Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies

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Mission
To explore, establish and quantify the variability and predictability of Earth's climate variations
on seasonal to decadal time scales through the use of state-of-the-art dynamical coupled ocean, land, atmosphere models, and to harvest this predictability for societally beneficial predictions.

The Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA), located in Calverton, Maryland, is a unique institution which allows earth scientists from several disciplines to work closely together on interdisciplinary research related to variability and predictability of Earth's climate on seasonal to decadal time scales. The scientific premise for research at COLA is that there is a predictable element of the Earth's current climate that makes it possible to accurately forecast climate variations. While the chaotic nature of the global atmosphere is known to impose a limit on the predictability of the state of the climate at a given instant, the hypothesis behind COLA's research suggests that there is predictability in the midst of chaos, and that accurate climate forecasts with lead times longer than the inherent limit of deterministic predictability are possible.

In order to critically examine the hypothesis, COLA scientists utilize numerical models of the Earth's global atmosphere, world oceans and land surface biosphere in numerical predictability experiments and experimental predictions, and use advanced techniques for analysis of observational and model data. By seeking to always use the best available climate models, COLA scientists remain on the leading edge of research advancements. By tightly coupling the predictability research and experimental predictions for real observed climate situations, COLA scientists find that the predictability results provide guidance for improving the experimental forecast, and the prediction results can be applied directly to experimental design for studying predictability and improving prediction models.

To quote the COLA Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC): "COLA is a relatively small scientific research center devoted to an improved understanding of climate variability on seasonal to interannual time scales. The quality of the personnel and the focus of their effort on the seasonal to interannual prediction problem make COLA a preeminent institution that provides national leadership in this area, which is crucial to the nation's effort to provide better climate forecast services. COLA makes major contributions through: (a) independent evaluation of the characteristics of the nation's leading models for climate variability and climate change; (b) leadership among the community working toward improved understanding and prediction of climate variability on seasonal to interannual time scales; and (c) highly valued and widely used information technology for the efficient exchange and utilization of climate model and observational data."

Education - The education of the next generation of atmospheric and oceanic modelers is critical to the advancement of our science and the improvement of our understanding of the predictability and variability of the Earth's climate. Several members of the COLA research staff are actively engaged in graduate student advising, teaching courses, and leading training workshops at a number of universities and other organizations. A relationship has been established with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where scientists from COLA have developed a curriculum and are helping to establish a doctoral degree program in climate dynamics.

Support - COLA is widely considered to be a shining example of the successful way that cooperation and coordination among the federal agencies that support climate research has led to greater, more flexible and more creative federal support for basic research in climate variability and change. Support for COLA research is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The supercomputing resources that have been made available by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NASA Center for Computational Sciences and NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division have been instrumental in the successful execution of the COLA research agenda. The scientific and technical activities at COLA are critically reviewed periodically by a Scientific Advisory Committee composed of highly respected leaders in the field.