2020: Connecting Our Star and Our Home
High Altitude Observatory
The High Altitude Observatory (HAO) is the Solar-Terrestrial Physics Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). NCAR is a national institution and resource dedicated to the study of the atmosphere, the Earth system, and the Sun. The primary responsibility of HAO and the other NCAR Laboratories is to work toward the achievement of the broad goals and objectives of our sponsor, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). As an NSF Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), we share NSF’s overarching goals of helping the United States uphold a position of world leadership in science and technology, promoting the transfer of new knowledge to society, and contributing to excellence in science and technology education.
Our plan will steer HAO’s direction over the next five years. It outlines the objectives of a research program that is ambitious in looking to build compelling and innovative national capability in the Solar-Terrestrial Physics arena. In support of the broader community, this plan also emphasizes leadership in the development and operation of observational and modeling facilities. Our people—world-class scientists, engineers, and support staff—will achieve the objectives of this plan by continuing to work in close, synergistic relationships with the academic community. This strategic plan and its accompanying implementation plan will guide HAO’s priorities, focus energy and resources, and ensure that all stakeholders are working toward common goals consistent with the missions of NCAR and NSF and is informed by the following strategic documents:
Our objective is to develop comprehensive, quantitative knowledge of the processes that connect the Sun and Earth, which is critical for the NCAR mission to understand the Earth’s atmosphere, near space environment, and the impacts of their evolving state on society. The scope and breadth of our activities require fundamental and applied research extending from the solar interior to Earth’s upper atmosphere, using a combination of observational, theoretical, and numerical methods. As a national center, we support and extend the capabilities of the broader research community and will continue to strengthen collaborative activities with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) and the NSF’s National Solar Observatory (NSO).
It is our mission to understand and quantify the impact of Solar variability on Earth’s atmosphere across temporal scales. By fostering the transfer of knowledge and technology we will lead, support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the university and broader scientific communities nationally and internationally.
We will provide scientific leadership, observations, and interpretative capabilities to serve the university and broader community. In doing so we will support the engagement, education, and training of early-career scientists and provide advocacy for solar-terrestrial physics to the rest of NCAR, NSF, the university community, and the general public.
The Space Weather and Space Climate Themes
HAO will focus research effort on aspects of solar variability and geospace dynamics that impact the Earth’s upper atmosphere under the following cross-disciplinary themes that mirror the Grand Challenge activities of NCAR’s 2014 Path Forward:
By adopting these overarching themes in our strategy it is our desire to gain better understanding of the key physical processes that can both improve and inform next-generation forecasts of space weather, associated hazards, and space climate. It is implied that the implementation plan necessary to make progress with these themes will span the disciplines of solar, heliospheric, magnetospheric, ionospheric, and atmospheric physics. Further, to advance these themes, we must maintain a state-of-the-art observationally focussed program that supports concerted activities in theoretical analysis and numerical simulation.
HAO’s Grand Challenges
In order to improve our understanding of space weather and space climate over the next five years and beyond, we have identified the following five grand challenges that guide our strategy. Our forward-looking program will be built on the foundation of HAO’s historical core strengths in spectropolarimetry, solar interior and magnetism, and upper atmospheric numerical modeling and actively encourage participation from the international solar terrestrial physics community and the other laboratories of NCAR.
Our five grand challenges require us to:
Progress with each of these grand challenges will be prioritized based on expertise at hand and resources within the Laboratory. We will develop strategies for each activity that directly involve community input, participation and assessment. The strategy, objectives, and milestones for these challenges will be presented in the accompanying implementation plan.
Summary of HAO’s Goal and Objectives
HAO’s staff collectively considered our scientific program and set themselves the following six goals:
The detailed discussion of these goals, and the inter-disciplinary objectives behind each, can be found below.
Over the five years of operation covered by this plan there will be significant opportunities to advance the standing of solar-terrestrial physics and the relentless connection between our star and our home.
The arrival of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Boulder significantly strengthens our local community. It also presents an opportunity to push forward on collaborative activities around the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST). HAO’s synoptic observing program is highly complementary to that of DKIST and NSO. We will foster strong connections through the DKIST facility instrument, the Visible Spectropolarimeter (ViSP), that is currently under construction at HAO and through the Community Spectro-Polarimetric Analysis Center (CSAC). CSAC was conceived to facilitate understanding of the complex magnetic field measurements made by HAO facility instrumentation—such instrumentation forms the basis of DKIST operations. These activities will provide opportunity to foster strong collaborations on the interpretation of multi-scale observations critical to understanding how the outer solar atmosphere is constructed and populated.
The development of the Coronal and Solar Magnetism Observatory (CoSMO) concept as a next-generation solar observing facility for the geosciences will strengthen HAO’s collaborations with NSO and SWPC. The novel observations made by CoSMO and assimilative techniques currently under development for solar observations at HAO can be brought to bear on advancing our understanding of instabilities in solar magnetism and/or the origins of the solar wind—either of which would yield significant progress in the space weather forecast enterprise.
The 2017 launches of the Global Observations of Limb (GOLD) and Ionospheric Connections explorer (ICON) will augment the current and future capabilities of U.S./Taiwan Constellation Observing System for Meteorology Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) constellation of satellite measurements and present significant opportunities to improve our understanding of the upper atmospheric nexus of tropospheric and space weather. Development and distribution of the next-generation Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model - eXtended (WACCM-X) to the community will enable a broader understanding of ionospheric and thermospheric variability across temporal and spatial scales in concert with the observations of COSMIC, GOLD, and ICON.
From the perspective of education and public engagement, the total solar eclipses of 2017 and 2024 present remarkable opportunities to broaden the appreciation of our society’s reliance on, and susceptibility to, solar activity. These events of raw natural beauty will potentially impact hundreds of millions of citizen observers from the U.S. and around the world. HAO will both facilitate and participate in a number of activities around these eclipses with a view to cultivating a broader acknowledgment of our civilizations exposure to both natural beauty and significant hazards from our star.
Implementing this Plan
In parallel with this document we have developed an implementation plan that outlines the steps required to ensure the maximum return on this strategy. As part of this implementation plan we will support two scientific sections on solar and geospace related issues. In addition, we will create a small, but flexible, number of NCAR- and Community-wide working groups that will give us the ability to integrate an attack on broader, often cross-disciplinary, scientific issues that impact the community and have the potential to push the entire discipline forward.
The initial set of working groups will develop around the grand challenges stated above. They will establish their own charter and membership, including members of broader community, with internal leadership appointed by the HAO Director. To support these working groups we will hold frequent meetings, engage broader community input through the development of a grand-challenge workshop series, specifically purposed use of visitor funds, and affiliate scientist positions within HAO. HAO’s external advisory committee be charged with monitoring progress of these activities and giving feedback on the direction of the work taken with respect to the broader community.
To achieve our objectives, it is imperative that collaborative, community-based approaches be employed. The observational and analytical tools need to be developed and disseminated in an open environment of scientific cooperation. We will maintain a strong visitor program to promote interactions with universities, to pursue common research objectives, and to train future generations of scientists. HAO will serve the community with facilities, models, workshops, and leadership in education and advocacy for solar-terrestrial physics.
The asset of highest value at HAO is its staff; as such, to be part of the HAO team a high degree of excellence and professionalism is expected. HAO values high performance from its staff. This includes excellence in one’s personal output as well as the expectation to perform as part of a team within HAO and its broader community, including active participation within NCAR and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) when necessary.
HAO leaders do not discern value from position title or level. All staff are given the opportunity to be leaders in HAO, NCAR, and the community. HAO leaders foster a sense of egalitarianism and inclusion where all staff work hard and all staff are valued for what they contribute to our mission. With a history spanning more than 75 years, HAO has a unique culture with a strong familial rapport between staff and visitors.
