Axing NOAA’s Climate Service

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.”

Details of the spending agreement can be found in this summary and also at the hill.com.  Rick Piltz’s analysis is here.

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.

A prototype of NOAA’s vision for Climate Services is seen on this website.  The NOAA partners page describes administratively the elements of the envisioned Climate Services:

NOAA:

  • Data and Prediction Centers
  • Laboratories
  • Program Offices and Headquarters
  • River Forecast Centers
  • National Weather Service
  • National Marine Sanctuaries
  • NOAA Climate Service Regions

Partners:

  • RISA
  • 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:

  1. Create a national climate service federation that would determine how to deliver climate services to the nation
  2. Create a non-profit corporation with federal sponsorship
  3. Create a national climate service with NOAA as the lead agency with specifically defined partners
  4. 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.

JC’s recommendation

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.


51 responses to “Axing NOAA’s Climate Service

  1. Does America suffer form too few government agencies promoting cliamte crisis?
    Is it just possible that we are being told enough already?

    • Too many, not too few government agencies are involved.

      Why?

      Every federal agency has cast its lure into the pool of government funds that NAS (National Academy of Sciences) uses to direct research toward specific goals. The NAS President is Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone, a climatologist.

      On 26 June 2008 I asked Dr. Cicerone, Congressman Alan B. Mollohan (Chair of the Subcommittee on Science for the House Appropriations Committee), and the members of the Space Science Board to pull NASA out of the climate quagmire.

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel
      Former NASA Principal
      Investigator for Apollo

      • Oliver,

        “Too many, not too few government agencies are involved.

        Why?”

        Too much fund allocated to these fruitless (or rather harmful misleading information were diseminated or speculated) climate research. These funds were individual’s hard earn tax money. These agencies has no responsibilities on wasting public funds.

  2. Business issues aside, NOAA hyped the proposed service in terms of AGW alarmism. Its chief proponent, Tom Karl, has been one of the top fed alarmists for over a decade. This is surely GOP pushback, and well deserved.

    • Corruption and partisanship have a cost. What comes around, goes around. Intelligent people understand this naturally. Even foolish people understand it after living long enough to observe the consequences a few times.

      Karl and friends apparently still don’t understand.

  3. I don’t think we will miss the NOAA climate service.

    There is a lot of duplication in this area. Another operation that I’d recommend de-funding is the JPL NASA website climate.nasa.gov .
    It’s poorly put together global warming activist site, paid for with tax dollars. It is not related to NASA GISS operation.

  4. There is much more political power, press coverage and a much larger budget, in formulating and recommending policy than in collecting and disseminating data (with the possible exception of the NSA). A bureaucrat’s first goal is to increase his authority, the second is to increase his budget. I would love to have seen the look on the faces of NASA administrators upon hearing advice to get out of the decision support business.

    It’d be like telling Hugh Hefner to just publish news articles.

  5. John Carpenter

    I really don’t see any need to make, what amounts to be, our own homespun version of the IPCC. In Eric Barron’s testimony, he lays out another bureaucratic monstrosity vying for power. From his testimony:

    “Recommendation #3.  Place under High-Level Leadership.  Success  of  a National Climate Service requires recognized, clear, authoritative, responsible leadership within the Federal System at the  highest level possible, ideally within the White House.  The importance of this cannot be 
    overemphasized.  The service must be interagency and involve state and local governments as well as the private and public sector.  To make this work, someone with clear and obvious authority must take the lead.”

    So I guess this means we would have a “Climate Czar”. Of course this would automatically further politicize the issue.

    Among the services that would be provided would be:

    “A national clearinghouse for all carbon and climate monitoring data and all impact analyses, based in Washington, D.C., could support policymaking and provide an authoritative signal to Congress about how rapidly and  deeply you should cut or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to minimize 
    losses.”

