NOAA Research Laboratories
Video with Dr. Alexander "Sandy"MacDonald, Deputy Assistant
Administrator for Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes, and Director,
Earth System Research Laboratory
DR. SANDY MACDONALD: I'm Sandy MacDonald and I'm Deputy Assistant Administrator
for Labs and Cooperative Institutes. That's a job that's really here
in Washington. And, I'm also Director of the Earth System Research Laboratory
in Boulder, Colorado.
So, I have the fun of working in both places and it really is fun.
Here in Washington, I get to go talk to Congressmen and Senators and
talk about the extraordinary role that NOAA should be playing in the
future of this planet. And, when I'm out in Boulder, I get to do the
I had the opportunity last summer to fly up to one of our new observatories
that we've put on Ellesmere Island. Ellesmere Island is north of Greenland
and, like the rest of the Arctic, it's changing fast.
We are a global organization. Join NOAA and see the world. I think
it's very true now because our science is a global science. And, I'm
gonna talk about our laboratories.
So, there are certainly jobs here in Washington. But, some of the
most exciting and fun jobs are in the field. The people who actually
do the science.
So, one of them is Air
Resources Laboratory and they're located actually
in many places around the country. The center of Air Resources Lab is
here in Silver Spring. And, they work on air quality. It's one of their
main things that they work on.
Air quality is something that you don't think a lot about. But, by
some studies, there are as many as 60,000 Americans die every year due
to very fine particles that you breathe in. And, many of these are preventable
deaths. So, like so much that NOAA does, the people in Air Resources
Lab are trying to figure out ways so you could help people with that.
Here's the Atlantic
Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab located in
Miami. And, they work on oceans and climate and coastal oceans and also
on hurricanes. We want to forecast hurricanes better. In the Hurricane
Research Division down there in Miami, they are looking at unmanned aircraft.
They're looking at lashing together as many as 100,000 processors to
run a hurricane model that is so realistic that our forecast would get
the intensity right.
And, there's probably ten other exciting things they want to put these
little, teeny aircraft -- kind of like -- almost like model airplanes.
And, we did this a couple years ago where we flew right in at low levels,
about 500 feet off the ocean.
And so, we flew in Hurricane Ophelia with this automated
aircraft. And you say, "Well, what's the big deal about that?" The
big deal about that is we would never put a human down there. So,
that means we don't know what's happening at the bottom of the hurricane.
The bottom of the hurricane is the business end. That's where all
this energy that's in the ocean, the heat energy in the top, you know,
600 feet of the ocean is what makes the hurricane go. And, this is the
first time we were right down there in the action. The thing came back
with saltwater in its wings. You know, if we lost it, we lost it. There's
no human lives.
So, what's happening in Miami are some really exciting approaches to
get that hurricane intensity forecast better.
Here's the laboratory that I'm the director of, Earth
System Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado.
This is Science on a Sphere, something that I have
a patent for and it's now in ten museums. And, it is a three-dimensional
display of the earth. And, you can put up planets. You can put up
climate change. Here we were bringing it to a middle school as an
educational tool. So, people who say, "Well, if you get into management, you can't do science
or technology --." Everybody that I know that really cares about
it keeps a little bit of a hand in both. And so, it's a lot of fun.
And, things that are happening in Earth System Research Lab, you can
kind of tell by the name. It's a fairly large lab. We have over 600
people. And, we're really trying to understand how the whole earth system
So, when you think about this very great issue of what's gonna happen
with climate change, the first thing you run into is everything affects
everything else. If the Arctic Ocean ice melts -- and, you just heard
the guy talking about a third of it's gone -- if that melts, think about
what happens in the Midwest. The Midwest is the greatest agricultural
area of the world. It partly gets a lot of rain in summer because the
warm moisture from the Gulf clashes with our air that's actually been
cooled over the Arctic Ocean ice. No Arctic Ocean ice, no cold air masses.
You could see the amount of rain that they get in summer to feed the
corn and the soybeans cut in half.
Is that gonna happen? I don't know. I actually have heard arguments
either way. But, one thing I know for sure is the key to understanding
that is for people -- to come out to our laboratory and work with us
and go to Greenland and go up in the icecap and go out in the Pacific
and understand how this whole system works together.
Here's something that we've developed called Carbon Tracker. The world
is going to, thoroughly fast, discover that carbon in the atmosphere
is the most dangerous substance there is. And, what we're doing with
this, the Carbon Tracker, it's a program that takes all the sources of
carbon over the whole globe, the human ones, the oceans, the plants,
and calculates what they're doing. So, this is one example of the kind
of work that we're doing.
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
Lab is located in Princeton, New Jersey.
I guess the thing you could say there is I don't think they ever won
the national championship but they're actually pretty good at some other
One of the things they're very good at Rick has already mentioned.
That is, the best global climate model by an objective measure to predict
what's gonna happen in this century was done at our lab, our NOAA laboratory
They also have the best hurricane models. So, here's an example of
a hurricane model that they've developed. And, their scientists are
located on the campus of Princeton and it's, I think, one of the most
preeminent groups that I've ever run into. It's just wonderful to work
with the kind of scientists that are out there.
Here's the Great Lakes
Environmental Research Laboratory located at
Ann Arbor, Michigan. And, they have quite an emphasis on ecological
prediction. They study things like aquatic invasives like the zebra
muscle. So, they're really looking at another piece of this earth system.
Again, Rick mentioned that our ocean is becoming more acidic. Becoming
more acidic and it's becoming warmer. And, there's a great question
here. What's that going to do to ocean life? We really are a crown
built on a base of life in the ocean. So, we depend on it far more than
most people realize. And, scientifically, we need to understand as that
ocean gets more acidic, what's gonna happen to all the little critters
that really support not just human life but life on this planet?
Some of you who might've read the October Scientific American saw that
there's some very dangerous possibilities of the ocean becoming a different
kind of ocean that has happened in the paleontological past called the
Canfield ocean. So, understanding life is a key part of NOAA.
We also have the Pacific
Marine Environment Lab and they really were
leaders in understanding both the tsunamis and the El Niño. That's an
El Niño over there. And, they basically do a lot of work in the Pacific.
The group at PMEL actually were talking tsunamis. The head of it,
I remember 15 years ago, he'd show these giant waves hitting San Francisco
higher than the Golden Gate Bridge. And so, they were there fighting
to get a system out called the DART buoy.
So, you see here this rather shallow wave that hits the tsunami buoy
and what they're really doing is they're measuring the pressure down
here at the bottom. And, it sends an acoustic signal up to the surface.
And, the buoy on the surface basically sends a satellite signal. So,
these are complicated systems. If you're an engineer, you're just gonna
have a totally fun time with these kind of systems.
And, finally, I'll mention our National
Severe Storms Lab. It seems like Rick and I think a lot of the same kinds of things. "Twister" was
a little over the top. The part that I didn't quite buy was the one
where the cows were all rotating.
But, a lot of that, the storm chaser, the mentality, the “go protect
the public” is the exciting work that occurs in Norman, Oklahoma at our
Severe Storms Lab.
What we have is an exciting future. We have great places to work.
And, the most important issues, I think, in the world. And, you can
think of this as a little bit like recruiting. If you want to pick a
great place to be a football player, you want to go a place where they've
had a few national championships. I think that NOAA is the place where
the national championships -- people like Susan Solomon and the people
who created that radar -- the national championship of exciting, new
climate and weather sciences. And so, we're recruiting you to join our