Atmospheres 2004 Technical Highlights: Section 2 Staff, Organization, and Facilities

The diverse staff of the Laboratory for Atmospheres is made up of scientists, engineers, technicians, administrative assistants, and resource analysts, with a total staff of about 300.

The civil servant composition of the Laboratory consists of 70 members, plus 14 co-located members (4 resource analysts, 1 scientist, 1 project manager, 4 engineers, and 4 technicians). Of the 70 in-house civil servants, 62 are scientists, 2 are engineers, and 1 a technical manager. Out of the 64 civil servant scientists and engineers, 90% hold doctoral degrees.

An integral part of the Laboratory staff is composed of onsite research associates and contractors. The research associates are primarily members of joint centers between the Earth Sciences Directorate and nearby university associations (JCET1, GEST2, and ESSIC3), or are employed by universities with which the Laboratory has a collaborative relationship, such as George Mason University, University of Arizona, and Georgia Tech. Out of the 74 research associates, 84% hold Ph.D.’s. The onsite contractors are a very important component of the staffing of the Laboratory. Out of the total of 142 onsite contractors, 22% hold Ph.D.’s. The makeup of our Laboratory, therefore, is 28% are civil servants, 25% are associates, and 47% are contractors.

The refereed publication output of the Laboratory members is shown in Figure 2-1. The difference between the red and blue bars gives the number of papers that our scientists co-authored with outside scientists and is one measure of our extensive collaboration. The reduced numbers in 2004 is due in part to the spin off of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO), which is no longer a part of our Laboratory, and to the implementation of full cost accounting, which necessitates increased time spent on proposal writing.

Bar graph showing the number of refereed publications by Laboratory for Atmospheres members over the years.

Figure 2-1. Number of refereed publications by Laboratory for Atmospheres members over the years. The red bar is the total number of publications where a Laboratory member is the first author or co-author, and the blue bar is the number of publications where a Laboratory member is first author.

1 Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology
2 Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center
3 Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center

2.2 Organization

The management structure for the Laboratory for Atmospheres during 2004 is shown in Figure 2-2.

Figure 2-2. Laboratory for Atmospheres organization chart during calendar year 2004.

As a result of the Exploration Initiative and the transformation/reorganization of NASA GSFC, our new organization chart appears in Figure 2-3.

Figure 2-3. Laboratory for Atmospheres organization chart after the transformation, for calendar year 2005.

2.3 Branch Descriptions

The Laboratory has traditionally been organized into branches; however, we work on science projects that are becoming more and more cross-disciplinary. Branch members collaborate with each other within their branch, across branches, and across Divisions within the Directorate. Some of the recent cross-disciplinary research themes of interest in the Laboratory are the Global Water and Energy Cycle, Carbon Cycle, Weather and Short-Term Climate Forecasting, Long-Term Climate Change, Atmospheric Chemistry, Aerosols, and Planetary Studies. The employment composition of the Senior Staff Office (910) and the four Branches is broken down by Civil Servant, Associate, and Contractor are shown in Figure 2-4.

Figure 2-4. Employment composition of the members of the Laboratory for Atmospheres

A brief description is given for each of the Laboratory’s four Branches. Later, in Section 5, the Branch Heads summarize the science goals and achievements of their branches. The Branch summaries are supplemented by a selection of press releases and samples of highlighted journal articles, given in Appendices A1 and A2, respectively.

Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Branch, Code 912

The mission of this Branch is to understand the physics and dynamics of atmospheric processes through the use of satellite, airborne, and surface-based remote sensing observations and computer-based simulations. Development of advanced remote sensing instrumentation (primarily lidar) and techniques to measure meteorological parameters in the troposphere is an important focus. Key areas of investigation are cloud and precipitation systems and their environments, including aerosols, from the scale of individual clouds and thunderstorms to mesoscale convective systems and cyclonic storms, and their climate impacts at regional and global scales. The processes constituting the interaction of the atmosphere with the land and ocean surface are also of high priority. The Branch, therefore, focuses its research on all aspects of the atmospheric hydrologic cycle, its connections to the global energy cycle, and associated hazards. The Branch also seeks to contribute to the formulation of mission concepts to support planetary exploration, both measurements and modeling concerned with the assessment of meteorological hazards. Further information about Branch activities may be found on the Web (

Climate and Radiation Branch, Code 913

The Climate and Radiation Branch has a threefold mission:

(1) to understand, assess, and predict climate variability and change, including the impact of natural forcings and human activities on climate now and in the future;

(2) to assess the impacts of climate variability and change on society; and

(3) to consider strategies for adapting to, and mitigating, climate variability and change.

