ATDD Research Themes

Our atmosphere is vital to all living things on our planet. Scientists at ATDD perform research to observe, measure, understand and predict the behavior of the vast atmospheric ocean that we live in. Our research focus is on the surface of the earth from a few feet below the soil up to 2-3 miles in the atmosphere, called the boundary layer. The Boundary Layer has a direct impact on people’s health and safety, business, and the environment. ATDD research staff focus on a few specific elements of the boundary layer processes, including:
  • Surface energy, water and carbon cycles, and the drivers of land-atmosphere feedbacks. These dynamics are essential for improving the performance of numerical models and predicting future water/carbon cycling-climate scenarios
  • Land-surface processes, including the exchange of energy, water vapor and gas and aerosol fluxes between the land surface and atmosphere significantly influence weather and climate. Such research requires extensive, detailed observations over a variety of land types and climates

Surface-Atmosphere Exchange

The Boundary Layer is the most dynamic in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of constant exchange and interactions with the land/water surface. This interface, where the exchanges of energy, momentum, moisture, gases, and aerosols take place, is where weather and climate begin. The exchanges of heat and water vapor between the land and atmosphere are largely driven by the surface radiation budget, a combination of incoming and outgoing short and longwave radiation. Understanding the processes and environmental variables that control surface-atmosphere exchanges, and translating this understanding into more accurate model parameterizations, is a vital research activity that will lead to improved weather, climate and air quality predictions. ARL has a widely-recognized expertise in this area of research and collaborates with other OAR laboratories, other federal agencies and university partners to advance knowledge in this area and transition this understanding to improved NOAA products and services. ARL research themes are further detailed on the main laboratory site.

A schematic diagram of the processes, interactions, and energy interactions.

ATDD performs field measurements and modeling to better understand the exchange of chemical elements between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere. In particular, surface-atmosphere exchange rates of reactive nitrogen (nitrogen oxides and ammonia) are highly uncertain and difficult to model, even though these species serve important roles in the formation of air pollution, and their removal back to the Earth’s surface can have harmful environmental consequences. 

Fertilizer is a primary source of nitrogen and phosphorus and often reaches surface and groundwater systems through farm or urban/suburban runoff.

Researcher gathering data about soil

Researcher gathering data about soil

Boundary Layer Characterization

ARL measures a number of different variables (wind speed, temperature, etc.,) to characterize the atmospheric boundary layer. This data on the surface and near surface weather and climate conditions is used to improve the accuracy of atmospheric models and other forecast and prediction tools. New measurement tools to characterize the boundary layer are in evaluation. ARL research themes are further detailed on the main laboratory site.
Construction of wind fence

Construction of joint National Center for Atmospheric Research/NOAA precipitation measurement testbed near Boulder, CO. The fence is part of a snow measurement instrumentation.

For climate data, ARL provides high quality, reference-grade measurements through the US Climate Reference Network. ATDD staff operate and maintain the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN), which provides long-term robust climate observations that are necessary to document climate change trends for the United States. The USCRN provides high quality, reference-grade measurements of critical climate measures such as air temperature, precipitation, winds, land surface temperature, and solar radiation and translates that information for decision-makers to understand how and why climate has changed and what changes might occur in the future.

Crossville, TN USCRN site was a testbed for new soil moisture sensors for the USCRN.