Climate change research has taken on heightened visibility in recent years and, scientists from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colo., continue to receive
recognition for the key role they play using
data from satellites and other sensors to study global warming.
Many of UCAR’s scientists were part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 along with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
UCAR has about 1,450 employees, approximately 850 of whom work directly for its National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is operated by UCAR in a manner similar to the way in which the California Institute of Technology operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, according to UCAR President Richard Anthes. UCAR, which was rated by the Society for Human Resource Management’s Colorado State Council in both 2006 and 2007 as one of the best companies to work for in Colorado, has 71 member universities and 17 affiliates. UCAR also works with 46 international affiliates in countries like Israel, Japan, Egypt and Brazil, according to the UCAR Web site.
UCAR has an annual budget of approximately $200 million. Anthes said in a March 13 interview that he hopes for the foreseeable future that the budget level remains at least stable with adjustments for inflation. The agency’s budget is requested by its sponsors, with
the National Science Foundation providing
about 75 percent of its funding. Most
of the rest comes
from NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Energy, Anthes said.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research is actively involved with feeding data from satellites and other sensors into models for both climate research and weather prediction, Anthes said. The center’s Community Climate System Model is one of the world’s most highly regarded climate research models, and is used by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and shared by scientists around the world who offer assistance with refining the model, he said.
Space systems play a critical role in that work, Anthes said.
Berrien Moore, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, led the National Academy of Sciences panel that published “Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,” which called for the United States to undertake 17 new Earth science missions between 2010 and 2020.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA need substantial budget increases not currently projected to happen to fully implement the recommendations of the report, which also is known as the decadal survey, Anthes said. Without top-line budget increases, the two agencies would have to gut other activities to implement the recommendations, he said.
Anthes has been outspoken in his concern about the climate sensors stripped from National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) when it was restructured to reduce cost and risk in June 2006. Anthes said he is pleased that the government has taken steps to address this issue, including adding the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor back to the first NPOESS satellite, but expressed disappointment that money has had to be taken from other programs to do so.
UCAR also operates the UCAR Office of Programs, which handles space efforts including the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) satellites, which were launched in April 2006.
The satellites produce atmospheric profiles used by organizations including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which began using COSMIC operationally for its global weather forecasting efforts in May 2007.
Those satellites are expected to operate through 2011, and UCAR
currently is trying to develop a concept and sponsorship for a follow-on program, Anthes said.
Limitations on available computer processing power also present a significant challenge to making advancements in climate research, Anthes said. The processing power of the computers in use today at the National Center for Atmospheric Research constrains the amount of information and the resolution of the data that is used during modeling work, he said. For a small fraction of what is spent in space, significant advancements could be made on the ground systems that are used for climate and weather research, Anthes said.
Meanwhile, UCAR recently began looking for a replacement for Timothy Killeen, who is leaving his post as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in July to become assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation. Anthes said an announcement about a replacement could come in the next two or three weeks.