Monday, December 8, 2008

  • Site offers hour-by-hour forecasts
  • Forum today on community social issues
  • Student art winners, and other notes
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Site offers hour-by-hour forecasts

If it snows a little around 3 a.m., then goes above freezing by breakfast time tomorrow on its way to a high of 5 Celsius, you’ll know that Jim Sloan’s forecast was right — again.

Sloan is the key researcher in the Waterloo Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, based in UW’s department of earth sciences. The work of WCAS is focused on such issues as smog and climate change, and requires so much meteorological (weather) expertise that several years ago Sloan and his colleagues created a web site offering daily forecasts for the Great Lakes area, and Waterloo in particular.

“In order to do chemical transport modelling, you need to know meteorology — the fluid dynamics of the atmosphere,” he explains. “We had to set up a meteorological model.” From there, it was a small step to putting forecasts online, to provide publicity for WCAS “and as a public service”.

The world has two primary, well-developed forecasting models — massive computer programs, “tens of thousands of lines of code” — now in use. The forecasts from WCAS are developed with one of the two, WRF, with many adjustments to suit conditions and typical weather in southern Ontario.

“Waterloo is a particularly difficult region to forecast,” says Sloan, pointing to its location almost surrounded by big lakes, which moderate the temperatures and notoriously produce “lake effect” snowfalls in southern Ontario and western New York.

[Snow seen from Math and Computer buliding]Zhuanshi He, a postdoctoral researcher who serves as WCAS’s meteorologist, “periodically re-parameterizes the model”, Sloan explains — that is, “tweaks it to get the best performance.” For example, the amount of sunlight that’s reflected by typical Waterloo County snow cover in the wintertime (left) affects the air temperature and can make the difference between rain and snow.

All forecasters work with the same data, gathered around the world at tens of thousands of observation stations, some on the ground and some on geostationary satellites. In a display of international cooperation supervised by the World Meteorological Organization, the data are provided to national weather agencies, such as Environment Canada’s meteorological headquarters in Dorval, Québec. The government agency calculates its own forecasts and also provides raw numbers to commercial forecasters and researchers, including WCAS.

An Internet download of the data starts about 3 a.m. each day, and after massive number-crunching on WCAS’s array of 160 computers, housed in the Sharcnet wing of the Physics building, a new forecast is produced and delivered online in the early morning.

“We’re better than Environment Canada,” Sloan boasts, “because we specifically run this for the Waterloo area.” Interpolations, done automatically as part of the forecast, can show distinct predictions for spots as little as 4 kilometres apart, with temperature and precipitation predictions hour by hour, such as the time tonight’s snow will begin.

Sloan and his colleagues like to compare their forecasts with the actual data reported afterwards by UW’s weather station on the north campus — a project of the civil engineering department, not related to WCAS. They typically find, he says, that they’ve got the temperature right, within one degree Celsius, 85 to 95 per cent of the time, which is considered quite an achievement.

Costs of setting up the forecasting service were covered out of Sloan’s research funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Ontario Power Generation (which has a keen interest in smog and atmospheric data), and other agencies. Operating costs are small, he says. So is public use of the site, typically 100 to 150 hits a day, but he’d like to make it better known and attract more users.

What he doesn’t know is the long-term future of the forecasts, as he shifts his research emphasis somewhat — he’s hoping to be involved in the scientific work for an international satellite launch that’s in the early planning stages — and will officially retire from his faculty position next year.

Speaking of weather: November was "another wet month with cold temperatures", says Frank Seglenieks of the UW weather station in his monthly roundup. "After a few days that were close to 20 degrees Celsius in the first week and a high of 8 Celsius on the 15th, the temperature went south and never again got above 2.5 C. Overall the month was 0.8 degrees below average." Precipitation was above average, with 115 millimetres: "We have now had the 3rd highest precipitation for the first 11 months of any year since records in the area began back in 1915."

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Forum today on community social issues

from the UW media relations office

UW's Social Innovation Generation group, known as SiG@Waterloo, will join with community partners today to showcase regional initiatives aimed at tackling such social issues as homelessness, poverty and mental illness. The Social Innovation and Community Change Forum takes place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo.

SiG is working in collaboration with the Centre for Community Based Research, Region of Waterloo, City of Kitchener, CIGI and its affiliate IGLOO. "The forum will create an opportunity for leaders in the Waterloo Region to share stories, research and strategies," said John Lord, forum chair and founder of the Centre for Community Based Research. "Waterloo Region has been a beacon of new ideas since the 1980s, whether in mental health, affordable housing, family violence prevention, collaborative partnering or community-based research. We will look at what we have accomplished and celebrate our progress."

The forum aims to celebrate social innovation in Waterloo Region, especially an influx of new ideas and approaches; share ideas and insights about social innovation and community change; and inspire community members to expand and deepen social innovation in Waterloo Region and elsewhere.

The day is divided into four interrelated themes: passion and vision, partnerships and collaborations, places and spaces, and impact and sustainability. Each theme explores the role of research in enhancing social innovation.

The forum also allows participants to build strong networks and connections for the future.

"This region has been clearly identified as a community characterized by strategic community building and, together, we stand primed to tackle the challenges of rapid change that are sure to be part of our future," said Frances Westley, a UW professor who holds the J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation. "Meeting these challenges in Waterloo will require new, collaborative, diverse approaches to learning and working together, and it is that kind of spirit of social innovation that is being celebrated at the forum."

Besides Westley, participants include Joe Mancini, The Working Centre; Allan Strong, Self-Help Alliance, Recovery Oriented Initiative in Mental Health; Michael Bach, Canadian Association for Community Living; Paula Saunders, Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region; and Tim Jackson, Tech Capital Partners.

