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CCU professor receives major NSF grant to study atmospheric physics

November 13, 2006

A Coastal Carolina University physics professor has been awarded a $225,371 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study "gravity waves" and their effects on airflow in the stratosphere.

Var Limpasuvan, associate professor of physics, will use NASA satellite observations and computer simulations to investigate intense atmospheric undulations (known as gravity waves), which are generated by airflow over mountains and by severe weather storms. When these waves reach the stratosphere (six to 30 miles above ground) they can dissipate and/or "break" like surf crashing along a beach.

"The resulting turbulence poses major safety hazards to high-altitude aircrafts," says Limpasuvan, the leading principal investigator of the grant. "An understanding of the waves' impact on stratospheric winds is essential for accurate climate and weather models. The wave presence is also important in stratospheric cloud formation that contributes to the destruction of precious ozone."

Limpasuvan and CCU student James Perkins reconfigured a high-resolution computer weather model (used in daily forecasting) in order to simulate these waves throughout the stratosphere. Supercomputer clusters at CCU and at the NASA Ames Research Center (California) will be used to perform the simulations. The CCU cluster was acquired by Limpasuvan and Jean-Louis Lassez, chair of Coastal's Department of Computer Science, partially through a separate NSF grant ($62,000).

"While the project will address interesting scientific questions, the real excitement, I feel, is that it will provide participating CCU students with opportunities to work on cutting-edge research and technology with leading scientists across the country," said Limpasuvan.

Other scientists who will collaborate on this work are Dong Wu of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Steven Pawson of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Ming Xue of the University of Oklahoma and Joan Alexander of Colorado Research Associates.

Prior to joining the Coastal faculty in 2000, Limpasuvan earned bachelor's degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Occidental College and the California Institute of Technology, respectively. He earned a doctorate in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington and was appointed to a research associate position at the Joint Institute for the Study for the Atmosphere and Ocean in Seattle. He was Coastal's Teacher of the Year in 2000-2001 and South Carolina's Distinguished Professor in 2001.