L.S. Skaggs Applied Science Building Named at the U


May 28, 2024
Above:  Rendering of the new L.S. Skaggs Applied Science Building

The ALSAM Foundation has made a substantial gift toward the latest addition to the science campus at the University of Utah: the L.S. Skaggs Applied Science Building.

The 100,000-square-foot building will include modern classrooms and instruction spaces, cutting-edge physics and atmospheric science research laboratories, and faculty and student spaces. Scientists in the new building will address urgent issues, including energy, air quality, climate change, and drought. The building’s naming honors L.S. “Sam” Skaggs, the philanthropist and businessman whose retail footprint spread across the Mountain West and the U.S.

Building Construction -  April 30, 2024

Expressing profound gratitude for the transformative gift, Peter Trapa, Dean of the College of Science, shared, “We deeply appreciate The ASLAM Foundation’s extraordinary generosity. This gift is a testament to the value the organization places on higher education and its transformational impact on students and communities. It continues the Skaggs family's legacy in Utah and at our state’s flagship university. The new L.S. Skaggs Applied Science Building, a beacon of scientific innovation, will play an essential role in educating students in STEM programs throughout the University of Utah. This much-needed building allows the U to expand its STEM capacity and continue to serve our region’s expanding workforce needs.”

The construction of the L.S. Skaggs Applied Science Building is part of the Applied Science Project, which also includes the renovation of the historical William Stewart Building. The overall project is scheduled to be completed by next summer. Combined with the Crocker Science Center and a new outdoor plaza abutting the historic Cottam’s Gulch, the three buildings and outdoor space will comprise the Crocker Science Complex named for Gary and Ann Crocker.

The Skaggs family has a long history of supporting universities through The ALSAM Foundation, including the University of Utah. Other ALSAM Foundation-supported projects at the U include the L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Research Institute, housed in the Skaggs Pharmacy Building, and the Aline S. Skaggs Biology Building, named after Mr. Skaggs’s wife.

The ALSAM Foundation issued the following statement, “The ALSAM Foundation and the members of the Skaggs family are pleased to continue the legacy of Mr. Skaggs at the University of Utah.  The Applied Science Project will benefit STEM education which was one of the goals of Mr. Skaggs.”



Researchers Look to Origins of New Particle Formation


May 24, 2024
Above: ARM’s ArcticShark soars overhead, capturing measurements to document new particle formation and turbulence in the atmospheric boundary layer. Photo is by Tomlinson.


In the complex dance of atmospheric processes affecting Earth’s energy balance, new particle formation (NPF) is emerging as a center-stage performer—one that helps determine, on a global scale, how clouds absorb and reflect solar radiation. While some aerosols found in the atmosphere are emitted directly as particles from natural or human sources, other aerosols form in the atmosphere from condensation of gases, such as sulfuric acid, that were themselves emitted by various sources. Scientists are studying how often NPF occurs in the atmosphere, and how it contributes to the formation of cloud condensation nuclei. These seed-like particles are where water vapor condenses to make clouds and precipitation.

Gerardo Carrillo-Cardenas (left) and Gannet Hallar, posing together on the University of Utah campus, are co-leading a field campaign that uses ARM’s ArcticShark uncrewed aerial system (UAS) in Oklahoma. Photo is courtesy of Hallar.

On May 6, 2024, a small research team from the University of Utah launched Turbulent Layers Promoting New Particle Formation, an Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility field campaign designed to help scientists better understand the relationship between turbulence and NPF.

“This campaign is unique,” says co-principal investigator Gannet Hallar, a fan of the low- and slow-flying measurement platform. “We will be able to observe these atmospheric processes on the ground and in the air.” Working with Hallar, an ARM data veteran, is her PhD student and co-principal investigator Gerardo Carrillo-Cardenas. They are starting with an established fact: that within the lower troposphere, commonly called the atmospheric boundary layer, turbulent mixing can help initiate NPF.

