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 Tuesday, October 23, 2007 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Institute Spotlight - CIRES
By Corey H. Jones, junior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Encompassing a strong source of vitality, the institutes at CU-Boulder foster highly specialized environments while creating exclusive and exciting educational experiences for faculty and students. In this series, we survey these integral units that seek to support a wide range of research endeavors and address important, real-world concerns. Part two of this series features the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) explores a diverse spectrum of earth system science while maintaining a commitment to communicating research on a societal level. The joint institute of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and CU-Boulder celebrates its 40th anniversary this fall. 

Established as NOAA’s first cooperative institute in 1967, CIRES operates as an interdisciplinary research environment that unites the visions of government and academic researchers and administrators from diverse fields.

“CIRES continues to be the world leader in environmental sciences as we are committed to identifying and pursuing innovative research and to fostering public awareness of this research,” Director Konrad Steffen said. 

NOAA currently supports 21 cooperative institutes in 17 states as part of the agency’s Cooperative Institutes Program. Now comprised of over 500 individuals, including fellows, faculty and students, CIRES is NOAA’s largest cooperative institute. The institute addresses science topics that include climate change and weather, geology, ozone in the atmosphere and water quality.

“A lot of the research at CIRES is directed at helping society understand the environmental challenges that we face because our science does have an impact that extends beyond the people who research it,” said Susan Buhr, the CIRES education and outreach director.

Much of the institute’s work has garnered considerable attention, including observations of frozen places and their responses and reactions to climate change. Earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited a CIRES research camp in Greenland. The institute also contributed to the international report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recently received the Nobel Peace Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore.

According to Steffen, CIRES’ focus on collaboration allows it to distinctively bridge disciplinary boundaries. The institute’s research spans six major divisions: Cryospheric and Polar Processes; Ecosystem Science; Environmental Chemistry; Environmental Observations, Modeling and Forecasting; Solid Earth Sciences; and Weather and Climate Dynamics.

The interdisciplinary types of research allow the institute to push the boundaries of earth system science. While Graduate Research Fellow Nik Buenning primarily researches the impact of climate change on surface processes such as water and climate cycles, he also works with researchers from other areas of study. “As a CIRES student, I get to interact more with faculty outside of my academic department and also discuss my research with experts at NOAA,” he said.

CIRES also engages five research centers on the CU-Boulder campus.

The institute emphasizes a strong commitment to education and outreach as well. The CIRES outreach staff develops programs like K-12 education outreach programs, local workshops and national presentations in order to communicate the institute’s scientific expertise to the larger community.

“It is an essential connection, and the Colorado community has a huge resource of knowledge and expertise with CIRES,” Buhr said. “The more that we can keep the lines of communication open and active, the better our research is for every one.”

Festivities to commemorate the institute’s 40th year will include a traveling photographic exhibition, titled “Antarctica—Passion and Obsession,” open to the public Nov. 1.

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