by William R. Stockwell, Vernon Morris, Everette Joseph, Belay Demoz, Demetrius Venable, Gregory S. Jenkins, and Tsann Yu

Howard University’s combined program of field research and academic training in the atmospheric sciences has proven effective in attracting minority students to the discipline.

Across the United States relatively few minority students are attracted to careers in the atmospheric sciences and air quality. Over a recent 20-year period (1984-2004), only 21 African American and 30 Hispanic students received doctorate degrees in the atmospheric sciences; a national-average of fewer than three per year.1 This is in contrast to the typical output from a single state university, where the production rate may well be five or more doctorate degrees per year.

The employment of greater numbers of minority students in atmospheric science and air pollution- related careers is vital to maintain a vibrant science community. Experiential teaching methods are particularly effective to attract and retain minority students as they apply novel and sophisticated technologies to accomplish their research objec- tives.2 Experience at Howard University has shown that a combined program of field research and academic training is so effective that it could be adopted nationwide to increase the diversity of scientists in other disciplines.

Three programs have played major roles in entraining more minority students into careers in the atmospheric science at Howard University. These include the Howard University Program in Atmospheric Sciences (HUPAS), the NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS), and the Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation (BCCSO). Students are involved in field research and aca- demic study within all three programs.


Atmospheric chemistry is a central discipline in the atmospheric sciences at Howard University because of the impact of air pollution on health and climate. Meteorological and air quality measurements are made at the Howard University Beltsville Atmos- pheric Measurement Site (Howard University Baltimore Campus; HUBC) and onboard NOAA research vessels (Aerosols and Ocean Science Expeditions, AEROSE).2,3

Howard University Beltsville Atmospheric Measurement Site

Many field studies are conducted at HUBC that is located between Washington, DC, and Baltimore near Beltsville, MD.2 Beltsville has facilitated the training of more than 200 students through support of instrumentation workshops, weather camps, un- dergraduate research experiences, and graduate master’s and doctoral thesis research.

The suburban location is an ideal environment for students to perform a broad range of studies in areas such as air quality, boundary layer/dispersion meteorology, aerosol physics, ozone dynamics, and LIDAR applications (see Figure 1). The observing systems deployed at HUBC include a 30-m tower for the continuous measurement of turbulent fluxes of sensible and latent heat, momentum and measurements of the concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and air pollutants (see Figure 2).

The HUBC site is also home to BCCSO, a NASA supported University Research Center at Howard University. BCCSO focuses on atmospheric observ- ing systems and analytical methods that link climate and air pollution. HUBC houses one of the two Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) comprehensive research and air quality monitoring sites in the state. It has been proposed that HUBC become a World Meteorological Organiza- tion’s (WMO) Global Climate Observing Site (GCOS) and a part of WMO’s GCOS Reference Upper-Air Network (GRUAN). HUBC is equipped with a suite of shortwave and longwave radiation measurements, including photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and a multifilter rotating shadowband radiometer (MFRSR). The long-term turbulent exchange and radiation measurements provide a unique opportunity to investigate the effects of aerosols and clouds on climate related issues, including CO2 uptake and water use efficiency.

Balloon-borne sensors for meteorological quantities and ozone are routinely launched at Beltsville. These meteorological measurements, LIDARs (Raman, MPL, and Wind), and MDE 915-MHz wind profiler are used to investigate the effects that turbulent fluxes of sensible and latent heat, and momentum, have on boundary layer height and cloud formation. Beltsville research supports the

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, NOAA, and MDE air quality research programs. The ground-based measurements have been used to validate NASA satellite instrument measure- ments and the data are being used to test the widely used Regional Atmospheric Chemistry Mechanism, Version 2 (RACM2).4

Trans-Atlantic Aerosols and Oceanographic Science Expedition (AEROSE)

The tropical Atlantic Ocean is a region of consid- erable interest in terms of its atmospheric chemistry and meteorology. To investigate this region, while providing extensive training and hands-on experi- ence for students, NCAS has conducted a series of multidisciplinary AEROSE studies onboard the NOAA research ship the Ronald H. Brown to acquire simultaneous in situ and remotely sensed marine and atmospheric data during intensive observing periods.3 AEROSE has grown to become one of the most extensive collections of in situ measure- ments over the tropical Atlantic Ocean.