    The mission seems clear here… centralized decision making at its best as they will certainly be looking out to save us from ourselves… but the end of the testimony was the icing on the cake…

     “…the benefits of a National Climate Service will be manifold, will extend to 
    all parts of the economy, and will have implications for the everyday lives of  all people of this  country. Climate change is happening now and it is occurring at a faster rate than  anticipated.  We need  a National Climate Service that will enable people to  plan for change in a constructive, efficient manner.  If we succeed in this  endeavor, I am confident that we can avoid many of the adverse changes that could surely affect our society  otherwise.”

    Why not just say “It’s coming fast folks and it’s going to be bad so get out of the way and do as we say”.

    I am glad to hear this “endeavor” will not be funded as it would have amounted to nothing more than a taxpayer funded political activist group with a preconceived notion of what is going to happen and the solutions to the problems waiting in the wings. A “dependable and accurate source of information to which to turn”…. MY EYE.

  6. I use these folks all the time for information…
    http://www.nrcc.cornell.edu/index.html
    (it’s apparently broken up into regions as well)…They call themselves a “Regional Climate Center”
    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/regionalclimatecenters.html there are others.

    Are these any different than the ones that are being proposed? Seems redundant to me.

  7. Good decision. NOAA should stick to what they were created for and stay out of their climate science alarmism nonsense.

    Next I hope NASA’s GISS is defunded. NASA should be told to stick to space and get out of climate science.

    These agencies have created enough damage to the economy and jobs with their junk science and alarmism.

    • You might want to check your facts:

      The National Aeronautics and Space Act
      Sec. 20102. Congressional declaration of policy and purpose
      (d) Objectives of Aeronautical and Space Activities.–The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:
      (1) The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.

      This language was in the Act as original adopted in 1958 and is still there today in the latest amended version Notice that this directive to conduct what is, essentially, Earth Science, occurs before any mention of space travel, vehicles, etc.

      • It does not mean that its charter can not, or should not be modified by the US Congress if it is deemed unproductive. Additionally, Congress could elect to cut the funding for the specific climate related activities. Given the budget situation in the US that seems prudent

      • Better yet, zero out NASA’s budget entirely. Personally, I think this is a necessary step to get America’s exploration of space going again (to be combined with a change in the rules that effective forbid private interests from exploiting space).

        Though give credit where credit is due. The Mars Rovers have accomplished more than expected with a tiny budget.

      • I would agree that NASA has lost much of its focus and efficency.

  8. Judith,

    Climate science is only as good as the information shared and understood.
    Opinions to the information is where the trouble is.

    Many times blame has been placed on AGW without any evidence and in many cases is untrue.

  9. I think climate scientists need to get out of climate science, those at the top escorted out under guard and kicked into the sea, very publically. The field needs to be cleaned out by non-climate scientists; but who watches the watchers? Climate science is just the tip of the iceberg, and until that fact becomes clear, science will be just so many bureaucrats and managers trying to keep their own skirts clean and their own funding unchecked. You have a thorough revolution on your hands, scientists. Face it, learn it, and master it, or decline and fail across the board. Yes, it is that bad; the greenhouse effect is no better than a religious superstition.

    • They’re coming to take Karl away, away.
      ==========

    • Seriously, I love these kinds of posts.

    • Harold Pierce Jr

      We the People don’t have to anything. The climate is rapidly cooling, and in a year or so the climate scam will collapse due to wide spread and brutally- cold winters. When this occurs, angry mobs will storm the universities, drag the climate scientists to commons and burn them at the stake.

      Pay attention JC. This shall happen. This I gar-un-tee!

  10. There’s soooooo much FAT and SUGAR in the federal budget that we could pay off the National Debt in 10-20 years without feeling a thing. It’s would be painless. Oh well, empires and civilizations come and go, no reason to think we are any different.

    PS: Instead of voting for a “lawyer” in 2012, vote for an “accountant” with a butcher knife. Do it for the kids.

