of space weather arrives at Earth, Nair said, it’s impossible to know how the entire magnetic field around the planet responds. Better understanding that response—with simultaneous measurements distributed around the planet—could help power line operators know when they’re vulnerable to induced currents, or let oil drillers know when their navigation tools will be unreliable.

And better understanding geographic variation is important, too—a buried iron pipe below a street can send a map app—and its user—in the wrong direction, by affecting the magnetic field. Mapping such locations through crowdsourcing could improve digital wayfinding, too.

This is an experiment in progress: It’s not yet clear if mobile digital magnetometers will be accurate enough to help scientists understand magnetic field dynamics. “If we can reduce the noise, smartphone measurements will be integrated into mathematical models describing the space and time variations of the Earth's magnetic field,” said Dr. Arnaud Chulliat, a CIRES scientist and a co-investigator in this project. “So that is one of our long-term goals.”

CrowdMag was made public this month and can be downloaded through the iTunes App Store or Google play (click here for more information).

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Learn more at AGU:

ED53A-3470: CrowdMag – Crowdsourcing magnetic data. Friday afternoon poster session, Moscone South Poster Hall, 1:40-6 pm


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There's no doubt that Arctic sea ice is melting. However, new research finds little evidence supporting the idea that Arctic sea ice loss is a major factor behind weather extremes at lower latitudes. Research published in the Journal of Climate finds that sea ice loss accounts for only a small percentage of the warming in the Arctic atmosphere that has been suggested to affect weather at lower latitudes.

"Our results were clear: It's not the Arctic affecting the mid-latitudes, but the mid-latitudes mainly affecting the Arctic…at least during fall and early winter," says Judith Perlwitz, a researcher from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), who works at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colorado.

In recent decades, warming global temperatures at the Earth's surface and in the troposphere (the lowest layer of the atmosphere) have been more pronounced in the Arctic, especially during fall and early winter. Because this warming has coincided with disappearing sea ice, some scientists have proposed that sea ice loss is the first link in a chain in which Arctic changes affect extreme weather events at lower latitudes, including the U.S.

According to this theory, melting sea ice warms the whole Arctic troposphere. This in turn weakens the jet stream, which can cause weather patterns to stall in place and prolong rain, drought, and heat or cold spells. Scientists don't all agree on this exact chain of events.

In this new study, Perlwitz and her colleagues at ESRL assessed the links in this chain. They began their analysis by running computer climate model experiments to test the link between sea ice loss and a much warmer troposphere above. Using various observations, such as sea surface temperatures and sea ice extent, to drive climate models, the scientists focused on the differences between two decades: 1979-1988 (before sea ice loss began accelerating) and 2003-2012 (a period of very low sea ice extent). The team focused on fall and early winter, the seasons which have seen the biggest long-term declines in sea ice cover, and studied physical factors which could cause the observed warming in the Arctic troposphere from 1979 to the present.

They found that although sea ice loss is a significant contributor to surface warming in the Arctic atmosphere, it accounts for about 20 percent of increased temperatures in the whole Arctic troposphere. Ocean temperature fluctuations in recent decades and long-term increased sea surface temperatures (SSTs) outside the Arctic are bigger contributors, accounting for 25 percent and 34 percent respectively. Also, internal Arctic atmospheric variability has contributed substantially to Arctic atmosphere warming in recent decades, at a magnitude similar to sea ice loss.

Next, using the same model output, the team examined another link in the proposed causal chain: that warming in the whole Arctic troposphere is driving changes in the jet stream. To do this, they expanded their analysis to the entire Northern Hemisphere to evaluate how various factors contribute to mid-latitude weather patterns of recent decades. What they confirmed, says Perlwitz, is that "mid-latitude weather is not primarily driven by the Arctic and its warming troposphere. Instead, factors independent of the Arctic, operating in middle and tropical latitudes, are mainly responsible."

