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Summer 2003
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Providing Education, Data Standardization, Joint Development

NCAR/UCAR and Esri Forge Strategic Relationship

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Radar data dis-played in ArcPad.

Esri and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) are working together to advance GIS within the realm of atmospheric research. In addition, both organizations are exploring the development of atmospheric applications, information, and data models within GIS domains. A key initial project in the newly formed relationship involves GIS education and training for researchers to expand GIS use at NCAR/UCAR. Ultimately the education, training, and development efforts will benefit a variety of audiences associated with GIS and atmospheric science.

There are many long-term benefits that will result. GIS tools and applications will be developed and promoted among atmospheric researchers, and the GIS community will benefit from enormous volumes of atmospheric data and applications brought into GIS environments. Indeed, NCAR/UCAR recently reached a petabyte of information stored through its research efforts, which is the equivalent of 500 billion pages of standard printed text.

"This is a relationship that seeks to help both communities leverage their work together," says Ann Johnson, Esri Education Solutions manager. "Esri will provide its tools to a new audience of scientists and researchers doing important work. These users will also bring an enormous amount of knowledge and data to the GIS community. There are a number of benefits and opportunities that will result."

"We see a lot of potential with Esri software," says Olga Wilhelmi, project scientist with NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group and principal investigator of NCAR's GIS Initiative. "We were investigating existing GIS technologies and saw many benefits in using Esri software at NCAR/UCAR. We see value in spatial analysis and visualization tools and the ability to share our research with a wide range of users. Data integration capability is also important to NCAR/UCAR researchers—bringing together climatological, environmental, and socioeconomic data in a spatial framework is essential for interdisciplinary research."

"Initially, obviously, we want to expose researchers at UCAR to the applicability of GIS," says Terri Betancourt, software engineer with NCAR's Research Applications Program and coprincipal investigator of the GIS Initiative. "But we also want to extend the GIS architecture to meet our scientific needs as well as modify our own software and data to become more compatible with GIS architectures. The wealth of social science data that sources such as the Geography Network make available open up a whole new world for atmospheric and environmental scientists. NCAR/UCAR also looks forward to publishing some of its data to the Geography Network and making relevant atmospheric data available to the public."

Current Relationship Goals

UCAR is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1959 by research institutions with doctoral programs in the atmospheric and related sciences. UCAR was formed to enhance the computing and observational capabilities of the universities and to focus on scientific problems that are beyond the scope of a single university. NCAR was established in 1960 to serve as a focus for research on atmospheric and related science problems and is recognized for its scientific contributions to our understanding of the earth system including climate change, changes in atmospheric composition, Earth-Sun interactions, weather formation and forecasting, and the impacts of all of these components on human societies. The center is operated by UCAR under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

The current goal of the GIS Initiative is to develop an integrated GIS program that is aimed to promote and support the use of GIS as both an analysis and an infrastructure tool in atmospheric research. To do this, both organizations are working on education projects for NCAR/UCAR researchers and joint development tasks aimed at facilitating the optimized integration of complex atmospheric analysis and data within a GIS environment.

NCAR/UCAR recently acquired a site license for the entire spectrum of Esri software including ArcGIS, ArcSDE, and ArcIMS. Esri is actively training NCAR/UCAR staff to extend how it uses GIS as part of its ongoing efforts.

Both organizations will collaborate on the advancement of GIS to support atmospheric research areas such as data visualization, data modeling, spatial analysis, and dynamic modeling.

In addition to educating NCAR/UCAR staff on the use and benefits of GIS, Esri and NCAR/UCAR will work together educating others via UCAR's many outreach programs for teaching students in K-12 schools, higher education, and professional arenas.

NCAR/UCAR senior management see very strong possibilities for the integration of GIS into much of the atmospheric information management and modeling efforts that underpin UCAR's mission. They also understand that atmospheric scientists have traditionally worked outside of generalized GIS frameworks—developing their own customized visualization, analysis, and data modeling tools.

To date, several steps have been taken to strengthen this relationship. NCAR/UCAR's technical leaders, educators, and application development staff have received Esri GIS education and training.

Development efforts are underway to explore and discuss the data modeling opportunities of GIS and how it might be extended, integrated, or otherwise made interoperable with data modeling approaches taken in atmospheric science.

For more information, contact Terri Layne Betancourt, NCAR (e-mail:, tel.: 303-497-8489) or Ann Johnson, Esri (e-mail:; tel.: 909-793-2853, ext.1-1793).

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