Sunday, October 4, 2015

PNNL Research Highlights

Fundamental and Computational Sciences Directorate
  1. Soot Sources, a Savvy Study, and the Tibetan Plateau
    Results: Airborne soot from fires, burning fossil fuels, and other sources can threaten water supplies in mountainous regions far from the burning source. Now, a new method developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory tagged sources of soot from different global regions in a climate model, and tracked where it lands on China's Tibetan Plateau. Researchers determined which areas around the plateau contributed the most soot-and where. The technique also pointed to the most effective way to reduce soot on the plateau to ease the amount of warming the region undergoes.
  2. Rasch, Ghan, and Easter Named to 2015 List of Highly Cited Researchers
    Three scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, all experts in Earth systems analysis and modeling, have been named to the prestigious Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers 2015 for Geosciences. Honored are Drs. Phil Rasch, Steven Ghan, and Richard Easter.
  3. The Color of Smog
    Results: Sitting on an airplane flying into nearly every major city on a sunny day, passengers can see a lingering brown haze. This haze event is linked to climate issues, as the thousands of chemicals involved act as a warming blanket, absorbing sunlight and trapping surface heat. Yet, the chemistry of this haze is not well known. Recently, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory examined the chemistry of brown carbon, a pernicious set of particles in the haze. They focused on the specks that form around the chemical toluene, a common pollutant. They found that adding a bit of nitrogen oxide, released in combustion engine car exhaust, resulted in particles that trapped some heat. Increasing the nitrogen oxides level, however, resulted in particles that held significantly more heat and caused the mix to turn yellowish brown. The results are highlighted on the cover of a recent issue of Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.
  4. Proud Model: Rolling on the River
    Results: Drinking, irrigation and energy production. These are just three uses for freshwater provided by rivers to the world's people. Understanding the rivers' flow is important, especially as water uses and sources change. As reported in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, a team led by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory coupled a newly developed river-routing model with an Earth system model, and the simulated streamflow compared favorably against the observed streamflow from more than 1,600 major river stations worldwide. They also found that the added complexity in the new model adopted in Earth system models improves the model's ability to capture the variability of the observed streamflow. This new feature allows it to represent human influence on the river systems.  
  5. Bernstein Co-Authors Book Chapter that Aims to Guide Microbial Community Engineering
    Diverse groups of microbes live and work together in dense, interactive communities. These microbial ecosystems are involved in reactions ranging from producing feedstock chemicals to refining biofuels to altering toxins underground. How the communities interact, specifically, by coordinating metabolism, remains a major knowledge gap. Dr. Hans Bernstein is working to change that situation. Bernstein, a Linus Pauling Fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and his colleagues at Montana State University, his alma mater, have reconciled traditional process engineering principles with ecological theories to help guide the future of microbial community engineering.
  6. Sizing Up Cyclones
    Results: Category 1, Category 3, the dreaded Category 5—Americans are becoming too familiar with the ratings of hurricanes or tropical cyclones. Scientists use a measure called Potential Intensity to help them forecast the strength of tropical cyclones, aka hurricanes or typhoons. Unfortunately, that measure does not accurately take into account how the ocean subsurface conditions help fuel such storms. A team of scientists led by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory modified the current formula to calculate Potential Intensity by including the effects of upper-ocean mixing, sea-surface cooling, and salinity during a cyclone. The improved formula nearly doubles the accuracy in forecasting tropical cyclone intensification.
  7. Shoving Protons Around
    What's a few protons, one way or another? A great deal, according to Dr. Morris Bullock and Dr. Monte Helm at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists in their invited review article.
  8. Good Is Not Enough: Improving Measurements of Atmospheric Particles
    Results: When it comes to understanding how atmospheric particles affect climate, one measurement can't tell the whole story, especially in areas that haven't been studied. A research team led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed an approach that links the scattering coefficient, a measure of how much tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere scatter sunlight, with other particle properties. These properties include particle size, chemical composition, and ability to soak up atmospheric water. By linking these measurements, scientists can better understand the effects of a wide range of particles, including those that scatter sunlight (non-absorbing particles) and those that both scatter and absorb sunlight (absorbing particles).
  9. Robert Houze Jr., Cloud and Convective Systems Expert, Joins PNNL
    Dr. Robert A. Houze, Jr. has joined the Atmospheric Measurements and Data Science group as a joint appointee Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Fellow. Houze, a professor with the University of Washington's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, is a world-renowned expert in clouds and convective systems. As a joint appointee, he will spend more time at PNNL amplifying collaborative research between the Lab and UW.
  10. Nailing Down the Jet Stream
    Results: The complex models scientists rely on to determine weather and potential climate changes have a hidden flaw. They cannot agree on the behavior of one of the most important circulation features: the jet stream. The strength and position of the jet stream are good indicators of weather events. Now, as reported in the Journal of Climate, a team of researchers led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a diagnostic framework that can predict how well a model will simulate the jet stream. This framework may prove a milestone in accurately capturing jet stream dynamics and location.