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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences 6 Findings and Recommendations In considering future directions for the atmospheric sciences, the committee reviewed the evolution of the atmospheric sciences over the past several decades, examined several examples of how National Science Foundation (NSF) support enabled major achievements in the atmospheric sciences, and analyzed the strengths and limitations of the various modes of support employed by the atmospheric division (ATM). It is clear that the division has fostered a productive research community and has been responsive to changing priorities and opportunities. On the basis of these analyses, the committee has identified the findings and recommendations discussed below. Putting several mechanisms in place to facilitate a healthy evolution of the division’s activities will help ensure that this success continues. The order of the findings and recommendations presented here does not strictly reflect priorities, but rather is presented to aid the reader in following the development of the ideas presented. PRINCIPLES FOR SUCCESSFUL SUPPORT OF THE ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES The committee’s evaluation of ATM’s evolution over the past 45 years and current activities, as discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, has revealed that the division has done a good job in meeting its mission to support the atmospheric sciences. In particular, as discussed in Chapter 2, there have been significant advances in answering fundamental scientific questions about the atmosphere, in utilizing new knowledge of the atmosphere to address societally relevant applications, and in educating a workforce to advance
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences the science and its application. This conclusion was also the clear consensus of the many members of the broad atmospheric sciences community who have provided input to the committee’s deliberations. The committee has identified a set of 10 principles that have enabled ATM to be successful over the past 45 years. Continuing to strive to meet these principles should ensure that the division remains strong in the coming decades. A robust set of principles can be used as a framework for making funding decisions in an understandable and describable way. Such clarity is of benefit in times of expanding or declining budgets. The committee notes that all principles are not equal and that they should be applied judiciously depending upon the context. High Quality. The division has maintained a high level of quality in the research it funds. This has been achieved through rigorous competition, strong peer review, and close working relationships between ATM program officers and members of the research community. In the case of STCs, the enforcement of a “sunset date” for the centers is generally viewed as positive, and has led to evolution that allows the centers to address cutting-edge research questions. This high level of quality is essential to the continued success of ATM. Flexibility. ATM will be better able to meet its objectives of supporting the atmospheric science research community if it has the flexibility to apply different modes and create new modes to address evolving needs. This flexibility is essential, given the evolving roles of other federal agencies, the private sector, and the international research efforts. Responsiveness. ATM’s success over the past decades reflects in part a commitment to being responsive to the needs of the research community. Indeed, NSF’s support of the atmospheric sciences is particularly important in this regard because it is the main federal agency that supports high-risk, potentially transformative research, except, of course, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) satellite-based research. Balance. Atmospheric science comprises many subdisciplines— ranging from dynamic meteorology to climate change and from atmospheric chemistry to upper atmospheric dynamics and solar physics—and is inherently interdisciplinary in that the atmosphere interacts with the oceans, land surface, and near-space environment. Furthermore, the research efforts span the spectrum from fundamental research to efforts with direct applications. A portfolio that addresses the range of these research objectives and utilizes the range of modes of support in a balanced way is essential. Interagency Partnerships. Research in the atmospheric sciences benefits from the relevance of weather, climate, and air quality to multiple federal agencies that support some extramural research. These agencies
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences include NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Defense. Building effective partnerships with other agencies that have shared priorities is critical to the long-term health of the field. Connections to International Communities. Other nations support significant research in the atmospheric sciences, offering excellent opportunities for collaboration. ATM should maintain connections to international efforts both through engagement directly with other nations and through international programs to coordinate research (e.g., World Climate Research Programme, International Geopshere-Biosphere Programme, World Weather Research Program). Robust Research Community. The atmospheric sciences research community includes professors and other permanent university research staff, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, staff at centers (i.e., large national centers, STCs, engineering research centers), and private-sector researchers. Some stability in the support for this research