Specifically, Perlwitz and her colleagues found that Arctic tropospheric warming has only a small effect on mid-latitude weather patterns. Instead, the team found that decades-long variations in sea surface temperatures and atmospheric variability were the key factors explaining the recently observed weakening of the jet stream and changes in mid-latitude weather patterns.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Authors of "Arctic Tropospheric Warming: Causes and Linkages to Lower Latitudes" are: Judith Perlwitz (CIRES and NOAA), Martin Hoerling (NOAA), Randall Dole (NOAA)


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

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CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

To accurately forecast wintertime bad air days in Utah’s Uintah Basin, researchers must use real atmospheric measurements to estimate chemical emissions from nearby oil and natural gas fields, a new study in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has found. When a team of researchers, including those from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and NOAA, fed an air quality model with emissions estimated instead from national and state inventories, they couldn’t reproduce those bad air days.

“We can accurately simulate these events,” says Stuart McKeen, a CIRES scientist working at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. “The bottom line is how important it is to use air measurements to get these emissions estimates right.”

At ground level, ozone is a major pollutant, affecting human health and vegetation. Typically, ozone pollution is a summertime problem in urban and suburban areas, occurring when sunlight-triggered chemical reactions cook up ozone from nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Federal health-based standards currently limit ozone to 75 parts per billion (ppb), averaged over 8 hours. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed tightening that limit to 70 or 65 ppb.

But in the Uintah (also called Uinta) Basin, wintertime ozone levels spiked as high as 160 parts per billion, measured during a field campaign in 2013. By comparison, during the relatively warmer winter of 2012, ozone levels were far lower.

The researchers already knew a great deal about what causes the wintertime high-ozone episodes. They occur in low-lying geographic basins, common in the western United States, near oil and gas fields, when it’s very cold and clear with widespread snow cover. Those conditions trap cold air—including gases released from oil and gas operations—at the Earth’s surface. Sunlight passes through the trapped gases and reflects off bright snow back into the atmosphere, triggering ozone production. The snow cover also prevents the ozone from being destroyed by the ground, keeping levels high.

The researchers tried to reproduce these high wintertime ozone pollution events using an air quality model (Weather Research and Forecasting with Chemistry, or WRF-Chem) that incorporates meteorological conditions, emissions data, and ozone chemistry. Unlike other studies, this one used the WRF-Chem model to accurately forecast the very stagnant weather conditions important in wintertime ozone formation, as well as to quantify other, more subtle meteorological and chemical processes.

The researchers used two sets of emissions data in their model runs. The first came from the latest EPA inventory for the region, released in 2013. That inventory used emissions estimates from the state of Utah and the Western Regional Air Partnership. The second data set was based on the research team’s own measurements of methane, nitrogen oxides, and VOCs taken onsite during the winters of 2012 and 2013.

When the researchers plugged the EPA emissions data into the model, they couldn't reproduce the bad air days. When they used their own measurements of NOx, VOCs and methane from the Uintah Basin site, they could. The study also showed that EPA emissions inventories underestimated levels of methane, an important greenhouse gas, and levels of ozone precursors.

What this means, says the study’s lead author and CIRES scientist Ravan Ahmadov, is that “with a top-down approach that uses ambient measurements, we have a more accurate representation of what’s going on.” In addition, Ahmadov says, “we need synergy between research communities, the EPA, and states in using top-down emissions estimates to improve the emissions inventories, especially for the oil and gas sector in the United States, which is changing rapidly.”

