Climate center team to receive research award from governor

By Staff

A team at the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) will receive a “high-impact research” award from Gov. John Hickenlooper for sustainability implemented at the center.

The team has slashed energy consumption at the center by more than 90 percent by installing an indirect evaporative cooling system for its computer bank, which is accessed by researchers around the world who study Earth’s snow, ice and climate. The system blows air over water, producing a coolant without humidity. The dryness is important because humidity can damage computers.

“The technology works and it shows that others can do this too,” said David Gallaher, NSIDC’s technical services manager. “Data centers are big consumers of energy and a lot of it is for cooling. Even in the dead of winter, our computer room air conditioners were cranking full tilt, trying to chill the 100-degree-plus heat coming off the back of these units.”

Before this summer’s installation of the cooling system, 35 kilowatt-hours of energy per hour – enough to power approximately 28 homes – were required to cool the facility.

“Smart controls” also make the NSIDC’s computer room design more sustainable. They circulate air from the outdoors during much of the year, and automatically switch on the cooling system when temperatures reach a certain threshold.

The team will add an array of rooftop solar panels by the end of the year in another phase of its sustainability implementations, Gallaher said. More than 700 locally manufactured panels that will produce approximately 50 kilowatt-hours of energy are slated for the installation. They will feed the electrical grid, reducing the center’s net carbon footprint. In case of a power outage, the array will charge backup batteries that can keep the NSIDC running.

Besides Gallaher, the center’s design team includes Mark Serreze, NSIDC director; and Ronald Weaver, NSIDC principal investigator and manager of the NASA Distributed Active Archive Center. The project also involves Otto Van Geet of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Rick Osbaugh of the RMH Group and Lee Gillan of Coolerado Corp.

NSIDC received a grant for its sustainability implementations from the National Science Foundation under its Academic Research Infrastructure Program with additional support from NASA. NSIDC manages scientific data from NSF field programs and from NASA’s Earth Observing System remote sensing program.

CO-LABS – a nonprofit consortium that informs the public about breakthroughs and impacts from the 24 federal labs in Colorado – sponsors the annual Governor’s Awards for High-Impact Research.

Other award recipients for work in atmospheric science, renewable energy and disease prevention this year include representatives from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and its umbrella agency, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research; the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An awards presentation will be held Nov. 15 at Xcel Energy headquarters in Denver.  The public may register to attend the event, which costs $45, at

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The center supports research into Earth’s frozen regions including sea ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, permafrost and climate interactions. NSIDC performs scientific research, manages and distributes data and educates the public.

For more information and to view monitoring of the computing center’s energy use and cooling system visit