In Recognition of 50 Years of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center

"As long as we give young minds the privilege and the facilities to roam far and wide, and from time to time play with impractical things as snow crystals, they are bound to come up with some exciting new angles on the mysteries of nature." --- Vincent J. Schaefer, Aug 15 1960, proceedings of the dedication symposium Boeing Research labs.


When contemplating the formation of ASRC, Vince Schaefer and colleagues had in mind the research atmosphere that he and colleagues had thrived in at the GE Laboratories. Schaefer often recalled that Willis Whitney, GE lab director, querying the researchers if they were ‘having fun’. Schaefer, encouraged by SUNY officials to start the ASRC, was certain that offering good people a place to thrive would result in good science. Schaefer brought highly qualified atmospheric science researchers to ASRC, many of whom he had met through his work at GE and the Munitalp Foundation. Bernard Vonnegut, Raymond Falconer and, in 1968, Duncan Blanchard, all veterans of the late 1940s-1950s era Project Cirrus joined Schaefer at ASRC. A resulting collateral benefit was that the consequent research resulted in funding that the University welcomed.


What makes the ASRC different from an academic department? In an academic department, researchers are assessed as to whether they ‘fit in’ and complement teaching and research needs. At ASRC, researchers are encouraged to ‘deal with the freedom’. As time went on the state supported research positions, such as those at ASRC, became exceptional nationally. Schaefer and colleagues championed the unexpected opportunities that arise in research, referring to it as ‘serendipity,’ the idea that ‘chance favors the prepared mind.’ Blanchard recalled that the idea was to seek a climate in which ‘it was fun to do research.’


At the beginning, Gene McLaren served as Acting Director, adding this task to his many other duties at the time. In 1961, Ray Falconer became the first Research Associate contracted. Falconer was the first station manager at Whiteface; measurements continue to this day. In time, Ray developed a wide radio following for his weather reports. He founded a lecture series that continues to this day both at Whiteface in the summer and at the UAlbany campus in the spring. The series is now known as the Falconer Natural History Lecture series in his honor. One of Ray’s dedicated lecture attendees at Whiteface was Gertrude Thompson, who later made possible the Ray Falconer Endowed Chair, now held by Ken Demerjian.


In the very early days, Schaefer ran a series of Natural Science Institutes, summer research-oriented programs, to encourage high school students. One of those young scientists was Gar Lala, the current Associate Director of ASRC. Lala accompanied Schaefer to a field station near Flagstaff Arizona in 1964 where Vince and Paul McCready were doing cloud seeding experiments around the San Francisco Peaks. From 1960 on, Schaefer regularly visited Yellowstone Park in winter, a great place to do cold cloud experiments because supercooled clouds naturally formed above the abundant geothermal hot springs and geysers there. At times the air temperature dropped below minus 40°C, the homogeneous nucleation point for ice.


In the mid 1960’s, ASRC was located at Schenectady airport. Gar Lala recalls: "ASRC was at the Schenectady County Airport in the old GE Hangar when I came in 1967. My first job was assisting Jim Jiusto’s project constructing a huge fog/haze chamber fed by an Army surplus steam generator. At the airport were parts of Vonnegut’s electrification studies, as well as Narayan Gokhale’s giant wind tunnel." Bernie Vonnegut’s interests also included cirrus clouds and clear-air seeding. Vince Schaefer became director in 1966, handing over the reins to Volker Mohnen in 1976. Around 1978 researchers on campus and at the airport moved to 100 Fuller Road. Ken Demerjian became Director about 1986. Since 1997, ASRC has been housed at the Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Management (CESTM) at 251 Fuller Road. Over the years several recurrent themes distinguished research at ASRC.


Microphysics of Aerosols and Cloud Droplets.
Austin Hogan joined ASRC in the early 60s and joined Schaefer, Blanchard and Mohnen in developing a worldwide aerosol observation network. Hogan spent much of his activity on the measurement of condensation nuclei (CN) using the Pollak counter. He was interested in aerosols in clean environments which led him to conduct experiments at the top of Whiteface Mountain, the Greenland Ice Cap, and Antarctica. There were at least another fifteen land sites and many shipboard observations. From merchant ship data Hogan and Mohnen found that the geographical distribution of CN over the North Atlantic Ocean showed a strong continental influence well west of Europe and east of North America, and in the Bermuda and Azores high pressure regions.


