75 Years of the Air Resources Laboratory

Offering a range atmospheric transport and dispersion modeling capabilities to the nation.

In 2023, NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory’s (ARL) celebrates 75 years of service to the nation. Originally founded to trace dispersion during wartime, the same atmospheric transport and dispersion capabilities have since been applied to a range of peacetime uses that serve to improve human health and quality of life.

The evolution of the Laboratory’s Research and Development is intertwined with national and international developments. The following table shows some important societal issues that occurred within each decade from 1940 to 2010, and it relates these issues with key ARL research and development activities in the areas of atmospheric dispersion, surface atmospheric exchange, and boundary layer measurements and characterization.

Timeline of ARL activities and national needs and priorities during each decade of ARL research.
1949: Soviet nuclear detection originally drawn by hand and demonstrated by ARL's Lester Machta. Source: Machta, L., 1992: Finding the Site of the First Soviet Nuclear Test in 1949. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 73, 1797–1806, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477(1992)073<1797:FTSOTF>2.0.CO;2.
A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-29A-20-BN Superfortress (s/n 42-94012) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona (USA). Such planes were used to detect evidence of Soviet nuclear testing in 1949. Image credit: US DOD: https://media.defense.gov/2008/Jan/29/2000403925/-1/-1/0/080129-F-3927S-234.JPG
1964: Towers at the Idaho National Laboratory installation.
1964: Installing the towers and other meteorological equipment at the Idaho National Laboratory site.
1990s: ARL staff in the early 1990s at the Silver Spring office.
2002. ARL FRD Director Tim Crawford with the LongEZ used during the Coupled Boundary Layers Air-Sea Transfer light wind (CBLAST-Low) field study. Image credit: NOAA
1990 - ATDD staff pose outside the building in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
2007 - Servicing the meteorological towers is an important part of the field work.
1991 - Oil fires in Kuwait were monitored and modeled by ARL staff members to provide dispersion forecasts.
2021: Lidar Installed on Commerce Building
Landscape in shadow during eclipse totality
2016: Total solar eclipse totality at Ten Mile, Tennessee. Credit: Michael Buban, NOAA/ARL/ATDD
2020 Ed Dumas operates the Meteomatics UAS at Oliver Springs in September 2020.
Three people attaching the sUAS to its catapult.
2016: ATDD's Flight Team loads the BlackSwift S2 sUAS onto a catapult for its maiden launch on February 26, 2019 in Tennessee. Credit: NOAA
1980's NASA/USAF plane taking meteorological data on the Idaho National Laboratory site.

For Further Reading

Stein, A. F., B. B. Hicks, L. Myles, and M. Simon, 2023: NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory—75 Years of Research Linking Earth and Sky: A Historical Perspective. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc.104, E2155–E2170, https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-23-0006.1.

Green, Ruth A., History of Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division. 1948 -June 1992, NOAA ERL. 1992. History-of-ATDD

Interview of Lester Machta by Spencer Weart with William Elliott on 1991 April 25, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/31417

Interview of Donald Pack by Spencer Weart on 1991 April 25, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5143

Interview of Jerome Nick Heffter by Molly Graham 2019, NOAA 50th Anniversary Project, College Park, MD USA, https://www.noaa.gov/heritage/resource-collections/jerome-nick-heffter

Interview of Allen, Philip W. (Philip Wymer). 2004 August 26. MS-00818. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1pv6bj84

DiamondH. J., and Coauthors2013U.S. Climate Reference Network after one decade of operations: Status and assessmentBull. Amer. Meteor. Soc.94485498https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-12-00170.1.

Machta, L., 1992: Finding the Site of the First Soviet Nuclear Test in 1949. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc.73, 1797–1806, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0477(1992)073<1797:FTSOTF>2.0.CO;2.