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Organizing the Fragments:

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 4:29 PM GMT on November 30, 2008

Organizing the Fragments: This blog returns to the series (linked below) where I have tried to give some insight into the issues of the management and politics within the climate community. I hope that this series ultimately provides transparency to the readers, and perhaps contributes to improving the use and acquisition of resources. In the previous blog in this series I wrote about the community being fragmented for both good and bad reasons. In this blog I will talk about one of the prominent community activities to organize these fragments. But, first, it is worth considering the federal budget for climate science.

Here is a budget chart from the U.S. Global Change Research Program website. (I put the legend at the bottom of the page.) This is the budget in 2005 dollars from Fiscal Year 1989 through 2008. (Here is direct link to budget information.)

Figure 1: Federal budget for climate science sorted by agencies from Fiscal Year 1989-2008. Legend is at bottom of page.

There are several things that often surprise people, both scientists and non-scientists. First is the size of NASA’s budget; it has been and is larger than all of the other agencies combined. This is due to the fact that NASA builds the instruments and satellites and launches the rockets for much of the observing system. There are four agencies which have, historically, been known as the “big four”: NASA, NOAA, NSF and DOE. In recent years the Department of Transportation and Health and Human Services have seen an increasing budget for climate science. (Remember this blog on Gulf Roads.)

There are, of course, a number of ways to calculate how much is “spent on climate.” (I pose, for example, what is the relation between weather and climate, especially with regard to the observing network?) Let’s assume that there is a consistent and rational approach represented in this figure. Note that there was a peak in 1995. Much of this peak was due to the Earth Observing System program at NASA, which was a program advocated for and funded by George H. W. Bush. During the Clinton-Gore years, this program was downsized tremendously – by numbers far larger than indicated in the graph. It is surprising to many to see the budget decrease steadily during the second Clinton administration. (Note, I am not analyzing the reasons for this decrease.) The total budget per year from about 1994 to 2005 fluctuated between, about, 1.7 and 2.0 billion dollars per year. (Is this the right amount, too much, too little?)

Since 2004 there has been a steady drop in the budget for studying climate change. This has been most present in the NASA budget. However, throughout the federal climate community, there has been a decrease in the budget, especially when considering the cost of inflation. There have been many scientists leaving the federal laboratories, and often leaving the field. (See this article in Science.) (Yes, there are unemployed and laid off scientists. This stands in stark contrast to some of the rhetoric in the blogosphere.)

It is the decrease in the NASA budget that I want to focus on. Throughout the long effective decline in the NASA budget, that I would argue started in about 1994, the problem of fragmentation has amplified the impact of the budget pressure. The scientists that represent the atmospheric, oceanic, land surface, chemistry, geological, etc. disciplines have each had and advocated their priorities. There were reviews and de-scoping of the observing program. We now stand at a time when Earth science observations are in significant decline, and the projection for the next few years is for more declines.

One response of the community was to initiate a Decadal Survey, which was run by the National Academy of Science, National Research Council. (The National Academy of Sciences in NOT a governmental organization. It is often asked by the government to review important questions. About the National Academy) The first Decadal Survey was published in 2007. The request to the National Academy was to

1.Review the status of the field to assess recent progress in resolving major scientific questions outlined in relevant prior NRC, NASA, and other relevant studies and in realizing desired predictive and applications capabilities via space-based Earth observations;

2.Develop a consensus of the top-level scientific questions that should provide the focus for Earth and environmental observations in the period 2005–2015;

3.Take into account the principal federal- and state-level users of these observations and identify opportunities for and challenges to the exploitation of the data generated by Earth observations from space;

4.Recommend a prioritized list of measurements, and identify potential new space-based capabilities and supporting activities within NASA ESE [Earth Science Enterprise] and NOAA NESDIS to support national needs for research and monitoring of the dynamic Earth system during the decade 2005–2015; and

5.Identify important directions that should influence planning for the decade beyond 2015.
This was an effort to address the fragmentation that permeates the field, to form a consensus of the priority measurements that must be made if we are to characterize the climate and how it is changing.

From the executive summary of the report:

“The committee found that fundamental improvements are needed in existing observation and information systems because they only loosely connect three key elements: (1) the raw observations that produce information; (2) the analyses, forecasts, and models that provide timely and coherent syntheses of otherwise disparate information; and (3) the decision processes that use those analyses and forecasts to produce actions with direct societal benefits.

Taking responsibility for developing and connecting these three elements in support of society’s needs represents a new social contract for the scientific community. The scientific community must focus on meeting the demands of society explicitly, in addition to satisfying its curiosity about how the Earth system works.”

These are important words and conclusions, but they are also words that have been stated in different ways for as long as I have been in the field. This version of the words is new in the sense that they mention “a social contract,” and they carry the weight of a National Academy review.

However, this report, like many earlier reports, falls into the fragmented environment of the agencies. The agencies see opportunity and they see threat. They cherry pick the report to stand as advocacy for the programs and projects that they would like to carry forward. This idea of how to connect those elements that are loosely connected, that need to be more tightly connected, defies implementation, if not comprehension. Efforts to integrate activities are added on with little recognition that the power structure is aligned with the existing fragments and that the incentive structure does not reward integration. Despite the hard work, the good intentions, and the rational conclusions of reports like the Decadal Survey, we are left with a set of fundamental human-systems that must be addressed. These reports are, perhaps, necessary, but clearly not sufficient to address the strategic management, organization, and optimized effectiveness of the community.


Legend for Figure
USDA: U.S. Department of Agriculture
DOC / NOAA: Department of Commerce / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
DOE: Department of Energy
HHS: Department of Health and Human Services
DOI / USGS: Department of Interior / U.S. Geological Survey
DOT: Department of Transportation
USAID: U.S. Agency for International Development
EPA: Environmental Protection Agency
NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NSF: National Science Foundation
SI: Smithsonian Institution

Links to relevant blogs.

Importance of Justification

Buying Big Computers

Fragmented Climate

This series of blogs collected.

This is a report that I was lead author on in the year 2000. Many of the conclusions of this report still hold today.

High End Climate Science: Development of Modeling and Related Computing Capabilities

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.