Hallar and Carrillo-Cardenas are building upon previous work (Siebert et al. 2004Wehner et al. 2010, and Wu et al. 2021) that considered the possibility of particle formation from intense mixing between the residual layer and the growing atmospheric boundary layer. “We are really seeking to understand how the movement of the atmosphere itself, at a small scale, impacts the formation of aerosols,” says Hallar, “and what chemical components are needed to spark that formation.”

The ArcticShark is equipped with an aerosol instrument package to collect the data needed to address the campaign’s science questions. This package includes a portable optical particle spectrometer and a miniaturized scanning electrical mobility sizer. The Utah team is also taking advantage of the SGP’s ground-based Aerosol Observing System, basic meteorological measurements, regular radiosonde launches, and remote sensing instruments, such as Raman lidars and ceilometers.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric System Research (ASR) program is funding the project. The objective of the ASR project is to examine ARM data globally and better understand NPF’s contribution to cloud condensation nuclei.

Read the full article by Mike Wasem, Staff writer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in ARM: Dept. of Energy.

U of U Part of $6.6M National Weather Forecasting Initiative

U of U Included in $6.6M National Weather Forecasting Initiative

The partnership with NOAA, other universities aims to improve predictive weather models

The University of Utah is one of a six-institution consortium recommended to receive up to $6.6 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve weather forecasting through enhanced data assimilation methods. 

The new Consortium for Advanced Data Assimilation Research will support six institutions that have been recommended to receive funding and will work together collaboratively under the new Consortium for Advanced Data Assimilation Research and Education (CADRE).  CADRE is led by the University of Oklahoma and includes Colorado State University, Howard University, University of Maryland, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Utah.

Dr. Zhaoxia Pu

"This NOAA funding allows our researchers to collaborate with leading experts across the country to tackle a key challenge in data assimilation methodology," said Atmospheric Sciences Professor Zhaoxia Pu, the Principal Investigator of the University of Utah for CADRE. "By improving data assimilation techniques, we can help make more accurate weather forecasting."

Data assimilation combines observational data sources like satellite, surface, air and ocean measurements with numerical weather prediction models to generate comprehensive analyses of evolving weather systems. This blending of information better estimates the atmospheric states and corrects forecast models in real-time, thus enhancing projections of weather extremes such as storm paths, intensities and precipitation.

Despite major forecasting accuracy improvements in recent decades, upgraded data assimilation methods are needed to leverage new technological capabilities like artificial intelligence. The CADRE consortium will focus its efforts on advancing the data assimilation components of NOAA's Unified Forecast System (UFS), a community-based, coupled, comprehensive Earth-modeling system.

Pu’s team will be focusing their research on the coupled data assimilation efforts to improve weather forecasting from short-range to sub-seasonal to seasonal time scales. Atmospheric processes are significantly influenced by interactions with the land and ocean. Pu’s team will develop effective coupled data assimilation methods to better represent the land-atmosphere-ocean interactions within NOAA's UFS. Pu will also dedicate time to training graduate students through research projects, outreach activities with NOAA Laboratories and the University of Reading, UK, and through on-campus lectures on data assimilation methods. Students from the City College of New York will also participate in training activities.

"Data assimilation is a comprehensive scientific topic involving various types of data, data science and numerical modeling strategies. I welcome interactions and collaborations in atmospheric sciences, mathematics, physics and AI data science disciplines both on campus and beyond," Pu stated.

The $6.6 million will be funded by the Inflation Reduction Act and is part of the Biden Administration's Investing in America initiative. To learn more about this announcement, read the official NOAA release here

By Bianca Lyon

U Atmospheric Scientists Team Up for $4.8M Snowfall Research Project

U atmospheric scientists team up for $4.8M snowfall research project

May 6, 2024
Above: Atmospheric Sciences Professor and Storm Peak Laboratory Director Gannet Hallar and students on the roof of Storm Peak Lab. Photo credit: Melissa Dobbins.