In 1966, Roger Cheng arrived as a technical assistant for Schaefer and stayed at ASRC for 32 years. Roger made several striking observations based on the study of single water drops. With Schaefer, Roger helped explain how electric charges were generated in a thunderstorm cloud. His photomicrographs have become very well known. Among many other findings, Roger and colleagues discovered in 1986 that some sea salt particles were hollow and not solid as formerly believed.


In the 1980’s Ernesto Barreto and Bernie Vonnegut addressed a pressing practical problem of explosions in oil tankers. They found that a charged mist produced by splashing during tank washing operations could produce an incendiary discharge under specified conditions. Ernesto served as a valuable resource to this community for many years.


Duncan Blanchard rejoined GE Project Cirrus colleagues at ASRC in 1968. Duncan was here and was starting the bubble work that evolved into the bacterial work. By 1972, they were publishing papers about how bacteria could be concentrated in jet drops that result from bursting bubbles.


In the late 60s, Jim Jiusto came from CALSPAN and advised now graduate student Gar Lala. Jim had been working with NOAA on the snowstorms off Lake Ontario. Jim also brought a cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) counter that began ASRC involvement in CCN and general aerosol size distribution studies. Jim and Gar began ice nucleus (IN) measurements, studies that led to regional studies of IN concentrations. This evolved into work on the cloud seeding potential of Space Shuttle Rocket exhaust. About the same time, Mt St Helens erupted and the ice nucleating activity of volcanic ash was analyzed by this group.


Jiusto also brought interest involved in fog studies from CALSPAN, and this eventually led to the 1978-1985 series of radiation fog field studies based at Albany Airport, among the most elaborate such studies conducted anywhere up to that time. In FOG-82, 29 automatic weather stations were deployed in the Albany area, and boundary layer profiles were made in the stable boundary layer. After Jiusto’s untimely death, Dave Fitzjarrald joined ASRC to add some expertise in boundary layer meteorology to this project.


Fangqun Yu, arrived at ASRC 2000, reinvigorating an existing ASRC theme. He currently provides a strong link between the observational and modeling world, attempting global modeling of particle size distribution and CCN abundance, with an emphasis on understanding nucleation mechanisms of new particle formation. Recent work involves regional aerosol modeling using WRF-Chem. His work bridges climate and aerosol studies, complementing the long-time research program of Wei-Chyung Wang. Fangqun keeps his curiosity going in an engineering direction also with studies of combustion chemistry, and soot particle formation inside engines.


Environmental and Radiative Energy Exchange Processes.
Ron Stewart was responsible for initiating ASRC’s energy research effort, a program that continues to thrive. Beginning with ‘the instrumented restaurant’, the Jolly Tiger, in the early 1970’s, energy conservation was a focus. In time, there was emphasis on observations of solar energy resources. When ASRC moved to 100 Fuller Road, Bruce Bailey and Ron Stewart established a rooftop observatory that was part of the WMO solar observation program, this work continued after ASRC moved to CESTM. Stewart and Scott mentored Richard Perez, who was hired in 1983, adding solar radiation modeling to the mix.


Perez and Stewart published "Solar irradiance conversion models" in 1985. Richard took advantage of the freedom to pursue innovative ideas at ASRC and has made a number of noted contributions to the field of solar energy. He identified the potential of photovoltaic power generation to meet the electrical power demand of large cities in nontraditional solar regions such as the northeastern United States. Perez improved solar radiation models now used in standard energy and daylighting calculations. Further, he developed the use of GOES satellite images to infer solar energy potential over broad geographic regions that are widely used.


