by Judith Curry
I have been intending to write a post on NOAA’s proposed Climate Service, but hadn’t gotten around to it. The announcement today regarding the final FY 2011 Appropriations deal includes language stating that none of the funds appropriated to NOAA may be used to “implement, establish, or create a NOAA Climate Service.”
NOAA’s plans for Climate Services
From NOAA’s web site on Climate Services:
NOAA’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Budget Request includes a reorganization that brings together its existing widely dispersed climate capabilities under a single line office management structure, the Climate Service.
The principal goal of this reorganization is to more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities. NOAA provides this to citizens as climate services.
The Climate Service will allow NOAA to provide a reliable and authoritative source for climate data, information, and decision support services and to more effectively coordinate with other agencies and partners.
- Data and Prediction Centers
- Program Offices and Headquarters
- River Forecast Centers
- National Weather Service
- National Marine Sanctuaries
- NOAA Climate Service Regions
- Regional Climate Centers
- State Climatologists
- Sea Crant
- National Estuarine Research
- Cooperative Institutes
Much of this is an umbrella for things that already exist. I view the following elements to be the heart of the decision support part of the actual service:
- NOAA Climate Service Regions (doesn’t yet exist)
- RISA (Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments) “The Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program supports research that addresses complex climate sensitive issues of concern to decision-makers and policy planners at a regional level. The RISA research team members are primarily based at universities though some of the team members are based at government research facilities, non-profit organizations or private sector entities.”
- Regional Climate Centers operated by NCDC, “past weather data climate products and services for your region and state”
- State Climatologists (no funding from NOAA)
- International Research Institute (NOAA funded) “We use a science-based approach to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries.”
Each of these elements already exists, except for the NOAA Climate Service Regions. So how effective are these elements? The state climatologists provide services that are used primarily by farmers and water resource managers. The RISAs have been interesting and some of them have done interesting and/or useful things. The IRI has received something like $10M/yr for well over a decade, and hasn’t provided much bang per buck, IMO.
The back story
I think it was summer of 2007 when NOAA convened a meeting of climate scientists, program managers from NOAA and range of other interested agencies, plus some selected “stakeholders” to discuss NOAA’s ideas regarding Climate Services. NOAA’s plan presented at this meeting was not terribly well received, but the topic engendered much interesting discussion.
The advisory committee submitted the following recommendation to NOAA, to convene “tiger teams” to discuss the pros and cons of the following four options for a Climate Service:
- Create a national climate service federation that would determine how to deliver climate services to the nation
- Create a non-profit corporation with federal sponsorship
- Create a national climate service with NOAA as the lead agency with specifically defined partners
- Expand and improve weather services into weather and climate services within NOAA
The outcome of this exercise is reported here. The Chair of the Committee, Eric Barron, testified in 2009 on the findings. If you only click on one link in this post, I recommend Barron’s testimony, it succinctly makes the arguments for a Climate Service and the pros and cons of the various options.
Well, when I was a member of NOAA’s Climate Working Group (its main climate advisory committee) NOAA didn’t pay too much attention to my outspoken views. Further they have rejected a number of my proposals that have laid out my vision for how to accomplish this. So I will use the bully pulpit of Climate Etc. to say what I really think about all this.
A wide range of decision makers (public and private) need information about the climate. The single most useful thing that NOAA could do would be to develop an authoritative set of climate data records that are integrated into an actual information system (that includes interoperability, metadata infrastructure, SOA web services, ontologies and semantic search, etc) . NCDC seems to understand the need for this, but hasn’t gotten to first base yet. In the mean time, it is a “travesty” that we need Berkeley Earth to sort out the surface temperature records.
NOAA’s view of decision support and “stakeholder interactions” is naive IMO, and in my assessment they are spending a$$ in ways that are not very useful. Private sector companies (from weather risk management to the big aerospace companies) are getting involved in aspects of climate information technology and decision support for weather/climate risk management and adaptation. My small company CFAN has been teaming with private companies, development banks and NGOs to form groups to compete for very specific climate service projects needs of individual countries and the U.S. State Dept (USAID) and Department of Defense, at a level that is far more sophisticated than anything I have seen coming from NOAA funding.
So I’m ok with NOAA’s Climate Service not being funded in its currently planned incarnation. However, there is a growing need for climate information (particularly data) to support decision making. NOAA should focus on the climate data records, and hire a group to put together an actual information system that is useful to users. NOAA should get out of the decision support business, and let the private sector take this on for needs in the private sector and federal government, with universities working with their state and local governments.