The S2noCliME Field Campaign aims to better predict snowfall processes that are critical to water supply in the Intermountain West



Gannet Hallar stands with a cloud imaging probe, which will measure the size and shape of ice particles in clouds during the field campaign. Photo credit: Melissa Dobbins.

In a new $4.8 million research project funded by the National Science Foundation, faculty from the University of Utah are partnering with lead investigators from the University of Michigan and other universities to better understand how snowfall processes are impacted by complex mountainous terrain. The multi-institutional team will conduct the Snow Sensitivity to Clouds in a Mountain Environment (S2noCliME) Field Campaign during the 2024-2025 winter season in northwest Colorado's Park Range, centered on the U's unique research station, Storm Peak Laboratory.

The Intermountain West is experiencing warmer, drier conditions and declines in snowpack due to climate change, putting communities, water resources, industries like skiing, and sensitive ecosystems at heightened risk. Accurate prediction of future snowfall accumulation in mountains is critical but challenged by the variable effects terrain has on precipitation patterns.

"Mountain snowpack is a vital source of water for communities across the western states," said Jay Mace, U professor of atmospheric sciences and a lead on the remote sensing components of the field campaign. "By deploying an integrated network of ground-based, airborne and satellite instruments, we can gain valuable insights into the chain of processes shaping snowfall, from large weather systems down to the microscale."

The U’s Storm Peak Laboratory, a premier high-elevation atmospheric monitoring station in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, will play a central role. During the upcoming winter season, the field site will host multiple radar systems, precipitation sensors, cloud particle imagers and other specialized instrumentation provided by the U and partner institutions

Claire Pettersen, an assistant professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan, is the principal investigator of the project, leading the deployment of snow sensing equipment and multi-wavelength remote sensors at the midmountain site. We hope that our catalog will ultimately improve winter storm forecasts and tell western cities when to expect a drought because of insufficient snowpack,” said Pettersen.

The coordinated deployment brings together more than 30 cutting-edge instruments from five research universities. It aims to collect an unparalleled dataset documenting the impacts of orographic effects on snowfall from the broadest atmospheric scales down through the cloud microphysics. By pairing measurements of snowflake size and shape with radar measurements of clouds, the researchers will build a large catalog of data showing how storm systems change as they move over mountains, which will improve forecasts of snowfall and snowpack in these areas.

"This campaign gives us a rare opportunity to integrate specialized radars, balloon measurements, surface instrumentation and more into one cohesive study of snowfall formation processes over mountains," said Atmospheric Sciences Professor Gannet Hallar, director of Storm Peak Laboratory and co-investigator of the S2noCliME project. "The impacts of declining snowpack are far-reaching for the economy and way of life in the West. This combined data will help advance our models and predictive capabilities."

The S2noCliME project also includes scientists from the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Colorado State University and Stony Brook University. 

Read the announcement from the University of Michigan here.

By Bianca Lyon

Environmental refuges to escape the heat

Environmental refuges to escape the heat

May 1, 2024


On April 30, the Salt Lake County Health Department’s 2024 Climate & Health Symposium brought together experts, including University of Utah scientists, to talk about how climate change impacts human health.

One speaker was Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in atmospheric sciences; adjunct assistant professor in internal medicine; and adjunct assistant professor in City & Metropolitan Planning at the U.

Mendoza presented a case study, titled Environmental refuges during summertime heat and elevated ozone levels: A preliminary case study of an urban “cool zone” building. Mendoza and coauthors measured indoor and outdoor temperature and ozone levels at the Millcreek library, a building designated as a “cool zone” for the public to escape increasingly hostile environment extremes by climate change.

Mendoza spoke with AtTheU about environmental refuges in advance of the event and how cities can better protect vulnerable individuals.

How are heat and health related?

In Utah, we’re very aware of air quality-related health concerns, but we’re not as aware of the dangers of extreme heat. As the climate changes we need to pay attention to elevated temperatures, not only during the day, but also the temperature at night.