SiG@UWaterloo is part of a national collaborative involving the Montréal-based J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, UW, the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, and PLAN Institute in Vancouver. The project seeks to provide practical support for social innovators in cultivating organizations and initiatives across Canada.

Founded in 1982, the Centre for Community Based Research is located in downtown Kitchener and is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The centre focuses on strengthening communities through social research and believes in the power of knowledge to impact positive social change.

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['Fragile']['Red Explosion']Student art winners, and other notes

A pair of UW students have won the two top prizes in an art competition organized by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, under the title "China in the Shifting World Order". Pictured at left is "Fragile", by BA student Christina Vannelli, which took the top prize; at right is "Red Explosion" by MFA student Ram Samocha, runner-up. The competition was held along with CIGI's recent conference on China, and the winning artworks are being purchased (the winner gets $3,000, the runner-up $2,000) for display as part of the Centre's permanent collection.

The UW police have passed along a notice that originated with another Ontario force: “Barrie Police Service request the assistance of the University of Waterloo community in locating a former University of Waterloo student, Mr. Hal Gerald Forrest. At this time, there is reason to believe that Mr. Forrest, formerly of Barrie, Ontario, may be working and/or residing within the Waterloo Region. The parents of Mr. Forrest would appreciate any information which would assist in identifying his present location. Information can also be forwarded to the University of Waterloo Police Service at 519-888-4911 or on campus at ext. 22222.”

Thursday's Daily Bulletin referred to UW's "planned Abu Dhabi campus" when, as we all know by now, the proposed campus location is in Dubai, a different one of the seven United Arab Emirates. • The drama department reports that "Mad Forest", its big spring production, will hit the stage March 18-21 and not the previous week as had been announced. • Brandon Dehart, director of the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Fund, reported in the last issue of the Iron Warrior that WEEF has approved $85,000 in grants, including $4,000 for bench equipment in a systems design teaching lab and $2,000 for equipment (including a sound level meter) for the Clean Snowmobile Team.

Finally . . . the Daily Bulletin page on Facebook, which has been in happy operation for the past year, was disabled by Facebook authorities on Friday morning. The social networking site expects its users to be individual human beings, and I guess somebody slipped them word that "UW Daily Bulletin" isn't your average human name. We'll be back on Facebook, preferably in a more legit way, as soon as somebody figures out the details.


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[Blue antlers]

'All of the Christmas decorations in the Microbiology Preparation Room are made with materials found in the lab,” says the December issue of Chem 13 News, published by UW’s chemistry department for high school science teachers. Rudolph’s red nose, for instance, is a test tube cap; the antlers are rubber gloves. “Gail Grigg began this tradition,” the newsletter says. “The reindeer was the creation of Lisa Kadlec.”

Link of the day

The Hajj

When and where

Christmas luncheon buffet at University Club, December 1-23 (Monday-Friday), $19.25, reservations ext. 33801. Dinner buffet December 10 and 17, $36.95.

Fall term exams December 5 through 19. Details.

Blood donor clinic today and Tuesday 10:00 to 4:00, Student Life Centre, book appointments at turnkey desk or call 1-888-236-6283.

Outers Club presents Tavi Murray, Swansea University, Wales, speaking on living and working in the Antarctic, 6:00, Math and Computer room 2065.

Soft water will be shut off Tuesday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in all main campus buildings inside the ring road, as well as Village I. Water supply continues but will not be softened.

Arts faculty council Tuesday 3:30, Humanities room 373.

Live & Learn library lecture: Bruce Muirhead, history, “The Jewel in the crown: The International Development Research Centre and Canadian Development Assistance”, Tuesday 7:00 p.m., Waterloo Public Library main branch.

‘National town hall’ on Canadian engagement in Afghanistan, Tuesday 7 p.m., Centre for International Governance Innovation, 57 Erb Street West. Details.

Senate finance committee Wednesday 4 p.m., Needles Hall room 3004, agenda online.

UW-ACE Instructor User Group Thursday 1:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library.

Graduate Student Association semi-formal scheduled for Saturday, December 13, has been cancelled.

UW Senate Monday, December 15, cancelled.

Ontario Ballet Theatre presents “The Nutcracker”, Monday, December 15, 7:00 p.m., and school performances Tuesday, 10:00 and 12:30, Humanities Theatre.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Finding Nemo: Advanced Techniques for Finding Web Resources” Tuesday, December 16, 3:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library.

Fee payment deadline for the winter term: December 17 (cheque, money order or fee arrangements), December 30 (bank transfer).

Unofficial fall term grades begin appearing on Quest December 22; grades become official January 26.

Christmas and New Year’s holidays: Tuesday, December 23, last working day at UW for 2008. First working day of 2009 is Monday, January 5. Winter term classes begin Monday, January 5.

‘Language as a Complex Dynamic System’ event at Renison University College, Thursday, January 8; guest speaker Diane Larsen-Freeman, University of Michigan; details e-mail jpwillia@

Social Innovation Generation project presents “Studio Earth”, with remarks by environmentalist Severn Suzuki, sessions on social finance, social technology, political advocacy, Sunday, January 11, 12:30 to 5:00, Kitchener City Hall, registration $10, call ext. 38680.

Application deadline for September 2009 undergraduate admission is January 14 for Ontario secondary school students. General deadline, March 31. Exceptions include pharmacy (for January 2010) January 30; accounting and architecture, February 13; engineering and software March 2. Details.

Engineering alumni ski day at Osler Bluff Ski Club, Collingwood, January 16. Details.

Friday's Daily Bulletin