NCL Students Become NCL Teachers in Brazil and Germany

By Brian Bevirt
02/12/2014 - 12:00am
Guilherme Martins, INPE
Guilherme Martins took the initiative to prepare NCL workshops for the community of meteorologists in Brazil. He is part of an enthusiastic group of NCL practitioners and students there, so he translated the training materials into Portuguese, tailored the workshop to the needs of his audience, and presented three trainings in 2013.

Guilherme Martins and Karin Meier-Fleischer saw the need for NCL workshops in their countries, so they are producing them at their local research institutions. The NCAR Command Language (NCL) provides advanced techniques for analyzing scientific data and visualizing results in publication-quality formats. NCL training is now expanding internationally.

Guilherme Martins and his colleagues translated the NCL workshop presentation into Portuguese and began offering it to Ph.D. and Masters students at research universities in Brazil. He is maintaining good communication with NCAR’s NCL Group as he evolves his curriculum to focus on his students’ meteorology studies.

Karin Meier-Fleischer, DKRZ
At the podium are Mary Haley of CISL (left) and Karin Meier-Fleischer of DKRZ during the 28-29 November 2013 workshop at DKRZ’s KlimaCampus Climate Visualization Laboratory in Hamburg, Germany.

In recent years, the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) has funded five NCL workshops in Hamburg, Germany. The most recent one was held at the Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum (DKRZ, the German Climate Computing Centre) in November 2013. For this workshop, Karin Meier-Fleischer of DKRZ developed a comprehensive NCL tutorial with an emphasis on visualization examples. Using this tutorial, Karin and Mary Haley (NCAR/CISL) co-taught a special NCL workshop geared toward visualizing data produced by ECHAM, an atmospheric general circulation model developed by MPI-M.

Both of these efforts increase the worldwide research community’s skills in using NCL’s data analysis and visualization tools, and they also accomplish larger objectives. These workshops:

  • Reduce the burdens of cost and travel time for the participants.
  • Improve student understanding through presentations in their primary language.
  • Create new centers of NCL expertise that can become self-sustaining.

Guilherme Martins is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Program in Earth System Science at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). He presented three NCL workshops in 2013: “Introduction to NCAR Command Language with Applications in Meteorology” in July and August, then “Tutorial on Using NCL Functions” in October. A total of 54 participants attended the workshops at two venues, INPE and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN). Guilherme’s students were masters and doctoral students in meteorology from universities around Brazil. His tutorial is available on the NCL documentation website along with an introductory document to NCL written in Portuguese by Mateus da Silva Teixeira and other researchers at Pró-Reitoria de Graduação da Universidade Federal de Pelotas in Brazil.

Karin Meier-Fleischer’s teaching effort at DKRZ is just getting started, and her materials are published on the DKRZ KlimaCampus Climate Visualization Laboratory website. With Michael Böttinger (DKRZ), Karin prepared an English-language NCL tutorial that was used in the November 2013 workshop in Hamburg. Karin also prepared exercises and tasks that focused on helping the November workshop’s 20 participants analyze and visualize climate modeling results. Karin and Michael plan to offer these workshops annually, with staff from NCAR assisting during the hands-on labs.

Dennis Shea and Dave Brown receive UCAR award
Directors of NCAR (left side) and UCAR (right side) recognized Mary Haley (not shown), Dennis Shea (third from left), and Dave Brown (fourth from left) for their ongoing successes in training researchers to use NCL more effectively. The award noted that “These workshops directly address NCAR’s mission to ‘support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the university community and the broader scientific community – nationally and internationally’ and have been a highly successful, multi-year international community capability building effort, reaching students and researchers worldwide. The analysis of large, complex data is a rapidly growing and well-recognized challenge in our community, and this unique training program is aimed at advancing our ability to meet it.”

Staff in CISL and the NCAR Earth System Laboratory Climate and Global Dynamics Division (CGD) have collaborated for 14 years to provide an award-winning series of training workshops for the NCAR Command Language (NCL). CISL currently has two teachers: Software Engineer Mary Haley is the NCL Group Head and NCL Product Owner, and Software Engineer Dave Brown is the NCL Chief Architect. Dennis Shea is an Associate Scientist IV in CGD, and he has been teaching NCL workshops for all 14 years. NCL is a free, interpreted language designed specifically for geoscientific data analysis and visualization. To date, NCAR staff has taught a total of 70 workshops to 1,080 students at universities and research centers worldwide. The NCL workshops are 3-1/2 days in length with morning lectures and intensive hands-on labs in the afternoons.

In 2012, Dennis Shea, Mary Haley, and Dave Brown received UCAR’s Education and Outreach Award for their NCL workshops. In 2005, the entire NCL Group received UCAR’s 2005 Scientific/Technical Advancement Award for NCL’s substantial improvements in NCAR’s scientific and/or technical capabilities. In 1996, NCL training materials received an International Online Communication Competition award from the Society for Technical Communication.

NCL class for meteorolgists in Brazil
Guilherme Martins (right) with some of his NCL workshop participants before the launch of a sounding balloon in Brazil. They analyzed and visualized the data from this field experiment during the afternoon lab sessions of his 21-23 August workshop.

These workshops are tailored to researchers and students in the geosciences. Targeted toward students’ specific needs, participants use their own datasets for analysis and visualization rather than simplified datasets and examples. The instructors work with students individually during the labs, so by the end of the workshop most students have developed nearly complete NCL scripts and programs that produce meaningful results from their data. A comprehensive overview of a typical workshop appears on the NCL website.

If you are interested in hosting an NCL workshop at your site, please review Hosting an NCL Workshop, then fill out the Request Form.

Plans have begun to expand NCL workshops into online courses. The NCL team is interested in offering a set of webinars (web-based seminars) on various topics. These webinars can be attended live, and they will be archived so researchers 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. The first webinar is tentatively scheduled for February 2014. You can check the NCL Announcements for updates as they become available.

If you are interested in producing NCL training classes at your university or research institute – in the U.S. or another country – please send an email to Mary Haley and describe your interest.