  11. Eric Barron’s third and sixth paragraphs were enough for me, paragraph 3 presenting findings that reflect the coordinated efforts’ of an authoritative group of climatologists, climate policy experts…and other key stakeholders.’ Paragraph 4, justifying need because climate services lack ‘central coordination, focus and direction.’
    Hockey Team stuff :-(

  12. randomengineer

    A wide range of decision makers (public and private) need information about the climate.

    Nonsense. Of all things to consider, tiny deviation from an area’s climate norm over 100 years is just noise.

    You’d have to believe utter silliness like the sea level thing from Gore’s idiot movie to think otherwise, i.e. rapidly accelerating doom.

    • The local “noise” has substantial socioeconomic implications. E.g., you think farmers, water resource managers, etc. don’t want to know a few months in advance the prospect of drought?

      • you mean like a long range weather forecast?

      • Businesses that have real money at risk pay professionals with a track record of accuracy such as Piers Corbyn. They know better than to rely on govt agencies with a track record of incompetence, corruption and political partisanship.

      • Latimer Alder

        Aren’t those the sort of things that the UK Met Office recently decided fell into the ‘too hard’ category and gave up trying to provide? Not because of money but because they were absolutely crap at it.

      • random engineer and judith

        How about the “Farmers’ Almanac”?

        It is still widely used and trusted.

        Max

      • randomengineer

        E.g., you think farmers, water resource managers, etc. don’t want to know a few months in advance the prospect of drought?

        We do not need multiple taxpayer funded climate offices for what is essentially long range forecasting (which is a weather issue anyway.) In my mind we don’t need ANY. Commercial services already do these things.

        As far as I’m concerned, before any further studies of climate change get another frakking taxpayer dime, somebody’s going to need to show me the sunken Maldives and prove conclusively that a) this isn’t geological or natural in any way, and b) it couldn’t possibly have happened if not for those pesky kids (presumably driving their mystery SUVs.)

        In other words the world has been warming naturally since the 1700′s and any sunk Maldives damn well better be impossible if not for human influence. It must be proved that this can’t possibly be a consequence of nature.

        Funding was spent. Predictions were made. OK, so before any more cash gets spent, lets see how the prediction went. At that point we can assess whether or not the taxpayer has any need to fund further study.

      • Long range weather forecasting should be in the hands of the government as it is today. I have no problem with private companies competing using the open resources of the government. The drive for profit from private companies can corrupt results and having all of the data open, free to access helps our ability to improve these forecasts in the future. This is something CPC division of NOAA handles very well today.

  13. BEST didn’t “sort” anything out, all it did was tell us what we already knew. The existing temperature records are reasonably accurate. The earth is getting warmer.

    • BEST is sorting out the surface temperature data, which is rather a mess (not to mention incomplete). The BEST group has not yet completed its analysis of the land surface temperature data.

  14. The realities of the US budget situation will result in cuts of many services that are currently considered essential. Given that the US is currently spending over 30% more than it is collecting in revenues, tough decisions WILL have to be made. When currently funded programs are found to either be over budget, behind schedule, or not achieving their predicted results they will almost certainly have their funding reduced or be eliminated.

    Can anyone argue that the NOAA has been considered a model of efficiency? I am not saying it is the worst program funded, but when an organization gathers high visibility, it also suffers high risk when what their results are considered questionable. What has happened is certainly predictable

  15. I see two major problems with the “Climate Service” approach (ignoring technical arguments). The first is that increasing management levels results in problems with efficiency (use of resources) and effectiveness (achieving needed results) and the time it takes to achieve the reults. If we think the government programs are bad now, nominally this would make them worse. The second issue relates to management. Increase the management levels, and you have to hire high level managers who can effectively manage the new structure. I think the track record on this is poor. If a simple structure isn’t managed very we, it seems wishful thinking that a more complex one would be managed better,

  16. Having read just the post itself and none of the links, it seems the major contribution this plan would make it the availability of well-processed data for the use of the public and private organizations. Maybe I have mis-interpreted the goal.