HAO embodies the following shared values:
HAO expects the following traits and behaviors of its staff:
HAO’s Role Within NCAR
HAO is an integral part of NCAR. HAO’s role as the Solar-Terrestrial Physics Laboratory of NCAR is to look outward from the Earth, studying the coupled Sun-Earth system from the Earth’s upper atmosphere through the heliosphere and solar corona all the way to the Sun’s interior.
Never has HAO needed stronger ties to the remote sensing, supercomputing, and scientific laboratories of NCAR. To develop the comprehensive understanding of the coupled Sun-Earth system that is required to meet NCAR’s mission, the seven laboratories of NCAR must work together as outlined in NCAR’s 2014 Vision of the Path Forward. HAO’s mission and vision are well aligned with those of NCAR as a whole. Indeed, there is a very close match between the strategic goals that we identify below and those articulated in the NCAR Strategic Plan:
This coherent program of activities across NCAR creates multiple pathways for HAO’s staff to both benefit from the experience of other NCAR staff with the result that we will grow stronger together. Such cross-lab activities are critical when trying to understand the potential impact of solar variability on our climate or how complex observational datasets can be brought to bear, “nudging” terrestrial weather models to a more accurate forecast.
We will maintain synergistic activities within NCAR’s Community Earth System Model (CESM) multi-laboratory program to develop and promote the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM). One such activity includes the extension of WACCM (WACCM-X) upward into the ionosphere and thermosphere, which will lead the way to a unified model of the Geospace environment across a wide range of temporal scales. These activities will be performed in collaboration with the Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling and Observation (ACOM) and Climate and Global Dynamics (CGD) laboratories of NCAR.
In coming years, the data assimilation methodologies being developed in the Computational Information Systems (CISL) and Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology (MMM) laboratories can help us to use ionospheric and solar observations to move space weather forecasting along a critical upgrade path, as is being done for terrestrial weather forecasting.
In its development of instrumentation projects, HAO frequently benefits from the workshop facilities and expertise of the Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL). With the 2017 total solar eclipse field campaign, we aspire to open aircraft-based solar observation to our community on a regular basis as an alternate means of validating new instrumentation.
HAO staff members serve on numerous NCAR committees and work in close partnership with the various education, outreach, and diversity activities around the center. Notwithstanding these existing links, HAO is committed to finding further opportunities to communicate its science and vision to the rest of NCAR and to foster additional collaborations and interactions that advance NCAR’s mission and benefit the wider community.
HAO’s Role Within The Solar-Terrestrial Physics Community
HAO interacts closely with the broad solar-terrestrial community to carry out its mission and follow its vision. Because the scientific problems are so complex, it is imperative that collaborative, community-based approaches are employed. HAO provides a variety of services and facilities to researchers throughout the world, augmenting the capabilities of a broad array of scientific disciplines.
HAO supports the “Geospace” and “Heliophysics” (Helio-Geospace, or Sun-Geospace) research communities by developing and maintaining community observing facilities, instruments, databases, and models. HAO’s visitor program fosters essential scientific interaction, collaboration, and exchange. The scope and breadth of these activities enable the Observatory to effectively bridge gaps between diverse scientific disciplines.
HAO’s interactions with the national community are enhanced through the Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR); Geospace Environment Modeling (GEM); Solar, Heliosphere, and INterplanetary Environment (SHINE); and Space Weather programs. We also play an active role in NASA-funded activities, such as NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program. Our staff also works in collaboration with researchers in the planetary and astrophysics communities to better understand the Sun-Earth connection through comparative studies of other planets, stars, and heliospheres.
HAO’s Mauna Loa Solar Observatory (MLSO) makes daily observations of the outer solar atmosphere that are rapidly distributed to researchers via the Internet to provide a picture of the physical condition of the solar atmosphere. Our data users receive a high level of data-processing and technical support from HAO staff—including that of the Community Spectro-Polarimetric Analysis Center (CSAC)—on the calibration, analysis, and interpretation of spectropolarimetric measurements.
HAO also designs, builds, and operates a number of optical instruments for the measurement of upper atmospheric neutral winds that are distributed all of over the world in addition to ship-borne and balloon-based platforms. The data from this world-wide network of upper atmospheric observatories are gathered and distributed via the internet to the community.
