ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Summer 2009

Alexander E. MacDonald, Director ESRL

Director’s Corner

Get ready! Things are changing in NOAA

Get ready! Things are changing in NOAA, and these changes are clearly going to be affecting us in ESRL. Collectively, the laboratories in Boulder have had 15 to 20 years of flat or shrinking budgets (adjusted for inflation). The reasons are complex and, in part, involved changes in NOAA’s funding process. The repercussions have been relatively straightforward, however: NOAA’s weather programs, for example, have not grown for 20 years, and the National Weather Service modernization reached its completion with the installation of AWIPS around the year 2000, followed by years of decreasing emphasis on new capabilities. Although the climate program grew significantly in the 1990s, it has been very diversified by design, investing higher percentages of NOAA’s climate research dollars in competitive research grants outside of NOAA. It can be argued that if the emphasis is purely on a search for knowledge, such short-term (e.g., three - year) principal investigator grants are a good way to invest research funds. However, NOAA also needs infrastructure and deep expertise to support its core mission of understanding and prediction.

Given increasing demand for NOAA’s core mission capabilities in weather (e.g., improved hurricane prediction) and climate (e.g., better understanding global change), there is a new emphasis on supporting the necessary people and equipment. We in ESRL bring a lot to this endeavor, and recent planning and funding activities demonstrate that the administration and Congress see us in a bigger and more important role.

Congress makes the ultimate funding decision. Every fiscal year, the House and Senate each develop a proposed budget (the “mark”), and then meet to negotiate a final budget. The House has done its mark for the coming fiscal year (FY 2010), and it includes a number of efforts that would involve ESRL. In climate, the House mark includes significant increases for the National Integrated Drought Information Service, Regional Integrated Science Assessments (the Western Water Assessment is one), and Chemical Climate Research. In weather, it supports an increase for the Developmental Testbed Center and Severe Weather Forecast Improvements.

Prospects for FY 2011 look even brighter. The creation of a National Climate Service is a strong priority for the administration, and ESRL will have many connections to this program. For example, there is a greatly increased need to monitor greenhouse gases as we move to a national and global mitigation effort. Similarly, the need for big increases in computing power-to make the next generation of Earth system models interoperable—are being met with funding.

During my 27 years as a director I have concluded that the easiest programs to manage are those that stay at the same funding level. Growing programs are difficult, and shrinking programs are even worse. We are coming into an era of growth: we will need more people, more space, more equipment, etc. The exciting new roles that we will be taking on will more than compensate for any difficulties.

In reading this issue of the ESRL Quarterly, you can see the harbingers of this new era. The ESRL Global Monitoring Conference was a huge success, in the number of attendees and in the quality of the presentations and discussions. ESRL covers the whole spectrum of things that are required for environmental services, from new instruments (ASTER), to new understanding (the use of satellite data to understand NO2 emissions), and new ways to educate people about NOAA’s mission (Second Life).

So, get ready! We have big, exciting, important work to do!

—Alexander MacDonald