There’s lots of attention when we hit record highs, but they obviously happen during the middle of the day where there are many opportunities to seek refuge in venues with air conditioning. We’re generally at work or at school or can go to the store, for example, because these places are open when its hottest. High temperatures during the evening are more insidious—you’re very vulnerable to your environment while you’re sleeping, especially for children, the elderly, or people with chronic health issues. When it’s too hot at night, you’re not recovering at a cellular level. This can cause chronic health issues that for some, can lead to strokes, among other negative effects. We always see an uptick in heat-related illness in the ER during heat waves.

Read the rest of the interview by Lisa Potter in @ The U. 

Jay Mace: Scientist of Clouds, Painter of Landscapes


April 30, 2024
Above: In April 2023, Jay Mace (left) poses at kennaook/Cape Grim, Tasmania, with Roger Marchand. The two were on a site visit for the Cloud And Precipitation Experiment at kennaook (CAPE-k), a field campaign that got underway a year later. Mace and Marchand are co-principal investigators for CAPE-k. Photo is by Heath Powers, Los Alamos National Laboratory.




Mace painted this watercolor in January 2024 during a 60-day Southern Ocean voyage aboard the Australian research vessel Investigator. He estimates the deep-water scene was at about 50 degrees south latitude and 115 degrees east longitude. Photo is courtesy of Mace.

During his boyhood in northeastern Ohio, Gerald “Jay” Mace had two dreams.

One was to have a career that brought him close to nature. In those days, long hikes in the woods always included stopping by his favorite tree. It was a totem of the peace and fascination he found in the outside world and the knowledge it offered.

Today, Mace is an atmospheric scientist and professor at the University of Utah. He’s an avid hiker and camper. He bikes to work. He and his wife own a cabin in Idaho. He even paints, in oils, the nature he still loves. Always landscapes, always in one take, and always while seated outdoors. It’s a style of painting called en plein air, a French expression meaning “in the open air.”

His other dream was to get far enough away from Southington, Ohio, that he would never work in an auto plant. His father did assembly line work. Many cousins and uncles too. For him? Nope, never, and no way.

Mace calls his parents “progressive thinkers,” imbued with the sense of optimism the working class had in those days. “I picked that up.”

Optimism, the woods, and an affinity for science “were a big part of forming the way I looked at the world,” he says.

But optimism is not the same as having enough money for college. Halfway through his senior year of high school, Mace decided to join the U.S. Navy.

“My plans had not changed,” he says. “I was going to escape one way or the other. My ticket out was through the military.”

After basic training, only one Navy specialty resonated with Mace’s inclination toward the natural sciences: meteorology.

“They needed weather people,” he says, though he turned down an offer to be a nuclear engineer instead. “I’m an atmospheric scientist largely because I didn’t want to live in a submarine or in the bottom of some ship. I wanted to be able to see the sky.”

Read the full profile by Corydon Ireland, staff writer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in ARM: Dept. of Energy.

Hunting an underground epidemic

Hunting an underground epidemic

April 3, 2024

Above: The research team outside Toquerville, UT. Left to right: Kimberly Hanson; Kevin Perry; Alyssa McCoy; Katrina Derieg; and Schuyler Liphardt.

In 2001, 10 archaeologists working at a dig site in northeastern Utah suddenly fell ill with a respiratory illness that sent eight of them to the hospital, coughing and feverish.

The symptoms resembled pneumonia, but their diagnosis was unexpected. It was Valley fever, a fungal infection that spreads to people through spores in the soil and dust—and it wasn’t supposed to be there. Valley fever is more common in hotter, drier states; previous predictions of where the fungus could survive in the soil barely extended into the southwest corner of Utah. The archaeologists’ dig site, in Dinosaur National Monument, was hundreds of miles outside the disease’s expected borders.

The truth is, nobody really knows which areas of the state harbor Valley fever. But the archaeologists’ plight shows that its fungal culprit could be far more widespread than anyone predicted. And as the climate changes, the fungus will likely spread further, explained Katharine Walter, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah.