HAO is collaborating with George Mason University, the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatory, the University of Hawaii, and University of Michigan to develop the CoSMO as an upgraded replacement for our current MLSO capability and is a three-instrument suite to capture the three-dimensional magneto-thermal environment of the inner heliosphere. The measurements made by CoSMO will be an observational driver for the next generation of space-weather models and possibly provide a strong “Research to Operations” pathways between HAO and SWPC.
HAO has built instruments that are widely used in the community, such as the Advanced Stokes Polarimeter (ASP), Spectro-Polarimeter for the Infrared and Optical Regions (SPINOR), and the Hinode Solar Optical Telescope Stokes Polarimeter (SP). Built on the heritage of these facility instruments, HAO and will soon begin construction of the Visible Spectro-Polarimeter (ViSP) for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) that will be operated by the National Solar Observatory (NSO). The measurements made by ViSP will permit inferences of the complex vector magnetic field in the lower solar atmosphere at unprecedented spatial resolution. HAO will develop and extend current CSAC capabilities to meet the needs of the community set by CoSMO and DKIST.
Finally, HAO develops large-scale, computational community models that support community research in upper atmospheric, ionospheric, and magnetospheric physics. These include the Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Electrodynamics General Circulation Model (TlE-GCM) and WACCM-X, the aforementioned upper atmospheric extension of NCAR/CESM WACCM. With the imminent releases of TIE-GCM (v2.0) and the Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesosphere Electrodynamics General Circulation Model (TlME-GCM - v1.5), we will freeze further development of these models to concentrate effort on the development of WACCM-X and its extension to a whole geospace model. This whole geospace model will couple the physics and chemistry of the magnetosphere and plasmasphere with those (of lower atmosphere) provided by WACCM-X following the Common Infrastructure for Modeling the Earth (CIME) framework that is being adopted across NCAR’s other laboratories.
HAO’s Role With The General Public
HAO has a vast array of stakeholders beyond NCAR and the worldwide solar-terrestrial physics community. At the time of writing, federal budgets are tight but there is increasing reliance on ground- and space-based technology to drive society’s power, communication, and fiscal needs among others. Such technology is critically susceptible to climatic and episodic changes in solar output. However, due to the day in, day out reliability of the Sun to rise in the East and set in the West without causing any significant direct harm on us, we as a society, are very complacent about our star and its undoubted capability to wreak havoc on us. It is therefore incumbent on HAO to establish itself as a national center for the communication of weather and climatological impacts of our star on our planet and its extended atmosphere to the general public in addition to the decision and policy makers.
HAO is committed to a balanced observational and modeling scientific program engaged in the exploration of fundamental physical processes that improve our understanding of the Sun-Earth connection across spatial and temporal scales. The plan developed above builds upon HAO’s historical core capabilities to improve our community’s ability to forecast the impact of the ever-evolving solar atmosphere on the geospace environment. Essential ingredients of this plan also include an open-access policy to numerical models and observations, and a policy of engagement and enrichment for graduate, early-career scientists and the general public.
GOAL I: Solve critical problems of solar-terrestrial physics
HAO will focus on those aspects of the solar variability and geospace dynamics that impact Earth’s upper atmosphere and drive space weather and space climate. As part of this activity we will explore the drivers of space weather by understanding the physical processes of magnetic flux emergence, active region evolution, and the initiation of solar eruptions such as flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). We will explore the solar and terrestrial drivers of space climate, including solar cycle variability and anthropogenic effects on the upper atmosphere. We will analyze the interconnections between the lower and upper atmosphere, the atmosphere and ionosphere, the magnetosphere, and solar drivers.
