New satellites, new administration key topics of AMS meeting

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SEATTLE — A meeting of atmospheric and space scientists this week will feature enthusiasm about a new generation of weather satellites tempered by uncertainty about the future of key programs in the Trump administration.

The 97th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) here will host more than 4,000 people to discuss topics ranging from advances in terrestrial weather forecasting to understanding the effect space weather has on the Earth.

Much of the interest at the conference will be on a new generation of weather satellites. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to release Jan. 23 the first images from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) 16 spacecraft, launched Nov. 19. The spacecraft, previously known as GOES-R, is the first in a new series of weather satellites equipped with instruments that will provide more frequent and higher quality data to support weather forecasting.

Several conference sessions are devoted to discussions of the checkout of the instruments on GOES 16 and analysis of the data they provide. Similar sessions are also planned for the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft, a next-generation polar-orbiting weather satellite. JPSS-1, originally scheduled for launch early this year, is now planned for no earlier than July.

At the same time, many scientists at the AMS meeting will be concerned about the uncertain future of climate science and related programs at NASA and NOAA. Prior to the election, the Trump campaign advocated for moving Earth science programs out of NASA entirely, a position that advisors have reiterated since the election.

The new Trump administration has already taken a step in the direction of reducing the influence of climate science on overall policy. “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan,” states an energy policy statement, the “America First Energy Plan,” posted to the White House website immediately after the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Trump. That is a reference to a 2013 Obama administration policy that included, among other provisions, support for enhanced climate science studies at NASA and NOAA.

NASA plans to hold an Earth science town hall meeting at the AMS meeting Jan. 24. At a similar forum held in December at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, agency officials attempted to minimize concerns by scientists about potential changes, saying they expected few changes in the near term.

Another set of sessions at the AMS meeting will address space weather research and predictions. One session Jan. 24 will focus on moving ahead with the Space Weather Action Plan, published by the Obama administration in 2015 to identify key issues in space weather, ranging from research to preparations to deal with terrestrial hazards created by solar storms.

Implementation of that plan continues despite the change of administrations. A filing in the Federal Register Jan. 23 seeks comment on a draft white paper about improving the relationship between space weather research and operational forecasting, one element of the overall action plan.

While scientists meet in Seattle, space weather will also be a topic in Washington. On Jan. 17, four senators reintroduced the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, legislation that addresses some of the same issues as the action plan. The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill Jan. 24. The committee approved a similar bill last year, but was not taken up by the full Senate.