    If that is the case, however, I think less money could be spent on ‘institutes’ and ‘research teams’ and more money on training people on how to actually use the data products such a program would make available.

    But the responses from some people sound weird. Doesn’t everyone want NOAA/NASA/other scientific organizations to release the data they use to make assessments and write papers? Would this program provide a great avenue to release all that data?

    I’m not keen on having an ‘authoritative’ voice basically telling people what to worry about either, but it would be nice if there was a centralized point to access good data products and provide training to analyzing those data products to help make better informed decisions.

  17. So we are left with the stupid State Climatologist quagmire, with unfunded offices collecting and collating uncorrelated data in different ways on Tuesday. Well done Judith, it’s 1976 deja vu.

    • Eli– no actually that will not be the case. State budgets are in far worse shape than the federal budget, so you should expect more severe state budget cuts on this issue also……hopefully

  18. Judith Curry

    You pointed out:

    The CR also prohibits funding for the establishment of a Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Since Congress has shelved this for now, it is a hypothetical point, but it may “pop up” again.

    Climate info to allow people to make better local or regional decisions sounds OK, provided the “climate info” is any good.

    The UK Met Office has gained quite a bit of notoriety for its consistently poor forecasts for the UK: BBQ summers, unusually mild winters, record warm years, all of which never came about.

    In addition to the lousy forecasting ability and poor transparency, I think there is a basic problem in the UK as well as at GISS/NOAA in the USA.

    It is quite simply this: the “keepers of the records” are activists, who are trying to sell the public the notion of alarming AGW.

    Has this affected the accuracy of the records? Let’s see what BEST tells us before coming to a judgment, but I am suspicious..

    As a rational skeptic, I believe it is folly to have outspoken “alarming AGW” activists in charge of key temperature records (the old “fox in charge of the hen-house” analogy – sure, the fox may be honest and trustworthy, but the suspicion will always be there that he is simply a fox, who does what foxes normally do when they get around hen-houses).

    So before NOAA expands its brief (if this topic ever comes up again), I’d say a fairly drastic change of management and personnel would be required first.

    Just my thoughts on this.

    Max

  19. A climate service might provide information needed to adapt to climate change that is projected to take place more than several decades from now. What state or local government makes plans further than one to two decades into the future? Long-range planning is =<10 years for a budget. Infrastructure, like roads and schools, is built to meet needs for the next 10-20 years. Governments don't spend money today to meet needs a half-century in the future because the citizens paying taxes now aren't going to be around to get the benefits.

    Does it make sense for a state like California to use information from current, conflicting regional climate models to decide how they will meet their needs for water need for the next 10 or 20 years? Is current sea level rise of 3 cm/decade (possibly rising to 5 cm/decade) an important consideration?

    The proposed climate service appears to be mostly a government-funded organization lobbying for restriction on GHG's by "raising public awareness". The only government organization that need "climate services" right now is the federal government, which "needs" to restrict GHG emissions. As Eric Barton said:

    "A national clearinghouse for all carbon and climate monitoring data and all impact analyses, based in Washington, D.C., could support policymaking and provide an authoritative signal to Congress about how rapidly and deeply you should cut or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to minimize losses."

    A central repository for climate data doesn't require a climate service. We have a central scientific repositories for genetic and astronomical information, but no "genetics service".

  20. Jack Simpson

    NCS would have been a management structure in which management of the science would have been more complicated, but, conveniently, management of the perpetration of warmist fraud would have been simplified. See also IPCC.

  21. So called Govt funded ” Climate Services ” which resort to funding commercials and scare tactics to ” raise awareness ” and ask for more funding, have too much time and money in the first place to do these kind of nonsense activities. They should be cut off without a penny.

  22. Weeeeell, you could always fund the Climate Service by taking funds away from other scientific disciplines. Unless, of course, those “other disciplines” were looking at climate science and found something wrong with it. >:)

    Seriously though, the big problem in most nations seems to be a lack of overriding principle and a decent division of resources.

