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National Science Foundation

Sky | Background

The sea, land, ice, life and people of Earth are all connected by the 'sky'-- Earth's atmosphere, neighboring geospace, and the Sun. Climate and weather are the result of atmospheric conditions, which are in a constant state of flux. Variables including air density, temperature, moisture content, wind currents, chemical composition and aerosol content, just to name a few, determine weather and climate. Because of the complexity of the interactions of atmospheric variables, forecasting the future is no easy task. It's no coincidence that many of the world's leading researchers in climate and atmospheric science are experts in chaos theory.

NSF funds atmospheric research at all levels--from single investigator projects to major centers devoted to research and education. NSF-funded research covers all areas of atmospheric science, from the troposphere (lower atmosphere) to the stratosphere (upper atmosphere).

One of NSF's major investments in sky research is the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) located in Boulder, Colo. Using various tools and techniques, including climate models, radar, weather-balloon observations and satellite data, NCAR climate researchers are working to understand the impacts of global and regional climate variability and change.

Computational modeling is one of the most essential tools used by climate scientists. Researchers develop climate models to simulate the interactions of the varying factors that influence Earth's atmosphere. Models are essential tools for climate scientists, because it is not possible to recreate the atmosphere and its interactions with Earth's systems in a laboratory. As researchers learn more about the effects and interactions of the different components of the climate system, they can increase the complexity of climate models.