Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

CIRES, NOAA Teams Win Governor’s Research Awards

CO-LABS has announced the winners of the 2022 Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research, and CIRES/University of Colorado Boulder and NOAA researchers contributed to two of the four projects—one for rapid-response science in service to communities after the Marshall Fire, and another for a breakthrough space weather model that serves several economic sectors with better impact forecasts. 

“These two award-winning teams exemplify the best of the CU Boulder and NOAA collaboration,” said Acting Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Institutes Massimo Ruzzene. “This high-impact work could not have happened without all contributors: federal, university, and other key experts.”

CO-LABS is a non-profit organization that supports the state’s federally funded research centers and runs an annual competition to highlight some of Colorado’s most high-impact science. Traditionally, the Colorado Governor gives the awards during an event at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

In the “Pathfinding Partnerships” category, CO-LABS  selected a team of CU Boulder and NOAA scientists and forecasters who worked around the clock to figure out how to serve citizens, emergency managers, and others with critical information before, during, and after the Marshall Fire roared through Superior and Louisville, Colorado at the end of 2021. The award recognizes a core team determined to help ordinary people make extraordinary decisions that day and after, and several dozen others whose work was essential. Their ongoing research promises to help guide wildfire response and mitigation long into the future.  

Core team members include a forecaster who picked up on and warned about the likelihood of extreme winds, weather model developers who built the innovative system that allowed for that forecast, and researcher leaders who inspired teams to immediately began measuring indoor and outdoor air quality, working in concert with state and local air quality officials. The Pathfinding Partnership core team: CIRES Fellow Joost De Gouw and Associate Director for Science Christine Wiedinmyer; NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory’s Steve Brown; NOAA National Weather Service Meteorologist Robert Kleyla; and NOAA Global Systems Laboratory’s Darrel Kingfield and Curtis Alexander. Other key researchers are from CU Boulder’s Mechanical Engineering and Geography departments; NOAA’s Chemical Sciences and Global Systems Laboratories and the National Weather Service; CIRES; and another cooperative institute, CIRA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere. 

In the Technology Transfer category, CO-LABS recognized a team of researchers from NOAA’s Space Weather Forecast Center, including federal and CIRES experts. Incoming space weather from the Sun can briefly blot out radio communications here on Earth, shift satellite trajectories, create ground currents that degrade power operations, and force the hands of airline and human space flight managers. It can be costly and sudden: Enhanced atmospheric drag from a minor geomagnetic storm, for example, an event that started on the Sun, led to the loss of 38 of 49 SpaceX Starlink satellites during a 2022 launch.

In 2021, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) transitioned a collaboratively-developed space weather computer forecast model into operations, helping the agency better understand and anticipate space weather events and their impacts on people, especially our technological systems. The breakthrough new model, dubbed WAM-IPE, had taken shape at CIRES, CU Boulder, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, and NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center during the previous 15 years. Its transition to operations was an enormous achievement that the agency has called a “research-to-operations success story,” ( The first-of-a-kind model is helping  forecasters provide better information to the public about potential impacts from a solar storm and helping various economic sectors—including communications, satellite and airline operations, human space flight, and navigation and surveying—mitigate damages.

Team leaders honored for the technology transfer award are: Tzu-Wei Fang, a SWPC space scientist; four CIRES scientists, Timothy Fuller-Rowell, Zhuxiao Li, George Millward, and Adam Kubaryk; and Raffaele Montuoro at the NOAA Environmental Modeling Center.

Colorado has one of the highest per capita concentrations of federal science, research and engineering facilities in the nation, according to CO-LABS, a consortium of federally funded scientific laboratories, universities, businesses, local governments, and community leaders organized to showcase Colorado’s research facilities. CO-LABS launched the Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research in 2009. This year’s awards will be presented on December 14 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; registration is open.


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

Recent Stories