AOML and GFDL Scientists Initiate a Grassroots Effort to Strengthen Collaboration

In the Fall of 2019, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) oceanographer Renellys Perez contacted Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and Princeton University oceanographer Sonya Legg to brainstorm how the two labs could increase collaboration. Due to a previous working relationship established with Legg at MPOWIR, a mentoring group created to improve the retention of women in physical oceanography and US CLIVAR, Perez was able to propose a collaborative workshop.

Perez and Legg began by identifying the various barriers that prevented the labs from working together, including a lack of access to model output, knowledge of which observational data sets were available, knowledge of what observations were needed by the modeling community, and confusion about who to contact. Legg explained that one of the biggest barriers was time. 

“Often the researchers who are most visible to people outside their own lab are the most senior people who are very busy with multiple commitments, and therefore unable to take on new collaborations,” said Legg. “However, talented earlier career scientists, who might not be as widely known, might be more able to collaborate and provide ways to make connections, leading to collaborations that could benefit their careers.”

The more the two oceanographers spoke about increasing collaborations in their research, the more they realized that there were already more established partnerships among other divisions within their labs, such as in hurricane research.

“We had identified that we could do a virtual workshop between the two labs, but realized we needed to reach out to other people (beyond our divisions) to reflect that spectrum of interaction,” said Perez. “It grew into this huge endeavor organically, and we started pulling in other people to help us organize an event.” 

Perez and Legg put together a diverse workshop planning committee with representation from both labs. Their virtual workshop became a grassroots effort from scientists wanting to build stronger connections with researchers across AOML and GFDL. They wanted to better leverage the observational and modeling expertise present at both labs. According to Perez, scientists at GFDL are constantly running an amazing suite of models, but it is not always clear to researchers at AOML who want to use those models which one is the best for their process study. 

“It’s not just that the model you need might not be publicly available, it’s that you need to know from an expert which is the best one to give you the best results for your specific project,” said Perez. “If you are studying productivity in the Gulf of Mexico you might need a fine resolution model that is not available to the general public, but somebody (at NOAA) has this great model and they can give you access to the model if you collaborate with them.”

Before the labs met virtually, the planning committee put together a survey to collect a census of the current status of cross-lab collaborations. It also provided information about research topics, models, and observations of interest between the two labs. It was discovered that 33% of the respondents had established long-term collaborations, but the majority of researchers were eager to start a new collaboration and interested in suggestions for how to do so.

Histogram showing the status of cross-lab collaborations based on pre-meeting survey responses.

Almost a full year after the first discussions, the first ever AOML/GFDL Science Connections workshop took place in August 2020. With up to 140 participants, this workshop focused on Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean regional research and consisted of four two-hour workshop sessions: ecosystems and biogeochemistry; weather and extremes; subseasonal-to-seasonal prediction; and interannual-to-decadal phenomena.  

While a two-day meeting could not cover the entire breadth of research conducted at both labs, the sessions were designed to be cross-cutting and span as many disciplines as possible.

“The different themes were chosen to entrain a wide cross-section of researchers from across the two labs. For example, speakers included researchers from four of the five GFDL science divisions and included both federal scientists and Cooperative Institute for Modeling the Earth System researchers,” said Legg. “Session organizers were encouraged to include scientists at different career stages, and to pay attention to gender balance and other aspects of diversity.” 

According to Perez, speakers from AOML’s three science divisions participated, including federal, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), and Northern Gulf Institute (NGI) researchers.

In each session there was approximately one hour allotted for scheduled talks ranging from 5 to 20 minutes in length, followed by opportunities to share slides about ongoing or new collaborative research ideas. At the end of each session, participants were asked to identify research topics of common interest and ways in which leadership could support cross-lab collaborations. Scientists also discussed the breadth of observational data sets and models that are available to share and provided recommendations for how to do so. 

“This is a great starting point; it gave people a list of more than 10 topics with researchers at both labs working on similar problems,” said Perez. “We now know who is a  person we can contact, and that they are interested in collaborating because they gave a talk at the workshop.”

Scientists shared topics such as alkalinity in biogeochemistry models and observations and global climate model downscaling. African dust and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation were also mentioned. The planning committee knew some of these topics in advance but, according to Perez, many were surprises.  

Recommendations from the workshop were compiled and synthesized by the committee members, and a final report will be distributed to both labs. Recommendations included the creation of a points of contact list for collaboration from both institutions, a list of model/observational data stewards, the creation of a bi-weekly or monthly science and model development meeting, cross-lab tutorial sessions, and more. Scientists also discussed the possibility of setting up a postdoctoral exchange program.

“Some people noted that we are often competing for the same early career scientists,” said Perez. “So rather than it be a competition, early-career scientists could go to one lab and then spend some of their time at the other lab to get a more well rounded postdoc experience, and bring their expertise to the other lab in the process.”

The workshop organizing committee is currently conducting a post-meeting survey that will be used to plan future virtual meetings. NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research recommended more collaboration between AOML and GFDL during AOML’s 2019 lab review. This virtual workshop was expanded to obtain a list of clear actionable recommendations on how to foster such interactions.

“There were about a dozen research topics that seem to be of interest to people across the labs and I think they are low hanging fruit in terms of where we could get started,” said Perez. “I think it would be great to continue with GFDL and AOML workshops and make them an annual occurrence.”

