NCL training reaches out to universities

By Brian Bevirt
04/23/2012 - 12:00am
NCL workshop at UH
Mary Haley (left) and Dennis Shea (rear) provide one-on-one guidance to help workshop participants analyze and visualize their data. —Photo by Ronil Prasad, USP FijiParticipants at the UH NCL workshop
Participants from the University of Hawai'i and University of the South Pacific at the March 2012 NCL workshop. —Photo by Dennis Shea

Staff in CISL/VETS and NESL/CGD have collaborated for 11 years to provide a series of training workshops for the NCAR Command Language (NCL) – a free, interpreted language designed specifically for geoscientific data analysis and visualization. These workshops provide undergraduate and graduate students with skills in using powerful tools for scientific research, along with some programming skills to improve their employment potential after they graduate.

NCL workshops are co-taught by two instructors, an NCL developer and an experienced scientific user. Rather than using scripted exercises and examples, students bring their own datasets and learn to analyze and visualize them. Both instructors interact closely with all students during the labs, and by the end of the workshop, most students have created NCL programs that produce meaningful results from their data.

On 13-16 March 2012, Dennis Shea (CGD) and Mary Haley (CISL) presented the NCL workshop for 14 students and faculty of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Also attending were five more students from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. Organized and hosted by Gwen Jacobs, University of Hawai'i Interim Director of Cyberinfrastructure, this workshop is part of CISL’s outreach to qualified students from EPSCoR universities. (EPSCoR universities are located in states that are deemed to be underserved by federal research and education funding. The goal of the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research – EPSCoR – is to balance national research and education support by strengthening it in these states.)

A supporting organizer was Dr. Elisabeth Holland of the University of the South Pacific (USP), Fiji and formerly a senior scientist in NCAR’s Atmospheric Chemistry Division. She summarized her motivation for sending USP students to this workshop in a letter to Mary Haley:

WCRP and WMO [the World Climate Research Programme and the World Meteorological Organization] are increasingly recognizing the need for climate change capacity building in the developing world. The South Pacific is sitting on the front lines of climate change. There is a crying need for educating students in how to use available global and regional climate model output. The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Pacific Centre for the Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD) are central to this capacity building. USP has 13 member nations and draws students from throughout the South Pacific. Many of the PACE-SD students come from the government ministries, including the Ministries of the Environment of Tuvalu and Fiji and the Meteorologic Services of the region. These students come to USP to ensure that they have the best possible information to guide their countries and communities in the face of climate change. USP is proudly a UCAR International Affiliate.

At USP, we are currently in year 2 of a large EU project to develop climate change action plans for 40 communities in 15 nations in the South Pacific, and it is critical that we establish climate projections for the region. Training our students as quickly as possible is also critical. I am working with the U.S. embassy to secure long-term funding from USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] for this activity and training. The project and your training could be a template for how to bridge the gap and make climate data useable by communities.”

Dennis Shea at Jackson State University in April 2012
Dennis Shea lectures at Jackson State University. —Photo by Kantave Greene, JSU
NCL workshop participants at JSU in April 2012
Participants at the April 2012 JSU workshop. —Photo by JSU student

Mary Haley and Dennis Shea also presented their NCL workshop at Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, Mississippi on 2-5 April 2012. This workshop was hosted by Dr. Wilbur Walters, Interim Chair of the Department of Physics, Atmospheric and Geosciences, and it was organized by Meteorology professor Kantave Greene. The 16 participants included 11 JSU students and faculty, 3 staff from the National Weather Service in Jackson, and 2 students from the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

Professor Greene requested the workshop after learning about it on the NCL website. He is teaching students how to use the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) and then post-process their data. NCL specializes in supporting this workflow. To ensure that all of the participants’ WRF processing needs were covered, Mary and Dennis collected user datasets before the workshop and used them to prepare live demonstrations. Professor Greene participated in the workshop and will use these demo scripts in his meteorology classes to teach future students how to analyze WRF data using NCL.

The NCL workshops are a unique contribution to the computational Earth System sciences. Three more workshops are scheduled for 2012: in June and October at NCAR, and in September at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut.