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UW Atmospheric Science Professor Receives National Water Research Award

May 21, 2012

Bart Geerts , a professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Atmospheric Science , has made a national "impact" with his cloud-seeding research.

Geerts won the first-ever National Institutes for Water Resources ( NIWR ) Program IMPACT Award , which recognizes the nation's best federal research projects funded by the Water Resources Research Act (WRRA). The award acknowledges both the institutes and the outstanding projects sponsored.

Geerts' project is titled "Detecting the Signature of Glaciogenic Cloud Seeding in Orographic Snowstorms in Wyoming Using the Wyoming Cloud Radar." This project was funded by the Wyoming Water Resources Research Institute (one of 54 such institutes nationwide) at UW through the university's Office of Water Programs ( OWP ). Housed at land-grant universities, the institutes assist the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), other collaborators and the nation in advancing water knowledge and management.

"Because it is (related to) water, it can't get much bigger in Wyoming, and having a nationally recognized institute project is simply outstanding," says Bill Gern, UW's vice president for research and economic development .

"It demonstrates renewed interest in the utility of cloud seeding to enhance precipitation and improve water availability," Geerts says of the award's significance to him. "The award also demonstrates recognition that controlled experiments are useful in the study of the role of cloud-active aerosol in the climate system."

Due to water shortages and droughts in some states and in countries around the world, cloud seeding is seen as a potential way to increase water supplies for communities and for irrigation of crops.

In 2005, the Wyoming State Legislature approved a weather modification study administered by the Wyoming Water Development Office . In addition to engaging Geerts, the study, titled "Wyoming Weather Modification Pilot Program (WWMMP)," also utilizes the National Center for Atmospheric Research ( NCAR ) to provide scientific verification.

Geerts' research -- one of eight institute projects nationally that received final consideration -- focuses on cloud seeding, a process in which silver iodide is released into the clouds through generators strategically placed upwind of the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre ranges. The silver iodide facilitates ice crystal formation. Geerts uses lidar and radar to collect data. Lidar, or light detection and ranging, is an optical remote sensing technology that can detect and measure cloud droplets in the atmosphere.

"Snowfall over mountains is more complex than we thought," Geerts says. "For many years, commercial interests have supported ground-based, glaciogenic (which means "forming ice crystals") cloud-seeding efforts over mountains to increase precipitation. Suitable cloud-seeding conditions may exist, but such conditions are not adequately understood, and difficult to predict."

"He's (Geerts) actually up in the sky looking at it (cloud seeding), while NCAR is on the ground, scientifically validating the cloud-seeding processes," says Greg Kerr, director of UW's OWP. Kerr nominated Geerts for the award and provided funding for his project through the Institute's Water Research Program.

UW's OWP administers the Wyoming Water Research Program (WRP), including activities under NIWR. The Wyoming Water Development Commission provides matching funds to OWP's Water Research Program, Gern says. The WRP is a federal, state and UW cooperative program that provides grant funds for water-related research and student training.

For his IMPACT Award, Geerts will receive a certificate at the Universities Council on Water Resources ( UCOWR )/NIWR annual conference in Sante Fe, N.M., July 17-19. Geerts also has been invited to present a summary of his research at that time. UW's NIWR Institute also will be recognized at the conference, Kerr says.

Before advancing to the national level and winning, Geerts' project first won the regional competition over eight other Western institutes, Kerr says.

Kerr believes Geerts' research project was chosen for the award because it was truly an outstanding project that would produce the greatest potential impact on water supply enhancement.

"We truly appreciate your efforts and believe the results of your study can help us understand and protect our precious water resources," NIWR President Jeffrey S. Allen wrote in a May 8 award letter to Geerts.

Bart Geerts, a UW professor of atmospheric science, won the first-ever National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR) Program IMPACT Award, which recognizes the nation's best federal research projects funded by the Water Resources Research Act (WRRA). The award acknowledges both the institutes and the outstanding projects sponsored.


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