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Barbara Stunder
Katie Valentine

Barbara Stunder

Dr. Barbara Stunder is a meteorologist at the Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. She is on the HYSPLIT team that supports the research, development, and application of the HYSPLIT atmospheric transport and dispersion model. HYSPLIT provides guidance for emergency response to large, explosive, volcanic eruptions and radiological releases; for daily forecasts of wildfire smoke and wind-blown dust; for air-parcel trajectories; and other applications.

In her role, Dr. Stunder leads the transfer of upgraded HYSPLIT code to operations at the National Weather Service. She interacts with users from academia, state agencies, and others through a web-based forum to answer questions. She also takes part in development of international aviation safety practices regarding airborne volcanic ash and radiological substances by supporting the Federal Aviation Administration representatives to the International Civil Aviation Organization.  

What projects or research are you working on now?

I am working on two major projects to upgrade NWS National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) HYSPLIT dispersion products. The first is a restructuring of the radiological dispersion application. During the 2011 incident at the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear power plant, we realized we needed a way to run the atmospheric dispersion separate from applying the details of exactly when the release(s) occurred and how much radiation was emitted in each release (the “source term”). In this new system the atmospheric dispersion simulation (computer-intensive) is only run once, and then the details of the source term are applied as a post-processing step, and can be easily re-run as the source term is updated.

The second project is adding uncertainty information to dispersion products by using ensembles. Currently the HYSPLIT dispersion forecasts at NCEP are deterministic forecasts, with no information about forecast uncertainty. We are working on a project that will run HYSPLIT on the individual members of the NCEP meteorological ensemble forecasts, then output dispersion products, such as the mean, the 90th percentile concentration, and others. These ensemble dispersion products will provide uncertainty information that will guide dispersion forecasters, just as the meteorological ensembles guide weather forecasters.  

What does success mean to you? 

As I see it, a successful individual is happy.  If my work, family-life and “free-time-life” are all going well, I am happy, and feel successful. If any are not going well, it does not mean failure — just not success. Success for one individual of course may not be the same as for other individuals. Individual success implies work is completed well in a timely manner, good relationships are maintained, good communication is used, the individual is not stressed, and so on.  

What challenges have you faced as a woman in your career/field, or in general, and how have you overcome them?

One challenge I have faced as a woman and parent is work-life balance. I have a long commute to work, and work full-time, but wanted to spend more time with my children. I overcame this by taking intermittent leave without pay for a time while my children were young. In this way I could either leave work early on a somewhat regular basis or take several hours one day a week and could for example, volunteer in my children’s school during the school day. I was fortunate this option was available and that it worked for my family.  

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? What do you hope the future for women in science looks like?

I hope to continue developing new atmospheric dispersion products for NCEP or elsewhere in the NWS and spend non-work time successfully contributing to nonprofit organizations as a volunteer. I hope girls who are interested in science can easily and will take as many science and math classes in school as possible. I hope girls and women are never told “You can’t do whatever.” I hope there are more working women scientists.  

Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old? Or what advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

I would have not liked this because I was and still am an introvert but I wish someone had told me to “raise my hand” in class. I know of an organization encouraging girls to raise their hand to answer the teacher’s question or ask the teacher a question, because girls tend to raise their hands less than boys. If I had been told this, and if I had done it, perhaps I would now be less introverted.  

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    Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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