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Community Connections: Communication and Outreach in the Unified Forecast System

Spring 2020

The Unified Forecast System (UFS) is a coupled, comprehensive Earth modeling and data assimilation system that will be used in NOAA operations and by the research community. There are naturally a lot of questions about UFS from potential collaborators, for example: What UFS codes are available to run? How do I find out more information about the project, and how can I get involved?

One of the roles of the UFS Communication and Outreach Working Group (C&O WG, for short) is to communicate the answers to such questions. Members include physical scientists, social scientists, NOAA public affairs representatives, managers, and software developers. The C&O WG also established a “UFS Focus Group,” which is a diverse collection of 50+ people, populated by graduate students, scientists, field officers, and others, who have volunteered their time to review and test UFS products.

The first product generated by the C&O WG was the UFS Portal, at ufscommunity.org. Launched last year following a Focus Group review, the Portal is a one-stop-shop for all things UFS: news, upcoming events, highlights of current activities, documents, and plans. Looking for answers to the questions above? Information about the March 2020 release of the UFS, the  Medium-Range Weather Application 1.0, is available on Portal along with a link to support forums. There is an overview of all UFS applications (e.g. short-range weather, sub-seasonal to seasonal prediction, space weather), a description of the UFS governance structure and working groups, and information about how to get involved.

The role of the C&O WG extends beyond the Portal to more general aspects of UFS communications. Making sure that UFS participants have a space where they can work together easily is critical, which is why the C&O team collaborated with the NOAA Environmental Modeling Center (EMC) and their UFS partners to set up a GitHub organization, repositories, and wikis for UFS applications. Making the code available, testing it, and sharing documentation are key aspects of community participation. The ufs-community organization on GitHub, at https://github.com/ufs-community/ufs/wiki, is how UFS releases are being distributed.

The C&O WG is also working with community members to understand and document the usability of UFS code. To do this, the C&O WG has engaged with UFS software developers to prepare and distribute  “Graduate Student Tests” or GSTs. The UFS project defines the GST as the ability of a student to easily get code, run code, change code, test code for correct operation, and compare and evaluate results. The most recent GST was released with the Medium-Range Weather Application, and it is open to all - not just graduate students!  Evaluators get, build, and run an example, change a physics parameter, rerun, and visually compare results, in less than six hours. Then they fill out a questionnaire about their experience. Results will be shared on the Portal and the feedback used to improve future releases. Like other C&O WG activities, the GST encourages communication that will help to advance UFS scientifically and computationally.

Interested in participating in a GST? See https://ufscommunity.org/index.html#/science/gst

Contributed by Cecelia DeLuca.