HAO Director’s Report–2016

It is with great pleasure that we present the 2016 Annual Report of the High Altitude Observatory (HAO), the solar-terrestrial physics laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Through its research, leadership, and service to the community HAO strives toward a better understanding of the relentless interaction between the atmospheres of the Sun and the Earth.

Scott McIntosh image
Director Scott McIntosh

Our blended program of research, instrumentation, education, and mentorship straddles the deep solar interior and the origins of heliospheric magnetism, through the Sun’s photosphere and chromosphere, into the corona and interplanetary space, to the magnetosphere, and the upper atmosphere of the Earth. This report highlights our team over the past year in these areas and, while it is not intended to be comprehensive, it covers the spectrum of efforts that we pursue.

HAO has a broad group of stakeholders: the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other government agencies; the world-wide solar-terrestrial physics community (including the solar physics, heliospheric physics, magnetospheric physics, and upper-atmospheric physics communities); higher education facilities; the rest of NCAR and UCAR; our own staff, visitors, and students; and the wider public. In support of these stakeholders, HAO’s staff has set to work on a new strategic plan that establishes a number of goals: to solve critical scientific problems in solar-terrestrial physics; gain a better understanding of space weather and space climate domains to improve attribution for forecast; deploy state-of-the-art observational facilities and scientific data services; develop and support advanced models of the Sun-Earth system; to support the education and training of early-career researchers; and to provide advocacy for solar-terrestrial physics, promoting its results, and articulating its societal importance.

In a year of NCAR-wide scientific and management reviews conducted by the NSF, we had to pause on the implementation of our new strategic plan. In the final quarter of the year we pushed forward with the reorganization of the Lab to deliver on that plan. A major part of that effort lay in the constitution of eight strategic working groups; six with scientific and two with community focus. We formulated scientific working groups that push forward HAO’s contemporary core scientific programs, like CoSMO, WACCM-X and CSAC while creating pathways for future community modeling efforts for the coupled Geospace environment and for the solar interior. The community-focused working groups help to consolidate our efforts in education, outreach, mentoring, data stewardship and partnerships. All staff have been involved in the construction of these groups and been freely able to associate with them. As the groups complete their charters, goals, and milestones they will be made available on our web page. In due course we desire to have extensive community partnership within these working groups—developing those partnerships will form a large part of the focus in the next year.

The past year saw a massive confluence of scientific and political will towards understanding the relentless coupling between the Sun, solar wind and terrestrial environment through the space weather enterprise. This unparalleled level of interest in our science at national level creates great opportunity for NCAR, HAO and the broader solar-terrestrial physics community - our strategic plan, and working groups, are geared towards pushing forward in several key areas that we hope will not only advance our understanding, but also funding levels to the entire community.

Over the reporting year, several colleagues have gained promotions. Mausumi Dikpati was promoted to Senior Scientist, Mike Galloy was reclassified to Software Engineer III, and Rob Graves to Technician II. It was also a year off loss for the HAO family. In August, we lost Vic Tisone who had recently retired. This left many of us in shock, but in his name the drive to move on is focused.

Beyond the development of our strategic implementation plan and participating in NCAR reviews, you will see that 2016 was a busy year scientifically and, in the following highlights, you’ll see that we made significant progress in key areas of our program.

In the coming year one event will likely dominate proceedings, the once-in-a-generation, total solar eclipse that will transit the continental US on August 21, 2017. In addition to participating in a major citizen-science project, “the Eclipse Megamovie”, HAO will coordinate a first—a community field campaign exploiting airborne and ground-based assets to study the corona of the eclipse in the deep infrared. Our hope is that a successful airborne element to the 2017 eclipse field campaign opens the NCAR Gulfstream 5 aircraft to the our community for future eclipse observations. Complementing the scientific experiments, our staff will be participating in public education and participation events during the eclipse, spanning the path of totality from Oregon to the Carolinas.

Finally, I add that the endeavors described herein would not have been possible without the tremendous effort put into the laboratory by our Administrative Team, Computer Systems Management Team, and others who unfalteringly work in service of the laboratory, center, and stakeholders.