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UW Department of Atmospheric Science Graduate Students Selected for Early Career Awards

September 30, 2022
woman standing beside a poster
UW graduate student Geethma Werapitiya, of Colombo, Sri Lanka, presents her poster on the topic “Insight into Cold Air Outbreak Surface Wind Speed Through Remote Sensing, Perturbed Parameter Ensembles and Global Storm Resolving Models.” (Asiri Thilakarathna Photo)

Two University of Wyoming Department of Atmospheric Science graduate students recently won student paper awards at the third annual Pan Global Atmospheric System Studies (Pan-GASS) meeting, Understanding and Modeling Atmospheric Processes (UMAP 2022).

The gathering was hosted by the Global Energy and Water Exchanges (GEWEX) project and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) in Monterey, Calif.

UW’s Geethma Werapitiya, from Colombo, Sri Lanka, won the PanGASS-GEWEX student travel prize.

“I was extremely glad when I saw the email sent by the GEWEX team with the news that I had been granted the PanGASS-GEWEX student travel prize,” Werapitiya says. “The Pan-GASS meeting was the first conference where I presented my research work. It was an invaluable opportunity for me, as I got to meet leading scientists in the field and was able to share my work with them. Getting this award motivated me to present my best output at the Pan-GASS meeting.”

Fellow graduate student August Mikkelsen, from Seattle, won the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Early Career Competition Award.

“Truthfully, while I was thrilled to hear that I had won the award, actually giving the talk was a bit terrifying,” Mikkelsen says. “Normally, I don’t mind public speaking, but giving the first talk of my scientific career to a hall of 150 professional scientists certainly tested my nerves. That said, I’m very grateful for receiving the award and thankful for the travel funding -- I couldn’t have attended Pan-GASS otherwise.”

UMAP 2022 brought together weather and climate scientists, including both observationalists and modelers, to discuss the key issues of atmospheric science. The program included all aspects and methods of model development from deterministic numerics to stochastic forcing; process modeling to parametrization; observational constraints to diagnostic techniques; and idealized modeling to operational forecasting and climate predictions.

The purpose of the conference was to discuss progress in understanding atmospheric processes and representing them in models, to coordinate current initiatives and make plans for the future.

man speaking to an audience with a large screen in the background
UW graduate student August Mikkelsen, of Seattle, begins his talk on aerosol-cloud interactions along extratropical cyclone fronts. (Geethma Werapitiya Photo)

“The recognition of Geethma's and August’s research at Pan-GASS reflects their hard work putting together their applications,” says Department of Atmospheric Science Assistant Professor Daniel McCoy. “An important part of this is their ability to clearly present their results and how their research is relevant to the WCRP community.”

Competitors submitted extended abstracts of their papers that were reviewed by the conference organizing committee.

Werapitiya’s abstract is titled “Insight into Cold Air Outbreak Surface Wind Speed Through Remote Sensing, Perturbed Parameter Ensembles and Global Storm Resolving Models.” The paper describes the surface wind speed bias between remote-sensing data and global climate models in cold air outbreaks over Northern Hemisphere extratropical oceans. This work presents four main hypotheses behind this significant bias. It works on understanding how cold pool formation and model resolution affect the representation of wind in global models. These hypotheses are studied using CMIP6 models, perturbed parameter ensembles and global storm-resolving models.

Mikkelsen’s abstract is titled “Understanding the Importance of Extra-Tropical Cyclones for the North Atlantic Free-Tropospheric Aerosol Budget.” The talk addressed preliminary work on an ambitious, collaborative project with Carnegie Mellon University, with the aim of using observations and models to more specifically quantify the effects of aerosols on clouds and precipitation along marine extratropical cyclone clouds and fronts, as well as the part these cyclones play in the long-range transportation of aerosols.

“Recognition of student research at a highly visible conference like Pan-GASS reflects the research-active student culture in the department, as well as our commitment to getting our students out in front of an audience of other scientists,” McCoy says.

For more information about UW’s Department of Atmospheric Science, visit

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