A person bends over samples in a shade tent.


Eric Rickart in the field outside Santa Clara, UT.


“There have been incredibly intense recent changes in temperature as well as precipitation and drought here in the American West. These all impact the range of where the fungus can exist,” said Walter.

Walter is on a mission to map where in Utah the Valley fever fungus can survive and predict how it will move across the landscape as the climate changes. Walter and her collaborators—Katrina Derieg, vertebrate collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah; Eric Rickart, adjunct associate professor of biology at the U and curator of vertebrates at NHMU; and Kevin Perry, professor of atmospheric sciences in the U’s College of Mines and Earth Sciences—recently received a $375,000 Climate and Health Interdisciplinary Award through the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to power their fungus hunt and raise awareness of what to do for the people most at risk of infection.

Read the full story by University of Utah Health's Sophia Friesen in @TheU. You can read another article about this story at KSL.

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Measuring Black Carbon

Black carbon sensor could fill massive monitoring gaps

February 22, 2024

Black carbon is the most dangerous air pollutant you’ve never heard of. Its two main sources, diesel exhaust and wood smoke from wildfires and household heating, produce ultrafine air particles that are up to 25 times more of a health hazard per unit compared to other types of particulate matter.


^ The AethLabs microAeth MA350. ^^ Banner Photo above: Daniel Mendoza

Despite its danger, black carbon is understudied due to a lack of monitoring equipment. Regulatory-standard sensors are wildly expensive to deploy and maintain, resulting in sparse coverage in regions infamous for poor air quality, such as the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area in Utah.

A University of Utah-led study found that the AethLabs microAeth MA350, a portable, more affordable sensor, recorded black carbon concentrations as accurately as the Aerosol Magee Scientific AE33, the most widely used instrument for monitoring black carbon in real time. Researchers placed the portable technology next to an existing regulatory sensor at the Bountiful Utah Division of Air Quality site from Aug. 30, 2021-Aug. 8, 2022. The AethLabs technology recorded nearly identical quantities of black carbon at the daily, monthly and seasonal timescales. The authors also showed that the microAeth could distinguish between wildfire and traffic sources as well as the AE33 at longer timescales.

Because black carbon stays close to the source, equipment must be localized to yield accurate readings. The microAethsensor’s portability would allow monitoring at remote or inaccessible stationary sites, as well as for mobile use.

“Having a better idea of black carbon exposure across different areas is an environmental justice issue,” said Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah and lead author of the study. “The Salt Lake Valley’s westside has some of the region’s worst air quality partly because it’s closest to pollution sources, but we lack the ability to measure black carbon concentrations accurately. Democratizing data with reliable and robust sensors is an important first step to safeguarding all communities from hazardous air pollution.”


Read the entire story by Lisa Potter in @TheU

Read the study published on Feb. 1, 2024, in the journal Sensors.


Read the full story by Sean Higgins at KUER 90.1.

Utah’s Warm Wet Winter

A warm, wet winter in Utah but don’t blame El Niño

February 22, 2024

For Jackie May, this winter’s rain in the Salt Lake Valley has led to a lot of second-guessing when it comes to taking the ski bus to the mountains.


She typically plans her work schedule around making time for snowboarding.

^ Michael Wasserstein. ^^ Banner photo above: Fog drapes the Wasatch Mountains near Cottonwood Heights as valley rain and mountain snow have been the standard storm pattern for much of Utah this winter, Feb. 20, 2024. Credit: Sean Higgins/KUER.

“Being down here, I'm like, ‘what am I doing? Should I go back to work?’” she said while waiting for the Utah Transit Authority ski bus at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. And then when I go up in the mountains, I'm like, OK, no, [winter] is still happening. This is how I want to spend my time.”

Although this winter has not had the same record-setting snowfall as last winter, not everyone is disappointed to see no snowbanks in the valley. I don't like to shovel,” said fellow bus rider Dianne Lanoy. “I do have a good car in the snow, but I don't like to drive in the snow. So, keep [the snow] up in the mountains.”