NCAS has focused on large-scale outflows of Saharan dust that advects out over the Atlantic within persistent stable layers of dry, warm air collectively referred to as the Saharan air layer

(SAL). The SAL aerosols are primarily mineral dust, but they may contain bacteria and other biological material. Other aerosols generated as a byproduct of the extensive biomass burning activities in West Africa are also advected over the Atlantic and have impacts on regional air quality.3 Both the SAL and biomass containing aerosols can affect public health in the Caribbean and East Coast of the United States. Less is known about their impacts on ocean productivity, aerosol indirect effect, and downstream ecosystem health.5

Air Quality Modeling and Process Research

weather-towerHoward University students learn to develop and apply air quality models. They have made important contributions to the development of the Community Multi-scale Air Quality Model (CMAQ) and the Weather Research and Forecasting Model with Chemistry (WRF/CHEM). These models are used by EPA and NOAA to plan air pollution control strategies and for air quality research. For example, Howard University chemistry students helped to develop the new RACM2 for air quality modeling.4 EPA has implemented RACM2 in CMAQ and the integrated model is now being tested. At Howard University, students are working to evaluate RACM2 against field observations made at HUBC and the Desert Research Institute in Reno, NV. It is likely that the RACM2 approach to the organic chemistry will provide better estimates of the production of aerosol from organic compounds than the widely used carbon bond mechanism.

Closing Perspective

All of these programs are at the forefront of a trans- formation in the field of atmospheric sciences and air quality, and already many Howard University students are becoming acknowledged leaders in their field. For example, NCAS has engaged more than 1,300 students in activities that range from summer camps for high school students to graduate work at the Ph.D. level.

During the last few years, HUPAS has produced 16 Ph.D. and 15 MS graduates. Although these numbers seem small, they are significant when compared to the production of minority Ph.D.s nationally. The HUPAS production of African Amer- ican Ph.D.s during the past 10 years has exceeded the total national production over a 20-year period (1984-2004).1,6 Not only has HUPAS doubled the national production rate, but almost 100% of HUPAS graduates are employed in career positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathe- matics fields with nearly 60% working in atmos- pheric sciences. The majority (65%) of its graduates are now working for the federal government with 24% at NOAA.

We believe that experiential research is at the heart of this success. Howard University students have performed research at field sites, on board research ships, and made measurements on NOAA aircraft. They have preformed extensive computer model- ing to analyze their data. We believe that these pro- grams at Howard University will continue to make a very significant impact in the field of atmospheric sciences and air quality research.


  1. Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center. See
  2. Morris, V.; Joseph, E.; Smith, S.; Yu. T-W. The Howard University Program in Atmospheric Sciences (HUPAS): A Program Exemplifying Diversity and Opportunity; J. Geoscience Education 2012, 60, 45-53.
  3. Nalli, N.R.; Joseph, E.; Morris, V.R.; Barnet, C.D.; Wolf, W.W.; Wolfe, D.; Minnett, P.J.; Szczodrak, M.; Izaguirre, M.A.; Lumpkin, R.; Xie, H.; Smirnov, A.; King, T.S.; Wei, J. Multiyear Observations of the Tropical Atlantic Atmosphere: Multidisciplinary Applications of the NOAA Aerosols and Ocean Science Expeditions; Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 2011, 92, 765-789.
  4. Goliff, W.S.; Stockwell, W.R.; Charlene V. Lawson, C.V. The Regional Atmospheric Chemistry Mechanism, Version 2; Atmos. Environ. 2012; Submitted.
  5. Min, Q.-L.; Li, R.; Lin, B.; Joseph, E.; Wang, S.; Hu, Y.; Morris, V.; Chang, F. Evidence of Mineral Dust Altering Cloud Microphysics and Precipitation; Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. 2008, 8, 18893-1891.
  6. Morris, V.; Yu T.-W,; Joseph, E,; Armstrong, R.A.; Detres, Y.; Fitzgerald, R.; Karim, R.; Liang, X.; Min, Q. The NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS): Its Mission, Current Status, and Significant Achievements from 2002-2005; Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 2007, 88, 141.