CloudSat Scientist Graeme Stephens Named Director of Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University

Note to Editors: Photos of Professors Graeme Stephens and Tom Vonder Haar are available with the news release at

Graeme Stephens, a University Distinguished Professor who launched the world’s first cloud-profiling radar with NASA in 2006, has been named director of Colorado State University’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere.

CIRA is a center for international cooperation that was established in 1980 to increase the effectiveness of atmospheric research between Colorado State and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CIRA’s research products help scientists around the globe understand atmospheric changes that affect weather and climate.

Stephens replaces one of his collaborators, Tom Vonder Haar, who is the only other University Distinguished Professor in atmospheric science at CSU. During his 28 years at CIRA, Vonder Haar helped bring more than $200 million in research funding to Colorado State University, primarily attributed to CIRA, which he helped create. He now wants to return to his research roots in the university’s Department of Atmospheric Science.

"Tom Vonder Haar has provided exemplary service at Colorado State University. Through his leadership, his team has brought hundreds of millions of research dollars into the university, which has helped cement CIRA’s international reputation as a place of scholarly excellence," said Tony Frank, provost and senior executive vice president at Colorado State. "Dr. Stephens will continue CIRA’s mission of service as well as help move the organization forward to solve the globe’s increasingly complex environmental problems."

"Tom leaves a legacy of enviable achievements in education, mentoring and science," said John Bates, division chief in NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. "I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tom on issues related to his life’s scientific pursuit – the global water and energy cycle – for nearly 20 years. I also want to welcome and congratulate Professor Graeme Stephens as the new CIRA director. Graeme will bring his energy, talent and humor to the position and continue to push the boundaries of innovative science and education."

Stephens joined the faculty of Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State as an associate professor in 1984 and was promoted to full professor in 1991. He moved from Australia having earned his bachelor’s with honors from the University of Melbourne in 1973. He received his doctoral degree there in 1977.

One of the highlights of his research is the highly successful CloudSat mission that he conceived; the project is managed and implemented by the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Stephens toiled for a dozen years with his counterparts at JPL, the Canadian Space Agency and Boulder-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., before they launched CloudSat 438 miles above Earth in April 2006. Part of NASA’s "A-Train" of Earth observation satellites, CloudSat measures amount and type of precipitation in clouds, giving scientists unprecedented data about fresh water on the planet and its effect on weather and climate.

CloudSat observations are having a remarkable effect on science research throughout the world by contributing to our understanding of the Earth’s environment. CloudSat is one of only three principal investigator-led Earth science missions launched or about to be launched by NASA and is one of the very few Earth missions that has had such university leadership. During the first two years of the CloudSat mission, CIRA has distributed more than 1.8 million CloudSat data products – about 123 terabytes of data – to scientists in 48 countries. A terabyte is one million megabytes; a megabyte has enough disk storage to hold about 20,000 average-sized e-mail messages. More than 100 research papers reporting on new discoveries using CloudSat data have appeared or are about to appear in scientific literature.

Coincidentally, Vonder Haar was the first Colorado State atmospheric scientist to work on a NASA mission. In 1984, he served as project scientist on the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, which was the first NASA science satellite to be launched from the Challenger space shuttle.

Vonder Haar joined Colorado State in 1970 and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2003 for his work on fundamental analysis of the Earth’s radiation balance and its impact on climate. He used early earth satellites to make and publish the first observations of Earth’s Thermal Engine, a phenomenon that drives all the winds and the ocean currents – a breakthrough measurement for understanding Earth’s climate.

His numerous awards include the American Meteorological Society Second Half Century (Charney) Award. He now chairs the Interdisciplinary Section at the National Academy of Engineering.

At CIRA, Vonder Haar’s team won multiple awards for service to such agencies as NOAA, NASA, the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Defense. Most recently, NASA honored CIRA with a Public Service Group Achievement Award for processing data that is critical to getting CloudSat’s information on the characteristics of clouds to the international science community.