NCDC Continues to Expand the U.S. Climate Reference Network in Alaska

Map of USCRN Stations in Alaska
Image of Arctic Circle Sign in Alaska

Detecting the signal of climate change requires documentable, defensible scientific data, and NCDC has a number of data sources that provide details for scientists to analyze. Of those sources, the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) is the premiere surface reference network that is designed with climate science in mind. The USCRN is the result of a collaborative partnership between NCDC and NOAA’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) that has been in place since 2000. USCRN stations are placed in pristine environments that are expected to be free of development for many decades, all for the purpose of truly revealing changes in the environment. In fact, the Alaska wilderness is the most recent setting under exploration to locate an additional 17 station sites there, which will bring the overall total of USCRN stations in Alaska to 29 by the 2018 timeframe (budget dependent).

Over a 30-day span during the summer of 2012, as well as on two previous occasions in 2010 and 2011, Rocky Bilotta, a geographer from NCDC-ERT, Inc., and Mark Hall, an engineer from NOAA’s ATDD, traveled thousands of miles throughout Alaska to assess nearly 100 sites that had potential for a station. Sites need to meet specific criteria for selection, and the team surveyed more than 40 locations that met strict geographical and engineering considerations for approval of a new station. Final site selection also involves full coordination with other federal, state, tribal and local agencies to access the surrounding area and to gain legal permits for station installation.

As noted earlier, the ultimate objective is to bring the total number of stations in Alaska to 29 from the 12 current stations to improve monitoring in this climate-sensitive area. Stations are automated and transmit data hourly, providing observations of temperature, precipitation, solar radiation, low-level wind speed, humidity, and ground surface temperature. Through NCDC, as part of its overall climate monitoring efforts, a new component has been commissioned to retrofit established stations with soil moisture and soil temperature sensors, the data from which are very important for understanding climate change. The USCRN has 114 stations in the conterminous U.S. (as well as two stations in Hawaii), and expanding the network in Alaska in order to capture new data will allow NCDC to better characterize the climate conditions that exist and to provide the information to a host of scientists and users, including water and other resource managers, farmers, and Native American corporations in Alaska, and the average citizen. All USCRN data is freely available via the program web site at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/crn.