Stewart and the solar group are responsible for the most successful spinoff from ASRC: Associated Weather Services (now known as AWS Truepower) was started in 1981 by research meteorologists Bruce Bailey and Ron Stewart then at ASRC. Currently it employs 75 meteorologists, not only providing clients with weather and technology resources, but also with engineering services related to solar, wind energy project development, and air quality research.


With the arrival of Joe Michalsky and Lee Harrison from PNL in 1986, ASRC strengthened its in situ radiation observation and monitoring component. Harrison developed a series of photometric/radiometric instruments, the rotating shadowband radiometer (RSR) and its multispectral version, the MSRSR, instruments that are widely used by other scientists. Michalsky developed techniques to extract information from the new instruments, including differential technique to derive column water vapor using sun radiometry. As part of the DOE ARM program Michalsky and Harrison set up a national network of the RSR instruments. Qilong Min joined the group early on, and began radiative transfer modeling further to develop retrievals from the RSR data. Harrison also worked on CCN instrumentation and a variety of optical aerosol measurement techniques.


In addition to continuing work to extract more information from RSR, Qilong Min soon began to experiment with new remote sensing techniques, including a microwave vegetation index, one that was not as subject to cloud masking, a problem that plagues conventional indices, particularly in the tropics. Min assembled a team and began a series of regional climate studies, with emphasis on China. Recently, for example, the examined rain frequency change induced by pollution and associated over Shanghai, possibly the result of enhancement of pollution-produced CCN in addition to mineral dust from long-term transport, suppresses the rain frequency.


Surface-Atmosphere Exchange Phenomena.
For a time, there was an ASRC field station at Lake George & Lake Ontario, and many limnological studies were done, primarily by J. Scott and U. Czapski in the Department and Ron Stewart at ASRC. After Dave Fitzjarrald arrived, the serendipitous appearance of the NASA-supported projects in the Amazon rain forest propelled ASRC into the forefront of eddy flux observations in remote environments. Fitzjarrald and students built on the data acquisition systems that Gar Lala and John Sicker had developed for the FOG-82 project to begin eddy covariance measurements of sensible and latent heat and, eventually carbon dioxide. Participating in the GTE ABLE atmospheric chemistry experiments took this group to the Amazon in ‘85 and ‘87, to the Alaskan tundra in ‘88 and to a Quebec boreal forest in 1990. NASA Ecology supported ASRC in the BOREAS project in Manitoba boreal forest ‘93, ‘94, and ‘96. By 1998, the team headed back to the Amazon Basin during the LBA-ECO study ‘98-‘06. Collaboration with S. Wofsy at Harvard University led to ASRC participating in flux measurements at Harvard Forest starting in ‘92, now the longest continuous flux site in world. Additional sensible and latent heat flux observations were made at the South Pole in ‘86 and ‘88. Building from the early boundary layer studies in FOG-82, the boundary layer group launched a study of the Hudson Valley local winds HVAMS ‘03-‘06.


ASRC expertise in eddy flux measurements was strengthened with the arrival of Scott Miller in 2005. Scott arrived as an experienced field campaigner, having worked in the LBA-ECO project as well on FLIP off the California coast. Recognizing that the oceans are an important source and/or sink of many gases that have important impacts on climate, Scott’s research currently aims to better understand how gases are exchanged across the air-water interface. He is moving forward to develop instrumentation to measure the oceanic and lake CO2 fluxes, a problem substantially more challenging than the forest case.


Atmospheric Chemistry.
By 1982, the Whiteface Mountain station was host to detailed observations aimed at determining the source of acid rain and the consequences it brought to the Adirondack ecosystems. It became accepted that the release of pollutants from power plants along the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers causes much of the acid rain in New York, the New England states, Ontario and Quebec. A major constituent of such pollutants is sulfur, a natural trace constituent of the coal burned in the plants.


Also in the early 80s, Mohnen was instrumental in getting the mountain cloud chemistry project going. This was a large national program and most of the local work was done at Whiteface. ASRC developed cloud and rainwater collectors that became widely used. For a while Eric Allen from NCAR was the resident chemist.