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Authors of “Understanding high wintertime ozone pollution events in an oil and natural gas producing region of the western US” are: Ravan Ahmadov (CIRES and NOAA), Stuart McKeen (CIRES and NOAA), Michael Trainer (NOAA), Robert Banta (NOAA), Alan Brewer (NOAA), Steven Brown (NOAA), Peter M. Edwards (CIRES and the University of York), Joost A. de Gouw (CIRES and NOAA), Gregory J. Frost (CIRES and NOAA), Jessica Gilman (CIRES and NOAA), Detlev Helmig (Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado), Bryan Johnson (NOAA), Anna Karion (CIRES and NOAA), Abigail Koss (CIRES and NOAA), Andrew Langford (NOAA), Brian Lerner (CIRES and NOAA), Joseph Olson (CIRES and NOAA), Samuel Oltmans (CIRES and NOAA), Jeff Peischl (CIRES and NOAA), Gabrielle Pétron (CIRES and NOAA), Yelena Pichugina (CIRES and NOAA), James M. Roberts (NOAA), Thomas Ryerson (NOAA), Russell Schnell (NOAA), Christoph Senff (CIRES and NOAA), Colm Sweeney (CIRES and NOAA), Chelsea Thompson (Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado), Patrick R. Veres (CIRES and NOAA), Carsten Warneke (CIRES and NOAA), Robert Wild (CIRES and NOAA), Eric J. Williams (NOAA), Bin Yuan (CIRES and NOAA), and Robert Zamora (NOAA).



CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Arctic sea ice extent plunged precipitously from 2001 to 2007, then barely budged between 2007 and 2013. Even in a warming world, researchers should expect such unusual periods of no change—and rapid change—at the world’s northern reaches, according to a new paper.

“Human-caused global warming is melting Arctic sea ice over the long term, but the Arctic is a variable place,” said Jennifer Kay, a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of the new analysis out today in Nature Climate Change.

Natural ups and downs of temperature, wind and other factors mean that even as sea ice slowly melts, random weather can mask or enhance the long-term trend. For example, even in a warming world, there’s still a one-in-three chance that any seven-year period would see no sea ice loss, such as in 2007-2013, the new analysis shows. And the chaotic nature of weather can also occasionally produce sea ice loss as rapid as that seen in 2001-2007, even though the long-term trend is slower.

Neither time period should be used to forecast the long-term future of the region, Kay and her colleagues concluded. Some commentators tracking sea ice trends have used the recent “pause” in sea ice loss to claim that human-caused climate warming is not occurring; others previously used the rapid decline from 2001-2007 to speculate about ice-free Arctic summers by 2015. Neither claim is warranted, the authors report.

“To understand how climate change is affecting the Arctic, you cannot cherry pick short stretches of time,” Kay said. “Seven years is too short.”

The research team, led by Neil Swart of Environment Canada, analyzed both long-term records of Arctic sea ice observations and an extensive dataset of results from global climate models. From the model runs, they could calculate the chances that certain types of scenarios could play out in a slowly warming Arctic: For example, just how likely is it that sea ice would not decline during a seven-year stretch?

The team focused on September measurements of sea ice, which is when the extent reaches a yearly minimum. By early October, Arctic sea ice generally begins growing again, a seasonal response to colder temperatures and shorter days.

The researchers determined that a seven-year period is too short to accurately capture long-term sea ice trends in the region. Even given long-term melting, there’s a 34-percent chance of randomly getting an unusual period of no change or even growth in sea ice, and a 5-percent chance of a period of very rapid loss, similar to the decline in 2001-2007.

The team also increased the time period of analysis, to see if longer spans of time would be long enough. In about 5 percent of model simulations, there were even 20-year time periods with no loss of sea ice, despite strong human-caused warming.

"It is quite conceivable that the current period of near zero sea-ice trend could extend for a decade or more, solely due to weather-induced natural variability hiding the long-term human caused decline,” said Ed Hawkins, a co-author and researcher at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading.

“Human caused climate warming has driven a decline in Arctic September sea-ice extent over the past few decades,” the new paper reports, and ”this decline will continue into the future.” But understanding how and why natural variability affect sea ice trends should help scientists better predict how sea ice will evolve in upcoming years and decades, with implications for natural ecosystems, shipping routes, energy development and more.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder


Co-authors of the Nature Climate Change paper, “Influence of internal variability on  Arctic sea-ice trends,” include Neil Swart and John Fyfe (Environment Canada), Ed Hawkins (University of Reading National Centre for Atmospheric Science), Jennifer Kay (CIRES, University of Colorado Boulder Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) and Alexandra Jahn (National Center for Atmospheric Research, now at University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research).

