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Responding to a request from the Deputy Director of the Jilin Meteorology Institute in China, CISL Software Engineer Wei Huang presented his first NCL workshop in Mandarin Chinese for 38 students on 22-24 October 2014. As part of the NCL Group’s international outreach efforts and funded by the sponsoring institution, Wei traveled to Changchun, Jilin, China to teach a group of weather forecasters and research scientists how to use and apply the NCAR Command Language (NCL).
CISL and NCAR staff have collaborated for 14 years to provide training workshops for NCL – an interpreted language designed specifically for geoscientific data analysis and visualization. These workshops provide students, forecasters, and researchers with skills in using this powerful tool for scientific research, along with some relevant programming skills. NCL workshops are three or more days in length, with morning lectures and intensive hands-on labs in the afternoons. The NCL workshops are typically co-taught by two instructors for groups of 8-16 students. For larger groups, one or two additional NCL staff often assist during lab exercises. NCL is popular because it is free, well supported, easy to install, and able to run across a wide variety of UNIX systems. NCL enables its users to easily and effectively read, analyze, and visualize their geoscientific data on platforms ranging from personal laptops to supercomputers.
The workshop in Changchun was originally scheduled for about 16 local forecasters and researchers, but others from throughout Jilin Province were encouraged to attend. As a result of this invitation, the class size more than doubled, and 38 people participated in the three-day workshop. This included three people from outside the province, with two of them coming from the China Climate Center in Beijing, and one from Jiangxi Province. These three learned about this workshop from the NCL website. The host had to decline other requests because of limited classroom size. As always, the NCL workshop itself is free to the attendees, but they covered their travel and other expenses.
Because most participants’ fluency in the English language was primarily in reading and writing, Wei presented this workshop in Mandarin Chinese. Aided by the extensive library of class materials and instructor’s guides from previous workshops by Mary Haley (NCL Group Head) and Dennis Shea (NCL instructor and Associate Scientist IV in NCAR’s Climate and Global Dynamics Division), Wei spent a few weeks customizing the materials for this audience who wanted to visualize their Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) simulation results with NCL, analyze ensemble model runs, manage multiple files for time-series analysis workflows, generate map outlines for regions of interest in China using NCL’s shapefile capability, and plot station observation data to improve forecasting efficiency. Wei then refreshed his technical terminology in Mandarin and delivered a valuable learning experience for these forecasters and researchers.
Invited and hosted by Gao, Zongting, the Deputy Director of the Institute of Meteorological Sciences of Jilin Province, this workshop was one of CISL’s yearly international events that are organized and financially supported by the inviting institution. For this workshop, Dr. Gao envisioned that operational forecasters could improve their forecasting expertise by learning to analyze and visualize their own data with a tool like NCL, then share their results, collaborate with colleagues, and mentor younger forecasters through NCL products. NCL will also help them prepare quality graphics in papers for publication. Another benefit of the workshop was that the forecasters and researchers met during the event and shared stories that helped forecasters improve their skills using new research results, and that helped researchers better understand the needs of the forecasters. The NCL workshops are a community capacity-building resource because they connect scientific and operational users and provide them with the knowledge they need to explain and share their data effectively.
Just as in all NCL workshops, the Jilin participants were not offered scripted exercises and examples. Instead they brought their own datasets and learned to analyze and visualize them using NCL. The hands-on labs are particularly valuable because the students’ datasets are best suited to their specific needs. Despite being a single instructor for 38 students, Wei was able to interact closely with all participants during the labs. By the end of the workshop, most students had created NCL programs using their own data and produced meaningful results relevant to their individual vocations. And if Dr. Gao’s vision is realized, all participants expanded their horizons by interacting in this learning experience.
If you are interested in hosting an NCL workshop at your site, please review Hosting an NCL Workshop. The NCL Group now offers short webinars (web-based seminars) on various topics, and parts of NCL workshops are now available online. These webinars can be attended live, and they are archived so students can view them at any time. To provide your input on what topics you’d like to see covered, fill out the 11-question survey. Upcoming webinars are announced regularly, and you can check the NCL Announcements for updates as they become available.