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Reconstructed NCAR Research Aviation Facility supporting major field campaigns

New NSF-funded building expands NCAR’s capabilities to support cutting-edge research

Aug 24, 2022 - by Laura Snider

Cutting the ribbon at RAF
From left to right, UCAR President Antonio Busalacchi, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, NSF Assistant Director for Geoscience Alexandra Isern, and NCAR Director Everette Joseph cut the ribbon on the newly reconstructed Research Aviation Facility.

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is celebrating the completed reconstruction of a major research facility in Colorado that supports airborne science projects across the globe.

A ribbon-cutting was held today for the NCAR Research Aviation Facility (RAF), which is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The new $25 million building, which replaces one that was more than half a century old, expands NCAR’s capacity to support critical field projects that lead to advances in weather, water, climate, and air quality research. 

The 42,931-square-foot building in Broomfield, Colorado, houses about three dozen permanent staff, including scientists, engineers, instrument technicians and flight operations experts, with additional space for visiting scientists. The updated facility has already provided invaluable support for major field projects.

“RAF has always enabled researchers from universities and institutions across the country and the world to engage in cutting-edge research, the results of which have bolstered society’s ability to better prepare and respond to weather and climate threats,” said University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) President Antonio Busalacchi. “This updated building enhances our ability to provide critical support for these research projects, which are more important now than ever.”

UCAR is a nonprofit consortium of 122 college North American colleges and universities focused on research and training in Earth system science. UCAR manages NCAR on behalf of NSF.

“NSF is so pleased to support and to be part of the opening of this impressive facility” said Alexandra Isern, NSF’s assistant director for geosciences. “The new RAF will serve as a vital resource for our scientific community.  The aircraft and equipment housed in the RAF enable research and data collection that will improve our weather and climate predictive capabilities, leading to increased public safety and economic security.”   

A legacy of airborne research

RAF is home to two research aircraft owned by NSF and operated by NCAR: a Gulfstream V and a C-130. In the last decade, these flying laboratories have helped scientists study wildfire plumes in the West to investigate how smoke impacts weather, air quality, and climate; sample air over the Southern Ocean to shed light on how much carbon the icy waters in the region are able to store; chase solar eclipses to take rare measurements of the Sun’s corona from above the clouds; and catalog emissions from industrial facilities, motor vehicles, agricultural operations, oil and gas drilling, and other activities on Colorado’s Front Range; among other important campaigns. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in field campaigns, this summer the newly updated RAF supported several important campaigns, including Asian Summer Monsoon Chemical and CLimate Impact Project (ACCLIP) in South Korea, where the NSF/NCAR G-V aircraft is currently deployed. The project is studying how the monsoon — one of the largest and most important meteorological patterns in the world — affects atmospheric chemistry and global climate. 

The new building serves as the nerve center for planning these campaigns. It has expanded lab space for calibrating scientific instruments as well as ample space for field campaign planning, briefings, logistics decisions, and real-time remote participation in field projects. 

“The observations from the field campaigns supported by RAF provide a wealth of valuable data, which we make freely available, for scientists everywhere,” said NCAR Director Everette Joseph. “It’s one of the most essential capabilities we provide the Earth system science community, and this new building will help us continue to support this important work for decades to come.”

Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents Broomfield and attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said: “This new facility represents a major investment in our country’s ability to advance research and projects in weather, water, climate and air quality as well as an investment in the scientists, engineers, technicians and others who support this invaluable research. From right here in Colorado, this building will support projects across the globe and help strengthen America’s resiliency and response to natural disasters and severe weather for years to come.”

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