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We tend to think of summer as prime time for pollution—picture the haze that hangs over big cities on hot, steamy days. That's when increased sunlight and temperatures speed up chemical reactions that transform pollutants in the air into other "secondary" pollutants, including ozone, particulate matter, and others. But pollution doesn't cease at summer's end. Instead, the pathways to these familiar summertime pollutants are altered in ways that haven't been well studied and that therefore aren't well understood.

Beginning in February, a team of researchers, including those from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colorado, will join colleagues from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and several universities in an airborne atmospheric chemistry experiment to remedy this gap. “I’m not aware of any recent campaign that examined air pollution in winter, from aircraft, with state-of-the-art instruments,” says José-Luis Jiménez, a CIRES scientist and one of the instrument’s principal investigators.

This experiment—Wintertime Investigation of Transport, Emissions, and Reactivity, or WINTER 2015—is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded, 6-week field campaign in the eastern United States that will take airborne measurements of atmospheric gases and particles that can affect air quality. From February 1 to March 15, scientists will use instruments on board the NSF/NCAR C-130 aircraft, based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to sample several kinds of pollution sources in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States: large urban areas, coal-fired power plants, oil and gas extraction fields, agricultural or biofuel burning, and vegetation.

Though the researchers expect to see some familiar pollution-forming processes at work in the wintertime, they also expect differences.  For example, winter’s colder temperatures and reduced sunlight lead to a different mix of emissions than in summer, as agricultural activities shift and emissions produced by plants or animals are reduced. Instead, different trace gases almost certainly have larger, but unexplored, roles in wintertime pollution chemistry. “When we look at ozone chemistry in winter, the effects of pollutants on ozone production aren’t as clear,” says Steve Brown, a scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and one of two WINTER lead scientists.

The cold also slows down the chemical transformations in the atmosphere. This slowed chemistry means that the main drivers of air pollution in the summer, such as sunlight triggering ozone production, are only minor players in winter. According to Brown, “the slower processes at work in winter mean that primary emissions stay longer in the  atmosphere, and disperse over wider areas as compared with summer, before they are removed by reactions.”

The CIRES and NOAA ESRL teams will operate three instruments on board the C-130 aircraft, to measure a suite of nitrogen-containing trace gases, ozone, sulfur dioxide, organic acids, and airborne particles.  Other teams will measure several other trace gases and solar radiation. Together, these observations will ultimately yield a rich data set that will enable the researchers to decipher the wintertime chemical pathways that transform primary emissions (such as methane and nitrogen oxides) into secondary pollutants (such as ozone and fine particles). See sidebar for the specific goals of the WINTER 2015 project.

Steve Brown and Joel Thornton of the University of Washington are the project’s principal investigators. Brown and Thornton will share flight scientist duties, which include developing daily flight plans and working on board during flights with the pilots and instrument scientists to achieve flight objectives. CIRES’ José-Luis Jiménez, along with several other university colleagues, are heading up teams in charge of the various instruments on board the aircraft. 

Ultimately, the findings from WINTER 2015 should help researchers better understand the impacts of wintertime processes on air quality and climate.

CIRES scientists at NOAA ESRL/CSD and NOAA ESRL/CSD scientists involved in the project are:  Steve Brown (Principal Investigator, NOAA ESRL), José-Luis Jiménez (Principal Investigator, CIRES), Patrick Veres (CIRES), Bill Dubé (CIRES), John Holloway (CIRES), Erin McDuffie (CIRES), Jim Roberts (NOAA ESRL), Dorothy Fibiger (NSF Geospace Sciences Post-Doctoral Fellow, NOAA ESRL), Pedro Campuzano-Jost (CIRES), Jason Schroeder (CIRES), Doug Day (CIRES), and Brett Palm (CIRES).