In 1987, the new Director Ken Demerjian recruited Julius Chang, director of the EPA-funded Acid Deposition Modeling Project (ADMP) to relocate to ASRC. Chang brought a talented team that included Bill Stockwell and Chris Walcek and a team of expert programmers, thus establishing ASRC as a focal point for atmospheric chemistry modeling. While at ASRC, Chang and his team completed the final acid rain model RADM2. In the early 1990s, Chang tailored this model for the State of California San Joaqin Valley domain, incorporating many advances in air quality modeling. This air pollution modeling system eventually progressed into the internationally-recognized MODELS-3/CMAQ comprehensive air pollution modeling system within the U.S. EPA.


Demerjian moved quickly to establish a robust research program at ASRC, work that included the developing instrumentation and analytical methods to measure trace atmospheric constituents and the physical and chemical characteristics of particulate matter. A focus was the study of the chemical kinetic and mechanistic pathways of elementary atmospheric reactions, work he pursued in collaboration with Professor James Anderson at Harvard University. Ken worked with Jim Schwab, NYDEC and other institutions to perform field measurements of photochemical oxidants, particulate matter and associated precursor species at Whiteface Mountain and Pinnacle State Park, NY. With support from NYSERDA and EPA, there were several campaigns at selected in New York City to study and elucidate atmospheric chemical transformation mechanisms.


Demerjian’s measurement group became part of EPA PM supersites field studies program, for which only seven sites across the US were selected for participation. This work evolved from increasing concern about the health effects of ultrafine particles. With Mark Beauharnois and Christian Hogrefe, Ken and his team are currently developing and validating an operational air quality forecast modeling system that combines chemistry and mesoscale meteorological modeling capabilities.


Climate System Sciences.
"We hope mankind’s activities are of little importance to climate change. But it is the nature of the atmosphere to be influenced by divergent phenomena caused by trigger effects that are unpredictable, and results are rarely noticed because of the dearth of knowledgeable and skilled observers." V. J. Schaefer, J. of College Science Teaching, Sept., 1974.


Wei-Chyung Wang came to ASRC in 1989, bringing a team with expertise in radiation and climate model studies. Among the contributions Wang and his group made were identifying CH4 and N2O as important greenhouse gases, and showing that the important climatic effects of ozone changes in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. They have moved into studies of aerosol effects on regional climate change, particularly in North America and China. Wang has also been involved for some time with fascinating studies of climate change made using ancient Chinese and Japanese records.


How will ASRC evolve next?
"Will our adventurous quest of innovative thinking be dulled and dented because of the massive job that must be done, the ‘nit-picking’ of pedestrian professors or the cautious delays of frightened politicians or administrators?", V. J. Schaefer, November 1 1967 "University lecture: Things in the air", delivered to students at UAlbany.


We seem to be in an era of ‘fee for service’ science, one in which the requests for proposals sound like demands for products. Despite this, we believe Schaefer’s idealism still has a place. There are some projects that one thinks are worthy of the ASRC founders’ call to ‘curiosity’, projects that the funding agencies might (at least at first) find puzzling. The jump that Larry Syzdek and Duncan Blanchard made into aerobiology while studying sea salt aerosols is inspiring, as was Duncan Blanchard completing his careful biography of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. There are Roger Cheng’s fantastic photomicrographs of freezing droplets and the microphysics of pollution. The global circumnavigation flight that Hogan and Mohnen arranged on an airliner to map out CN concentrations still gets one’s attention. We recall Barretto’s discoveries about the genesis of sparks in oil tankers. To help solve a dispersion problem, Chris Walcek developed a more accurate numerical advection scheme currently in use in many models. There are Wei-Chyung Wang’s pioneering studies of historical Chinese climate records. ASRC student Gary Wojcik completed his thesis on the energy balances of curing concrete bridge decks, a surface flux problem with an internal chemical reaction. Earlier this year Scott Miller and Matt Czikowsky sailed from Chile to Seattle, making careful CO2 flux observations along the transect. The era of programmatic science is always nearly upon us, but still there is room for the careful observer, be that field observation or the creative and insightful analysis of model design and output.