HAO Director's Report–2017

It is with great pleasure that we present the 2017 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
HAO Director Scott McIntosh

Our blended program of research, instrumentation, education, and mentorship emphasizes the necessary, and critical, balance between observation and modeling that is required to understand the origins of heliospheric magnetism, how it breaches the Sun’s atmosphere, pervades interplanetary space, drives the magnetosphere, and the upper atmosphere of the Earth. This report highlights that activities of our team over the past year 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 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 stark budgetary challenges and amazing scientific opportunities HAO has continued to push forward through its eight interrelated strategic working groups. Those strategic working groups; six with scientific and two with community focus bring internal HAO, NCAR and external partnerships to the fore - helping to accelerate contemporary core scientific programs, like CoSMO, WACCM-X and CSAC while creating pathways for modeling efforts for the coupled Geospace environment, consolidating efforts in education, outreach, mentoring, and developing community-wide data partnerships. In 2018, the working groups will drive their scientific agendas forward and host a range of community-wide workshops in an effort to more strongly unite the disciplines of the solar-terrestrial and heliospheric physics - advancing common scientific and strategic goals.

Keon Gibson’s 2017 total eclipse photograph
Eclipse 2017 composite image courtesy of HAO intern, Keon Gibson (Jackson State University


This past year saw a confluence of scientific and political will towards understanding the relentless coupling between the Sun, solar wind and terrestrial environment through the space weather enterprise. Much of this activity was driven by the incredible event on August 21, 2017 the first transcontinental total solar eclipse in a century. HAO spun up a large number of scientific experiments, education and outreach events, and participated in countless others. The foremost of these efforts was the ECLIPSE2017 field campaign led by HAO with partners at NCAR’s Earth Observing Lab, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The team  combined airborne and ground-based instrumentation to advance our understanding of the infrared corona. Our hope is that the scientific successes of the ECLIPSE2017 campaign that are currently being pursued will drive further community-wide airborne eclipse activities and technology development in this critical part of the electromagnetic spectrum for solar studies. The total solar eclipse generated an unparalleled level of interest in our science at national levels, creating great opportunity for NCAR, HAO, and the broader solar-terrestrial physics community to step up and show what we do, and why. We hope that the long-term outcomes from the 2017 total solar eclipse will not only advance our understanding of the Sun-Earth system, but will serve to augment critical funding levels across the entire community in an area of growing national strategic importance.

I note that over the reporting year several colleagues have gained promotions. Joanne Graham was promoted to the role of Assistant Director for Operations, Michael Wiltberger was promoted to Senior Scientist, and Stan Solomon to Senior Scientist Section Head. Their leadership efforts within the laboratory are greatly appreciated.

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