To address this mission, a wide-scale range is studied, from the microscale to the Sun–Earth distance in space, and from microsecond to geologic in time. Research focus areas include tropospheric aerosols, cloud processes, rainfall, solar radiation, and surface properties. Key disciplines are radiative transfer, both as a driver for climate change and as a tool for the remote sensing of parameters of the Earth’s climate system; climate theory and modeling over the full range of scales; and the development of new methods for the analysis of climate data. Ongoing projects in cooperation with NASA partners address gaps in the current climate observing system, development and deployment of new instruments, and planning for future space-based and in situ missions. Further information about Branch activities may be found on the Web (

Atmospheric Experiment Branch, Code 915

The Atmospheric Experiment Branch carries out experimental investigations to further our understanding of the formation and evolution of various solar system objects such as planets, their satellites, and comets. Investigations address the composition and structure of planetary atmospheres, and the physical phenomena occurring in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The Branch developed and is constantly refining neutral gas, ion, and gas chromatograph mass spectrometers to measure atmospheric gas composition using entry probes and orbiting satellites. Further information about Branch activities may be found on the Web ( In early 2005, the Atmospheric Experiment Branch moved out of our Laboratory to reside in the new Solar System Exploration Division as a laboratory. Our former Branch is playing a leading role in the new Exploration Initiative.

Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Branch, Code 916

The Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Branch conducts research on remote sensing of aerosols and atmospheric trace gases from satellite, aircraft, and ground, and develops computer-based models to understand and predict the long-term evolution of the ozone layer and changes in global air quality caused by human activity. Recent focus has been on understanding the interaction between atmospheric chemistry and climate change. The Branch develops and maintains research quality, long-term data sets of ozone, aerosols, and surface UV radiation for assessment of the health of the ozone layer and its environmental impact. It continues its long history of providing science leadership for NASA’s atmospheric chemistry satellites, such as TOMS and UARS, and the recently launched EOS Aura. The Aura satellite hosts four advanced atmospheric chemistry instruments designed to study the evolution of stratospheric ozone, climate, and air quality. Analysis of Aura data will be the central focus of the Branch activities in the coming years. Further information on Branch activities may be found on the Web (

Branch Web sites may also be found by clicking on the Laboratory home page (

2.4 Facilities

Computing Capabilities

Computing capabilities used by the Laboratory range from high-performance supercomputers to scientific workstations to desktop personal computers. Each Branch maintains its own system of computers, which are a combination of Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X computers. The major portion of scientific data analysis and manipulation, and image viewing is still done on the cluster machines with increasing amounts of data analysis and imaging done on single user personal computers.

Mass Spectrometry

The Atmospheric Experiment Branch’s Mass Spectrometry Laboratory is equipped with unique facilities for designing, fabricating, assembling, calibrating, and testing flight-qualified mass spectrometers used for atmospheric sampling. The facility has been used to develop instruments for exploring the atmospheres of Earth, Venus, Saturn, and Mars (on orbiting spacecraft), and of Jupiter and Titan (on probes). The Branch has moved out of our Laboratory and now resides in the Solar System Exploration Division.


The Laboratory has well-equipped facilities to develop lidar systems for airborne and ground-based measurements of aerosols, methane, ozone, water vapor, pressure, temperature, and winds. Lasers capable of generating radiation from 266 nm to beyond 1,000 nm are available, as is a range of sensitive photon detectors for use throughout this wavelength region. Details may be found in the Laboratory for Atmospheres Instrument Systems Report (NASA-TP-2005-212783).

Radiometric Calibration and Development Facility

The Radiometric Calibration and Development Facility (RCDF) supports the calibration and development of instruments for ground- and space-based observations for atmospheric composition including gases and aerosols. As part of the Earth Observing System (EOS) calibration program, the RCDF provides calibrations for all national and international ultraviolet and visible (UV/VIS) space-borne solar backscatter instruments, which include the Solar Ultraviolet/Version 2 (SBUV/2) and Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) instruments, and the European backscatter instruments flying on Envisat and Aura. The RCDF also provides laboratory resources for developing and testing of advanced space-borne instruments being developed in the Laboratory for Atmospheres. In addition, ground-based sky-viewing instruments used for research and validation measurements of chemistry missions, such as Envisat and Aura, are also supported in the RCDF. The facility maintains state-of-the-art instrument radiometric test equipment and has a close relationship with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for maintaining radiometric standards. For further information contact Ernest Hilsenrath (