GOAL II: Develop capability to improve forecasting and attribution for the coupled Sun-Earth system
Predicting the Sun’s influence on the Earth and its atmosphere in order to protect our ever-evolving technological society from space weather and climate hazards is central to our role as a national science center. We will work with our colleagues throughout NCAR to adapt models in data-assimilation frameworks, so that we can build capability for timely forecast and climatological study of typical and extreme space weather scenarios. Through strategic visits and collaborations, we will connect HAO efforts with community end-to-end space weather modeling efforts. We will develop and apply HAO’s novel capabilities in instrumentation, observations, models and data assimilation to space weather applications, and develop and transfer space-weather operational products to external partners and institutions. We will strive to do all these things in a manner that is based on a strong physical foundation.
GOAL III: To develop, deploy, and maintain state-of-the-art observational facilities and science data services
The scientific research done at HAO is fundamentally rooted in the observation of the coupled Sun-Earth system, as well as in the inference and modeling of its physical properties, for the purpose of understanding, and ultimately predicting, the short- and long-term evolution of Earth-impacting phenomena of solar origin.
For this reason, HAO is committed to the development, support, and operation of new and existing observational facilities (e.g. the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory), both ground-based and space-borne, to provide the Geo-Space and Solar Physics communities with state-of-the-art observations that can help unveil the physical processes that drive the evolution of the coupled Sun-Earth system. The challenges posed by the interpretation and modeling of such observations demand a parallel effort in the development and maintenance of science data analysis and interpretation tools which enable inference of physical quantities required by community models. Finally, it is necessary to effectively manage and disseminate these data products to the solar-terrestrial physics community. These needs place a requirement on HAO to retain a level of excellence in instrument development as well as data calibration, analysis and interpretation.
Goal IV: Develop and support advanced models of the coupled Sun-Earth system
Given the complex nature of the solar and terrestrial system, advanced numerical models are essential for discovery and forecast in studying the coupled system. HAO is a world leader in the development of advanced Sun-Earth system models and has worked closely with the solar-terrestrial community in their development and their usage. This is a heritage we will carry forward, and in the next five years we will focus on the following strategic objectives.
Goal V: Identify, develop, and transfer critical knowledge of the coupled Sun-Earth system
Sharing our science with the world is part of our job as a national science center. Through public outreach and scientific advocacy, we can promote a broad appreciation of the societal relevance and scientific excitement of heliophysics. Through education, we can deepen understanding of the physical processes at play in the coupled Sun-Earth system and inspire a new generation of researchers to the field. To do this effectively requires us to rise to the challenge of communicating our science in a manner that is simultaneously clear, compelling, and accurate.
Goal VI: Educate and mentor a diverse and talented next generation of scientists
As a laboratory of a national center, HAO is in the unique position of being able to promote “helio-geophysics” among the geospace sciences and entrain a capable and diverse pool of students and early-career professionals into the field. Over the course of its 75-year history, HAO has welcomed a multitude of students, post-doctoral research fellows, and visiting scientists. HAO alumni have gone on to promising careers in helio-geophysics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It is imperative for HAO to foster an active and engaging environment for early- career scientists within the laboratory where they can begin to forge their career paths.
Appendix B: Glossary/Acronyms
Atmospheric Chemistry Observation and Modeling Laboratory of NCAR
Advanced Stokes Polarimeter
Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions
Community Earth System Model
Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory of NCAR
Common Infrastructure for Modeling the Earth
Computational Information Systems Laboratory of NCAR
Coronal Mass Ejection
Coronal Solar Magnetism Observatory
Constellation Observing System for Meteorology Ionosphere and Climate
Community Spectro-Polarimetric Analysis Center
Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope
Earth Observing Laboratory
Federally Funded Research and Development Center
Geospace Environment Modeling
Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk
High Altitude Observatory
Ionospheric Connections explorer
Mauna Loa Solar Observatory
Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology
NASA’s Living With a Star
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Center for Atmospheric Research
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Science Foundation
National Solar Observatory
Solar, Heliosphere, and INterplanetary Environment
Spectro-Polarimeter for the Infrared and Optical Regions
Solar Spectral Irradiance
Hinode Solar Optical Telescope Stokes Polarimeter
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Electrodynamics General Circulation Model
Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesospheric-Electrodynamics General Circulation Model
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model
Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model - eXtended