Even with more rain than snow at the lower elevations and a slow start to the winter, snowpack levels for this time of year are above average statewide. It’s also an El Niño year. That’s when warmer, wetter weather from the Pacific Ocean moves in and usually creates more precipitation.

But don’t go blaming El Niño for this winter’s wacky weather just yet. “El Niño or La Niña really means nothing for snow and precipitation in northern Utah,” says University of Utah atmospheric sciences Ph.D. student Michael Wasserstein. “Prior literature has shown that El Niño can produce lots of precipitation in Utah, or it can produce little precipitation in Utah … I don't think we can draw any conclusions about this winter's weather based on El Niño patterns.”

Wasserstein is the lead author of a new study that dives into why the Wasatch Mountains get so much snow. As it turns out, it’s all about a diversity of storm types and weather patterns.

Read the full story by Sean Higgins at KUER 90.1.

Central Wasatch’s extreme snowfall

Where does the central Wasatch’s extreme snowfall Come From?


Utah’s famous mountains can wring a lot of snow from even low-moisture storm systems, according to new U research.

February 6, 2024


Jim Steenburgh displays a device for measuring snowfall. Credit: Brian Maffly ^^ Banner photo above: Little Cottonwood Canyon. Credit: UDOT.

Major snowstorms in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains are both a blessing and a curse. They deliver much-needed moisture that supplies water to the state’s biggest metropolitan area and fluffy light snow to support the world’s finest powder skiing.

But heavy snowfall also wreaks havoc on canyon roads and creates extreme avalanche hazards that can sometimes shut down busy winter recreation sites.  Alta at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, for instance, can be reached by vehicle only via a winding road that rises 3,000 feet in 8 miles, crossing about 50 avalanche paths.

University of Utah atmospheric scientists have set out to better understand extreme snowfall, defined as events in the top 5% in terms of snow accumulations, by analyzing hundreds of events over a 23-year period at Alta, the famed ski destination in the central Wasatch outside Salt Lake City. The resulting study, published this week in Monthly Weather Review, illustrates the remarkable diversity of storm characteristics producing orographic snowfall extremes in the ranges of the Intermountain West.

The orographic effect occurs when air is forced to flow up and over mountains, which cools the air and condenses its water vapor.

Some of the new findings surprised researchers. For example, they looked for an association between heavy snow and a weather factor called “integrated vapor transport,” or IVT, but found a complicated relationship.

“IVT is essentially a measure of the amount of water vapor that is being transported horizontally through the atmosphere, said lead author Michael Wasserstein, a graduate student in atmospheric sciences.  “In certain regions high IVT can produce extremely heavy precipitation. That can be the case for the Wasatch, but not always.”

In the West Coast’s Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range, by contrast, there is a stronger relationship between high-IVT storms blowing in from the Pacific and extreme precipitation and snowfall.

Spanning the years 2000 to 2022, the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, analyzed a total of 2,707 snow events, each covering a 12-hour period. The average amount of snow deposited during each event was 11.2 centimeters (4.4 inches), while the median amount was just 7.6 (3 inches). Alta ski patrollers did much of the data collection at the monitoring station located near the ski area’s Wildcat Lift.

The researchers homed in on “extreme” events above the 95th percentile, or 138 storms in which 30.5 centimeters (12 inches) or more snow fell. “Those would be snowfall rates of about an average of an inch an hour,” said Jim Steenburgh, the study’s senior author. The biggest 12-hour accumulation was 65 centimeters (26 inches), recorded on March 30, 2005.  They also examined “extreme” water-equivalent snowfall events above the 95th percentile, or 116 storms with at least 27.9 mm (1.11 inches) of water equivalent precipitation. The water equivalent of precipitation measures the amount of water in the snowfall and is important for water resources and avalanches.

Read the full story by Brian Maffly in @TheU