More on the web:

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

  1. Researcher working inside the C-130 aircraft.
  2. The NSF/NCAR C-130 research aircraft.
  3. Suite of instruments inside the C-130 aircraft

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Experts from CIRES, CU Boulder, CSU, NCAR map out key vulnerabilities in agriculture, recreation, public health and more

Sea-level rise may not be not eating away at Colorado’s borders, but climate change exposes other critical vulnerabilities in the state, according to a new report. Rising temperatures will likely take a toll on cattle and crops, for example, and could more often leave junior water rights holders with little water and few options.

The new report, “The Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study,” was commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office in accordance with the Colorado Legislature’s HB13-1293. It’s a sector-by-sector analysis of the challenges that state residents and leaders will have to deal with in coming decades. It also details many of the ways Coloradans are already grappling with these issues, and where other strategies may help mitigate risk.

“Vulnerability is not just a question of how climate change will affect resources in the state, it’s also a question of how well Colorado is prepared to deal with changes,” said Eric Gordon, co-lead editor of the report and a researcher with the Western Water Assessment (WWA). WWA is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, and is funded primarily by NOAA.

“We also know vulnerabilities change over time, as environmental and socio-economic conditions change,” said Dennis Ojima, co-lead editor of the report and a professor in the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Department at Colorado State University. “It will be important to keep an eye on this changing landscape of vulnerability.”

In the public health sector, Colorado may see more incidents of infectious diseases, the report notes, and the elderly and people living in poverty are especially vulnerable. Climate change impacts on public health are complex and difficult to anticipate, but rising temperatures could mean more frequent episodes of unhealthy air quality and more common heatstroke, West Nile virus, plague and hantavirus.

For perspective, hotter states such as Florida and Arizona are also dealing with the invasion of diseases typically not seen in the continental United States, such as dengue fever.

“Colorado is lucky to avoid certain diseases that affect hotter areas,” Gordon said, “but we are vulnerable to increases in those we already have here, especially West Nile virus."

Temperatures in Colorado have been rising, especially in summer, and that trend is expected to continue, along with increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and wildfire. Public schools in many Front Range cities are vulnerable to these changes, the report notes. Historically, schools in the state have not needed cooling, so many do not have air-conditioned classrooms. “These rising temperatures have exposed a major vulnerability that could potentially be very expensive to address,” the report notes.

“As we assess impacts on various communities, we find that various sectors are affected differently,” Ojima said. “For example, droughts would affect streams and fisheries differently than agricultural or energy producers.”

Among other findings, by sector:

  • Water: The state’s reservoirs can provide some buffering against some expected increases in water demand and decreases in flow, but entities with junior rights or little storage are especially vulnerable to future low flows.
  • Agriculture: Rising temperatures, heat waves and droughts can reduce crop yield and slow cattle weight gain. Colorado farmers and ranchers are already accustomed to large natural swings in weather and climate, but may find it especially challenging to deal with expected changes in water resources.
  • Recreation: Climate projections show that Colorado’s springtime mountain snowpack will likely decline by 2050, with potential impacts on late-season skiing. Spring runoff season may also be earlier and shorter, which could affect rafting. But the recreation industry and some Colorado communities are already making changes that could help them adapt to a warmer future. For example, Telluride ski area now markets itself as Telluride Ski & Golf.
  • Transportation: As temperatures increase, rail speeds must drop to avoid track damage, leaving the freight and passenger rail industries vulnerable to slowdowns or the need for expensive track replacements.

The new, 176-page report is available at on the Western Water Assessment’s website: It is a summary of existing available data and research results from the peer-reviewed literature, and was compiled by researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the University of Colorado Boulder, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, the North Central Climate Science Center, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Thirty experts from state offices, consulting groups and academia reviewed the report.

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

WWA, at CU Boulder, is a NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences & Assessment (RISA) program.

The North Central Climate Science Center is a partnership with the Department of Interior and Colorado State University.


