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Officials break ground on NCAR research aviation facility

New building will support aircraft on worldwide research missions

Feb 14, 2020 - by David Hosansky

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Construction starts this month on a major National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) facility, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), that will support aircraft flown on scientific field projects worldwide, leading to new advances in weather, climate, and air quality research.

Officials with NCAR, NSF, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) today broke ground on the $22 million construction project at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield. The new building — which replaces a dated, half-century-old structure at NCAR’s Research Aviation Facility — is expected to open its doors by the end of the year.

"This state-of-the-art building will enable us to better support vital field campaigns here in Colorado and around the globe, leading to improved forecasts to protect life and property," said UCAR President Antonio Busalacchi. "We are very appreciative of the National Science Foundation and Congress for their investment in this critical scientific infrastructure."

UCAR, a nonprofit consortium of 120 universities with degrees in the Earth system sciences, manages NCAR on behalf of NSF.

"This updated facility will enhance NCAR’s capacity to serve as a nerve center for major airborne field projects across the United States and around the globe, " said Anjuli Bamzai, director of the NSF Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences. "We are very pleased to support NCAR as it continues to work with the scientific community to undertake these essential projects."

The C-130
The NSF/NCAR C-130 sits on the tarmac at the Research Aviation Facility in Broomfield, Colorado. The flying laboratory is used in field campaigns across the globe that enhance our understanding of the Earth system. (© UCAR. Image: Simmi Sinha/UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

Headquarters for field campaigns

The new facility, at 42,391 square feet, will be more than twice the size of the previous building, which dated from the 1970s. It will have expanded lab space for calibrating scientific instruments, and it will also be used for field campaign planning, briefings, logistics decisions, and real-time remote participation in field projects. It will support field projects led by both NCAR scientists and scientists at universities across the country.

The building will house 35 permanent staff, including scientists, engineers, instrument technicians and flight operations experts, with additional space for visiting scientists. TreanorHL is designing the building.

NCAR will use the facility to manage two research aircraft, a Gulfstream V and C-130, that it operates on behalf of NSF. Past field campaigns, which have flown over every continent and ocean, have led to landmark insights into severe storms, as well as greenhouse gases and other aspects of the planet's climate system and the evolution and movement of airborne gases and particles that affect air quality. Such work adds to the fundamental understanding of processes in the atmosphere and the entire Earth system.

Upcoming projects will look at the formation of ice particles in clouds over Colorado and key characteristics of the Asian Summer Monsoon.

"The field campaigns supported by this facility will advance the frontier of knowledge about the Earth system in ways that we can only begin to imagine," Busalacchi said. "This new facility will provide a major return on investment and yield lasting societal benefits."

Congressman Ed Permutter, whose suburban Denver district includes Broomfield, hailed the project.

"This facility and its research will be a major asset to Colorado and to the nation,” Permutter said. “I appreciate the work of NSF and NCAR to increase America's resilience to natural disasters and strengthen economic competitiveness."

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