AOML/GFDL Science Connections workshop organizing committee: Renellys Perez (AOML), Sonya Legg (Princeton), Leticia Barbero (CIMAS/AOML), Jan-Huey Chen (GFDL/UCAR), John Dunne (GFDL), Sundararaman Gopalakrishnan (AOML), Lucas Harris (GFDL), Matthew Harrison (GFDL), Sang-Ki Lee (AOML), and Robert Rogers (AOML).

Screenshot of a subset of the virtual participants on August 12, 2020.

Ecosystems and Biogeochemistry Session 

  1. Jasmin John presented an overview of GFDL Earth System Models (ESMs) and highlighted the importance of horizontal resolution for coastal processes. 
  2. Chris Kelbe provided an overview of current work at AOML on ocean carbon cycle monitoring of carbon inventories and fluxes; coral research laboratory experiments and monitoring; water quality; ‘omics (ocean genomics) for early detection of organism stressors; modeling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM); and ecosystem assessments. 
  3. Stephanie Rosales spoke about reef ecosystems and her group’s research on reef threat assessment by way of ocean warming, sea level rise, storms, and ocean acidification. Stephanie Rosales also discussed stony coral tissue loss disease work done at AOML, attribution of a coral disease event in 2014 tied to dredging operations near the port of Miami, as well as coral disease tracing in general.  
  4. Fabian Gomez discussed his work on ocean biogeochemical modeling in the Gulf of Mexico using the regional ocean modeling system (ROMS), including carbon budget comparisons, analysis of decadal trends in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and alkalinity, and the relationship of the latter to changes in the Mississippi Atchafalaya River System (MARS). 
  5. Enrique Curchitser discussed MOM6 (Modular Ocean Model, version 6) regional development and recent work incorporating tides. 
  6. Charles Stock presented on the range of ecosystem and fisheries applications with GFDL’s models. 

Weather and Extremes Session 

  1. Lucas Harris presented an overview of GFDL’s weather to S2S prediction modeling, with a focus on FV3-based System for High-resolution modeling for Earth-to-Local Domains (SHiELD) and the value of unified seamless modeling.
  2. Sundararaman Gopalakrishnan spoke about hurricane modeling research using a hierarchy of nested models, use of observations for improved parameterization in these models and the future goal of the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System, HAFS (which will use the moving nest capability being implemented within FV3 to track all hurricanes), in collaboration with GFDL. 
  3. Ghassan Alaka described a real-time evaluation tool for HAFS (, highlighting case studies of how real-time atmosphere and ocean observations help understand model biases (e.g., improve vortex tilt), and also explained how ocean observations can provide a supply of enthalpy to storms. 
  4. Lisa Bucci described atmosphere and ocean observations collected as part of intensity forecast experiments (and the scales for which they are useful) to monitor the intensity/structure of hurricanes, support forecasts, and the future goals of adding more structure/hazard information. 
  5. Robert Rogers explained the difficult challenge of improving intensity forecasts, particularly rapid intensification, how improving physical process representation in models (i.e., the diffusivity and structure of tropical cyclones) can increase forecast skill, and new technology that can sample in the boundary layer where aircraft can’t go. 

Subseasonal-to-Seasonal (S2S) Prediction Session 

  1. Jan-Huey Chen gave an introduction to S2S research capabilities at GFDL. 
  2. Feiyu Lu spoke about GFDL’s next generation modeling system for Seasonal to Multidecadal prediction and projection, called SPEAR (Seamless system for Prediction and EArth system Research), focusing on seasonal prediction, ocean data assimilation and bias reduction. 
  3. Baoqiang Xiang gave a presentation on subseasonal prediction of land cold extremes. Extreme cold days (ECDs) are skillfully predicted by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model 2-4 weeks in advance over a large fraction of the Northern Hemisphere land region. 
  4. Sang-Ki Lee gave a short overview of current projects addressing S2S issues at AOML. 
  5. Hosmay Lopez described a project to develop a prediction system of heat waves and droughts for the United States. 
  6. Dongmin Kim described how the Madden-Julian Oscillation-induced suppression of northeast Pacific convection increases U.S. tornadogenesis.

Interannual-to-Decadal Phenomena Session 

  1. Mike Winton discussed GFDL’s CM4 model, describing how CM4 and ESM4 differ from the SHIELD and SPEAR forecast models.
  2. Rick Lumpkin provided an overview of AOML long-term observations and the capabilities and coverage of observational programs like Argo, the global drifter program, the Western Boundary Time Series project, Southwest Atlantic MOC project, repeat hydrography and CO2 surveys, the Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA) project, and NOAA hurricane gliders. 
  3. Greg Foltz discussed research on air-sea interactions in the tropical Atlantic and feedback between SST, Sahel rain, and Saharan dust. 
  4. Xiaosong Yang described decadal initialization and prediction in the Atlantic using the SPEAR coupled model. 
  5. Shenfu Dong discussed interannual to decadal AMOC observations captured by AOML (and partners) monitoring efforts in both the North and South Atlantic using a variety of platforms. 
  6. Rong Zhang examined low-frequency AMOC variability and associated climate impacts.