More online:

CIRES, NOAA researchers, colleagues measure lower emissions of the greenhouse gas than some other sites

Tens of thousands of pounds of methane leak per hour from equipment in three major natural gas basins that span Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania, according to airborne measurements published today by a NOAA-led team of scientists. But the overall leak rate from those basins is only about one percent of gas production there—lower than leak rates measured in other gas fields, and in line with federal estimates.

“We are beginning to get a sense of regional variation in methane emissions from natural gas production,” said lead author Jeff Peischl, a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado. “The gas fields we studied for this paper produced about 20 percent of the natural gas in the United States, and more than half the shale gas, so this moves us closer to understanding methane leaks from U.S. natural gas production.”

Peischl works at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. His team’s analysis appears online today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, published by the American Geophysical Union.

In the new paper, he and his colleagues used sophisticated measurements taken from a NOAA research aircraft to determine methane emissions from the Haynesville, Fayetteville, and Marcellus regions during five flights in the summer of 2013.

Overall, they found that methane leaking from gas equipment totaled about 1.1 percent of gas produced in those regions; estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, based on average equipment leak rates, put that figure at about 1 percent.  

“It is good news that our atmospheric measurements are close to the EPA estimates,” said co-author Joost de Gouw, a CIRES scientist who also works at NOAA. “If leak rates are too high, natural gas does not compare favorably with one alternative, coal, in terms of climate impact. Where leak rates are low, the comparison favors natural gas.”

In the new study, the researchers also reported their findings by region:

  • Methane emissions in the Marcellus region of northeastern Pennsylvania were about 16.5 tons (33,000 lbs) per hour, or 0.18-0.41 percent of production.
  • Methane emissions in the Haynesville shale of eastern Texas/northwestern Louisiana of about 88 tons (176,000 lbs) per hour, or 1.0-2.1 percent of production.
  • Methane emissions in the Fayetteville shale region of Arkansas were roughly 43 tons (86,000 lbs) per hour, or 1.0-2.8 percent of produced gas.

In other published papers, CIRES, NOAA and other researchers have found methane losses of:

The Colorado, Utah and California basins combined produce less than 3 percent of all U.S. natural gas, much less than the eastern basins.

The variable methane leak rates in the different studies suggests that other chemicals emitted during gas production, including compounds that contribute to episodes of poor air quality, are also variable, de Gouw said. There could be many reasons for significant regional differences in leak rates, he added.  The composition of gas can vary across different regions, with slightly more or less methane, for example. And equipment, techniques and regulations vary, as well.

The CIRES and NOAA team is planning another aircraft mission this spring, to expand emissions measurements from gas-producing regions stretching from Texas to North Dakota. The researchers hope that, taken together, the studies will help industry identify the conditions and techniques that minimize the leaks during gas production, benefitting both the atmosphere and the industry’s bottom line.

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

Authors of "Quantifying atmospheric methane emissions from the Haynesville, Fayetteville, and northeastern Marcellus shale gas production regions," are J. Peischl (CIRES/NOAA), T. B. Ryerson (NOAA),  K. C. Aikin (CIRES/NOAA), J. A. de Gouw (CIRES/NOAA), J. B. Gilman (CIRES/NOAA), J. S. Holloway (CIRES/NOAA), B. M. Lerner (CIRES/NOAA), R. Nadkarni (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), J. A. Neuman (CIRES/NOAA), J. B. Nowak (Aerodyne Research, Inc), M. Trainer (NOAA),  C. Warneke (CIRES/NOAA), and D. D. Parrish (CIRES/NOAA).

On the web:

  • Read the paper.
  • More about the Southeast Nexus mission in the summer 2013, which explored the nexus of climate change and air quality in the U.S. Southeast. Data for this paper came from Southeast Nexus.
  • More about an upcoming mission SONGNEX, the Shale Oil and Natural Gas Nexus mission, which will expand measurements of the atmospheric impacts of oil and natural gas development, with research flights from Texas to North Dakota this spring and summer.

