History

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 dispersionatmospheric chemistry, and climate.

Decade Societal Issues Atmospheric Dispersion Air Quality Climate
1940s
  • Start of the nuclear arms race
  • Early work on nuclear reactors for electricity and propulsion
  • Severe urban smog pollution begins to be reported.
  • U.S. Weather Bureau forms a Special Projects Section (SPS) in Washington DC to support other agencies’ atomic activities. The SPS is the predecessor to ARL
  • SPS estimates the location of a secret Soviet atomic bomb test site
  • SPS establishes a Weather Bureau Research Station (later to become the ARL, Field Research Division) in Idaho Falls, ID, to provide meteorological support to the National Reactor Testing Station
  • At the request of the Atomic Energy Commission, the U.S. Weather Bureau conducts, for the first time, a meteorological survey of the Oak Ridge, TN area to provide detailed information regarding wind flow patterns and other factors to determine dispersion of radioactive contaminants
1950s
  • U.S. Weather Bureau’s survey leads to the establishment of a research office in Oak Ridge to study atmospheric dispersion characteristics of that area in support of the Atomic Energy Commission and the emerging local nuclear industry.
  • Provides extensive assistance in editing and publishing one of the first specialized books on atmospheric dispersion: Meteorology and Atomic Energy
  • Develops dispersion models in support of the weapons testing program
  • Begins development of balloon technologies to conduct experiments of air flow and dispersion
  • Began adapting dispersion models to air quality applications
  • In cooperation with Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the SPS establishes a routine program to monitor carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
1960s
  • Concerns grow over the spread of radioactive materials due to nuclear testing
  • Environmental movement is launched with the book Silent Spring
  • Provides major contributions to the revised book: Meteorology and Atomic Energy, which became a widely utilized and referenced book on meteorological influences on turbulence and diffusion
  • Leads assessment of potential atmospheric consequences of using atomic bombs to help create a new Panama Canal
  • Contributes to the identification of the quasi-biennial oscillation in the stratosphere, including temperature, winds, ozone, water vapor, and tropopause height
  • Gathers and analyzes climatological data in the Oak Ridge, TN area
1970s
  • Clean Air Act Amendments makes air pollution control a national responsibility
  • The effects of Acid Rain becomes an intensive and far-reaching policy issue
  • Develops more advanced models for predicting trajectories of atmospherically- released material
  • Provides significant contributions to understanding and predicting winds in complex terrain
  • Conducts a series of studies of aircraft wake vortices for the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration
  • Leads the first extensive research study of air pollution in an American urban area-St. Louis, MO
  • Initiates measurements of pollutants in precipitation, in collaboration with EPA and other federal agencies
  • Develops air quality models to predict effects of proposed air quality regulations
  • Establishes the Geophysical Monitoring for Climatic Change (GMCC) program with the establishment of 4 global sites to monitor carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases
  • Begins analysis of global upper-air temperature and stratospheric ozone observations and of U.S. cloudiness and sunshine
1980s
  • Chernobyl disaster
  • National Acidic Precipitation Assessment Program formed
  • Multiple aircraft suffer severe problems after flying through clouds of volcanic ash
  • Publishes Handbook on Atmospheric Diffusion, which is still widely used today
  • Conducts major tracer studies to measure flow of materials over various distances
  • Initiates global precipitation chemistry monitoring at remote locations
  • Establishes methodology for widespread measurement of chemicals depositing on the land
  • Initiates development of the HYbrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory model
  • Identifies a solar signal in a variety of climate records
  • Expands the GMCC to include other trace gases and aerosols
1990s
  • Dissolution of Soviet Union
  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
  • New air quality regulations focus on reducing Acid Rain and Hazardous Air Pollutants
  • First assessment by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Contributes to international efforts to predict the path of materials from nuclear accidents
  • Develops a web-based system to deliver NOAA products, including trajectory simulations for the public
  • Develops model for operational volcanic ash plume forecasts
  • Begins conducting field experiments using small aircraft
  • Develops air quality model for regional/urban ozone, particulate matter, mercury, and other pollutants
  • Develops wildfire smoke forecast system
  • In collaboration with Oak Ridge National Lab, develops techniques to measure the flux of mercury between the air and land
  • Contributes to the first and second Assessment Reports on Climate Change for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  • Detects changes in surface humidity and frequency of extreme heat events
  • Initiates routine carbon dioxide sequestration measurements
2000s
  • 9/11
  • Enhanced awareness of global climate change
  • New Clean Air Act Rules are passed for mercury and Interstate air pollution
  • Conducts tracer studies to understand flows in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, and New York City and publishes recommendations for first responders
  • Develops a modeling system to provide weather forecasters direct access to dispersion predictions for large events
  • Conducts a comprehensive measurement and modeling study of atmospheric nitrogen pollutants around Tampa Bay
  • Deploys four sites for measuring multiple mercury compounds in the atmosphere and conducts mercury modeling on source-receptor relationships.
  • Develops operational forecast systems for ozone and wildfire smoke
  • Contributes to the third and fourth Assessment Reports on Climate Change for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  • Establishes the Climate Reference Network to measure national trends of temperature and precipitation
  • Detects widening of the width of the tropics and finds this is occurring faster than has been predicted by climate models
  • Launches the pilot phase of the modernization of the Historical Climate Network to measure regional trends of temperature and precipitation
2010s
  • Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
  • Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident
  • Modeled the atmospheric deposition and ground-level air concentrations of dioxin resulting from the ocean-surface burning of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
  • Conducted HYSPLIT modeling of the Fukushima Daiichi accident