    First and foremost there should be a single organisation responsible for the receiving, collating, storage and dissemination of all raw data for each nation. ATM we have a number of orgs collecting and storing data, all with different policies and proceedures, which can only guarantee a complete mess.

    Whether a person is a complete CAGW alarmist or the most ardent sceptic, the simple fact is that climatologists cannot do their job properly without access to high quality raw data. It is up to all of us, from across the climate spectrum to ensure that they get it.

    I can only add that since space is the best place from which to observe the planet, those who think NASA should get out of climate, or that GISS should be defunded, should think a bit deeper.

    • Hi John,

      I was the one who said GISS should be defunded. Note, I specifically said GISS. I did not say NASA should be defunded. You said space is the best place to view the planet. I guess somebody forgot to tell it to Hansen, Schmidt, Reto Ruedy et. al., as they are doing everything except that. They are going around adjusting surface temperatures, by applying adjustments retrospectively that magically reduce past temperatures and raise current ones. Just as a clue, look up 1990′s and current IPCC reports for 1930s’ temperatures. There are many other such examples. They extrapolate land temperatures to 1200 kms to cover sea and declare ” warming “. They declare artic to be warming without a single thermometer there. They declare Bolivia and Andes to be warming without a single thermometer , extrapolating temperatures from coastal Peru. See some examples below

      http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/ghcn-gistemp-interactions-the-bolivia-effect/

      http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/ghcn-antarctica-ice-on-the-rocks/

      http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/ghcn-south-america-siesta/

      http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/ghcn-asia-chinese-footprints-in-siberian-snow/

      There are many more such examples. Hansen is busy running around and getting arrested doing acts of civil disobedience and acting as star witness against coal trains and energy companies, calling executives to be put behind bar for daring to produce energy out of fossil fuels, legally. he writes appreciative forewords for books of authors asking for drastic eugenics type of measures to control population. He praises China as a model to follow and curses USA, while drawing a fat US Government salary. Gavin is busy blogging away and censoring any opposing comments at Real Climate seemingly during GISS hours.

      So what’s your justification in needing agencies and people like this on whom taxpayer dollars are spent?

      If you want, you fund them and leave other taxpayers’ money alone.

    • Which data? How do you draw the line between weather, climate, geological, agricultural, etc?

    • John B –
      since space is the best place from which to observe the planet, those who think NASA should get out of climate, or that GISS should be defunded, should think a bit deeper.

      NASA should do what it’s charter specifies – which is to provide the data. It does that well. I sent 40+ years doing what NASA does well – providing the data.

      But NASA does not do climate well – never has. And so, NASA should be defunded for climate activities.

      NASA also sucks at climate policy and should not be allowed anywhere near it.

      NASA should also NOT be tasked to do diplomacy wrt ANYONE, let alone the Arab nations. NASA has NO expertise in that kind of activity.

      And Eli needs to spend more time phrasing his questions so they’ll be understandable. Eli is better than that – when he tries.

      • NASA without James Hansen should do well – retire him.

      • That should have happened 20+ years ago, Sam.

      • Yes, Jim. James Hansen has effected the image of NASA terribly within these 20 years or so. NASA’s climate website is still brainwashing the teachers and the students with wrong radiation information. I used to be an admirer of NASA’s scientific achievements.

        Publication of K&T’s 97 Global Annual Mean Radiation Budget has equally damaged AMS’s reputation – 324W/m2 unaccountable GHG Back Radiation.

  23. Earle Williams

    Today’s Climate Change Threat Level is ORANGE

  24. JC, I’d have to agree that it’s a real tragedy that no US Fed agency has managed to assemble and distribute a widely accepted surface temperature data set. In my view, this is exactly the sort of science task that Fed science should produce. The fact that the fed agencies are using closely guarded opaque datasets should provide ample reason to reduce, not increase, funding to those agencies.