Download high-resolution images:

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CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

University of Colorado Boulder researchers propose a novel mechanism to explain the region’s high elevation

No one really knows how the High Plains got so high. About 70 million years ago, eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, western Kansas, and western Nebraska were near sea level. Since then, the region rose about 2 kilometers, leading to some head scratching at geology conferences.

Now researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder have proposed a new way to explain the uplift: water trapped deep below Earth’s crust may have flooded the lower crust, creating buoyancy and lift. The research appears online this week in the journal Geology and could represent a new mechanism for elevating broad regions of continental crust.

“The High Plains are perplexing because there is no deformation—such as major faults or volcanic activity—in the area to explain how this big, vast area got elevated,” said lead author Craig Jones, a CIRES Fellow and associate professor of geology at CU Boulder. “What we suggest is that by hydrating the lower crust, it became more buoyant, and the whole thing came up.”

“It’s like flooding Colorado from below,” Jones said.

Jones and his colleagues propose the water came from the subducting Farallon oceanic plate under the Pacific Ocean 75 to 45 million years ago. This slab slid underneath the North American continental plate, bringing with it a tremendous amount of water bound in minerals. Trapped and under great pressure and heat, the water was released from the oceanic plate and moved up through the mantle and toward the lower crust. There, it hydrated lower crust minerals, converting dense ones, like garnet, into lighter ones, such as mica and amphibole.

“If you get rid of the dense garnet in the lower crust, you get more elevation because the crust becomes more buoyant,” Jones said. “It’s like blowing the water out of a ballast tank in a submarine.”

Jones had the light-bulb moment for this idea when colleagues, including coauthor Kevin Mahan were describing xenoliths (pieces of crust ejected by volcanic eruptions) from across Wyoming and Montana. The researchers were reviewing the xenoliths’ composition and noticed something striking. Xenoliths near the Canadian border were very rich in garnet. But farther south, the xenoliths were progressively more hydrated, the garnet replaced by mica and other less-dense minerals. In southern Wyoming, all the garnet was gone.

Upon hearing these findings, Jones blurted out, “You’ve solved why Wyoming is higher than Montana,” a puzzle that other theories haven’t been able to explain.

At the time, Mahan noted that the alteration of garnet was thought to be far too ancient, from more than a billion years ago, to fit the theory. But since then, he and another coauthor, Lesley Butcher, dated the metamorphism of one xenolith sample from the Colorado Plateau and discovered it had been hydrated “only” 40-70 million years ago.

Past seismic studies also support the new mechanism. These studies show that from the High Plains of Colorado to eastern Kansas, the crustal thickness or density correlates with a decline in elevation, from about 2 kilometers in the west to near sea level in the east. A similar change is seen from northern Colorado north to the Canadian border. In other words, as the crust gets less hydrated, the elevation of the Great Plains also gets lower.

“You could say it’s just by happenstance that we seem to have thicker more buoyant crust in higher-elevation Colorado than in lower-elevation central Kansas,” Jones said, “but why would crust buoyancy magically correlate today with topography if that wasn’t what created the topography?”

Still, Jones is quick to point out that this mechanism “is not the answer, but a possible answer. It’s a starting point that gives other researchers a sense of what to look for to test it,” he said.

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

Authors of the new Geology paper, “Continental uplift through crustal hydration,” are Craig H. Jones (CIRES, CU Boulder Department of Geological Sciences), Kevin H. Mahan (CU Boulder Department of Geological Sciences), Lesley A. Butcher (CU Boulder Department of Geological Sciences), William B. Levandowski (CIRES, CU Boulder Department of Geological Sciences) and G. Lang Farmer (CIRES, CU Boulder Department of Geological Sciences).


Images available for viewing and download from:

CIRES Flickr page, News Release album

This is a joint release of CIRES, CU Boulder, and the Geological Society of America.


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