Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Ph.D Candidate Mentors Students at the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Posted: March 17, 2017

Ph.D Candidate Mentors Students at the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Climate & Space student Annareli Morales has a pretty good answer when people ask her what she did on her summer vacation last year. The Ph.D. candidate spent her summer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO. as part of the center’s Advanced Study Program (ASP).  Annareli’s faculty advisor at the time, Derek Posselt (now at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), submitted her name for a Graduate Student Fellowship, which allowed her to work directly with NCAR research scientists. 

For Morales, whose research deals with orographic precipitation (the rain or snow produced when moist air is lifted over a mountain range), the NCAR fellowship was an opportunity to work on her thesis with the experienced guidance of NCAR engineers and scientists, while the mountains of Colorado provided a real world environment for observation and research. 

In addition to the fellowship, Annareli also applied for, and received, a Warner Internship for Scientific Enrichment (WISE), which provides additional funding for graduate student visitors. The internship was created in memory of Professor Tom Warner by NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory and ASP, and seeks to honor his approach to science by combining science and service to society. 

As part of her WISE internship, Annareli mentored a local high school student, and helped her prepare for an NCAR-hosted student poster session. 

Appropriately, the student’s research dealt with the effects of changes in cloud droplet concentration on rain over an idealized mountain, and she worked under Annareli’s direction for about twenty hours per week over six weeks. Annareli provided books and review papers on cloud physics, and talked her through particulars such as aerosols and clouds, and plausible ranges for cloud droplet concentrations. The pair also used NCAR’s Cloud Model 1 (CM1) numerical model to perform the simulations for various cloud droplet concentration scenarios, from very high concentration to very low.

In addition to her mentoring duties, Annareli also organized an Atmospheric Science Expo at Casa de la Esperanza, a residential community center dedicated to assisting agricultural workers and their families. The center is operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority in Longmont, CO., and provides recreational and educational services to Casa residents.

She enlisted the help of several undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers to help her teach the four concepts of air, water, light, and vortices to Casa students. They employed hands-on experiments and games to help the children learn about air molecules, cloud formation, rainbows and scattering, and tornadoes/hurricanes. Participants ranged from ages 5-12, and some, particularly the younger children, spoke only Spanish. Fortunately, one of the other volunteers was from Spain, and she helped Annareli translate the material.

A Chicago native, Annareli says that she most enjoyed her Earth science and math classes in high school, an interest that carried over into her undergraduate studies. “I was afraid of thunderstorms when I was a child,” she says, “and it helped to reduce the anxiety by learning how thunderstorms developed and the detailed mechanics within them.” It was after the Colorado flood of September 2013, that she decided to focus on heavy precipitation and flooding, specifically over mountains. She saw the severe impact the floods had on the mountain communities and their local infrastructure, and wanted to learn more about these storm systems, in the hopes of helping these communities mitigate the negative effects of storms in the future. 

She received her Bachelor degree from University of Illinois, and her Masters from Colorado State University. Annareli has been at U-M CLaSP for just over three years, and she plans to defend her thesis in August 2018. “My research will involve using Bayesian statistical methods to explore the sensitivity of various parameters involved with frozen precipitation within a cloud microphysics parameterization (this describes the processes controlling formation of cloud droplets and ice crystals, their growth and precipitation) to precipitation over a mountain.” 

After she completes her Ph.D., Annareli says she’s looking for a postdoctoral appointment that will allow her to continue investigating orographic precipitation and their mesoscale/microscale features, but her ultimate goal is to become a professor. “I want to mentor and teach students, and enhance diversity within atmospheric science."

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