Boulder is an undisputed mecca for aerospace and atmospheric research. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a critical member of this community, directing and stimulating atmospheric and Earth science research on a local and national level.
As a science research partner to CU’s Aerospace Engineering Sciences (AES) Department, NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory (HAO) endeavors to “understand the behavior of the Sun and its impact on the Earth, to support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the university community and the broader scientific community, nationally and internationally, and to foster the transfer of knowledge and technology.”
HAO can trace its roots to a solar observatory founded by astronomer Walter Orr Roberts and his doctoral advisor in Climax, Colorado in 1940. Including one of the Western hemisphere's first coronographs, this observatory provided invaluable information on potential disturbances in terrestrial radio communications during World War II. This humble observatory ultimately evolved into HAO and was relocated to CU in the late 1940's (For more info on the history of HAO, click here).
Dr. Delores Knipp, a Research Professor in AES and a Senior Research Associate at HAO seeks every opportunity to enhance space weather knowledge transfer between AES and HAO.
Knipp’s involvement in space weather research stemmed from a background in meteorology in the US Air Force, as she reflects: “I started off as a meteorologist. I enjoyed the things I could see in the atmosphere, though I suppose it was the things I couldn’t see that especially intrigued me.”
During her 20-plus year careeer at the Air Force Academy, Knipp developed the Academy’s meteorology program and introduced a space weather course. Over time, Knipp’s research evolved to encompass the relationship between terrestrial and space weather.
In 2008, Knipp transitioned to the Boulder-based HAO. However, her departure from academia was brief; just two years later, she accepted an invitation from Professor Jeff Forbes to teach a CU course on the “Aerospace Environment.”
Knipp explains her desire to maintain university ties: “Fundamentally, I love to teach. It is exciting to be working with students that ask challenging questions and open up new directions of research. Even though HAO does not have formal academics, I have taught a space weather summer course through HAO for over ten years.”Coupled with Knipp’s passion for teaching is an extensive fascination with physics of space weather—the “weather” that affects satellite motion, satellite operations and communication to and from satellites.
“My research relates to the energy that comes in from the Sun in bursts of X-rays and bubbles of ejected gas and causes the atmosphere to respond. I am looking into the sources of that energy, it’s variability in the upper atmosphere, how it manifests, and how it escapes.”
Though Knipp has historically been “intrigued” by the energy deposited in the atmosphere due to electromagnetic coupling, she is preparing for new areas of investigation:
“We have recently learned that a region of space that we thought was pretty quiet, the ‘polar cap area,’ has very large influxes of energy. We don’t know what’s causing it. [My research group] anticipates that the Air Force will call for further research in this area, and we have submitted a proposal.”
At CU, Knipp spearheads the Space Environment Data Analysis (SEDA) Group. This group specializes in analyzing data stored at the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) on the NOAA campus. She explains:
“The Department of Defense has operated the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program since the late 1970s. A large fraction of the data that relates to space is archived at the NGDC. Decades of archived satellite data are largely untapped. My graduate students are developing new ways of grouping data that not only extract the average patterns, but the patterns of variability.”
In both a physical and metaphorical sense, CU serves as a link between the NGDC and HAO communities for Knipp: “When I am in [the CU AES] department, I physically sit between HAO and NGCD. From on one of these locations I can look at how to use historical and present day data to validate models and to address surprising and unanswered questions.”
In addition to her HAO and CU involvement, Knipp serves as Editor-in-Chief of Space Weather, the American Geophysical Union’s applied science journal. This position not only offers Knipp an opportunity to cultivate effective communication of space physics; it also enables her to spotlight student publications. To Knipp, it is crucial that “young and developing scientists see the importance of their work and have an opportunity to publish.”
Though deeply entrenched in the national space weather scene, Knipp sees great value in being a member of the Boulder, specifically the CU, research community:
“The [CU AES department] is very bridged. We touch a large number of institutions and government agencies, not to mention industry. In my mind, the academic and research opportunities in Boulder are unparalleled.. The center of research excellence in my field is here - so here I am.”
-Written By: Ari Sandberg, Intern