community and for the training of new scientists is critical for the continuing strength of the atmospheric sciences. Community Input. Opportunities for the broad atmospheric science community to provide input in defining strategic directions for NSF’s programs help strengthen the scientific foundation of the research endeavor and build community support. Access to Necessary Resources. The atmospheric research community needs access to appropriate observing and computational facilities. In many cases, these facilities can be shared by multiple researchers. Furthermore, resources are needed to ensure adequate time for analysis and synthesis of field campaign results. High-Quality ATM Staff. The atmospheric sciences research community has benefited from the consistent professionalism and dedication of ATM staff over the past decades. Maintaining and renewing high-quality ATM staff with keen understanding of current scientific frontiers is essential to continued success of the field. EMPLOYING A DIVERSITY OF MODES OF SUPPORT TO MEET ATM OBJECTIVES The committee analyzed how each mode of support employed by ATM operates today and examined the modes that enabled several major achievements in the atmospheric sciences. Therefore, the committee concludes that each of the modes is serving an important function. In particular, the complementary roles of a large national center and grants to Principal Investigators (PIs) have been a constructive component of the atmospheric
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences science enterprise. The diversity of available modes has facilitated several different ways to tackle the scientific questions in the atmospheric sciences. The case studies illustrate that the range of available modes has been instrumental in many of the major atmospheric sciences achievements of the last several decades. The current balance among the modes is serving the community well and the committee does not have reason to propose significant changes in balance at this time. Another important lesson to be gleaned from our analysis of the research activities leading to the major accomplishments is that ATM has adjusted the balance from time to time as opportunities, needs, and scientific progress made necessary and possible. Indeed, it appears that many of the newer modes arose out of emerging needs of the research community. ATM may need to shift its distribution of funding modes in coming years to respond to a changing research environment. For example, domestic budget constraints at NSF and other federal agencies that support atmospheric research, increasing sophistication and investments in the international research community, and changing societal expectations of research may make it necessary to rely more on some modes of support or to introduce new modes to the ATM portfolio. Based on past experience, it is reasonable to assume that ATM will adjust the balance in the future if and when circumstances warrant. The committee finds that the diversity of activities and modes of support is a strength of the program and of our nation’s scientific infrastructure. The approach and vision outlined in NAS/NRC (1958) and the “Blue Book” (“UCAR,” 1959), which together mapped out the complementary roles of a large national center and the individual investigator university grants program, has served the atmospheric science community well and is the envy of many other scientific communities. The newer modes of support, including multi-investigator awards, cooperative agreements, and centers sited at universities, complement the previously established modes. The community input received to date supports this multifaceted approach. The present balance is approximately right and reflects the current needs of the community. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should continue to utilize the current set of modes of support for a diverse portfolio of activities (i.e., research, observations and facilities, technology development, education, outreach, and applications).
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences FOSTERING HIGH-RISK, POTENTIALLY TRANSFORMATIVE RESEARCH High-risk, potentially transformative research is instrumental in making major advances in the atmospheric sciences. Thus, it is essential to continually preserve and renew opportunities for this type of research. Among federal science agencies, NSF is a leader in its commitment to support high-risk, potentially transformative research (excluding satellite instrument development). This type of research is instrumental in making major advances in the field, as illustrated by several of the cases highlighted in Chapter 2 of this report. As larger modes of support have expanded (e.g., small centers), and as peer reviewers tend to be risk averse, the opportunities for such funding are perceived as having declined. Currently, program directors have discretion to use 5 percent of their budgets for Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) projects, though typically about 1 to 2 percent of each program’s funds are applied this way. In addition, program directors can choose to support other high-risk work through regular grant mechanisms as they see fit. It is unknown to what extent this flexibility to support exploratory research is utilized. The committee concludes that it is essential to create and preserve opportunities for high-risk, potentially transformative research and that the atmospheric sciences would benefit if ATM expanded its support of such projects. This would ensure that a larger portion of ATM portfolio is dedicated to supporting these research activities. It is difficult to identify specific steps to address this need, but the situation is sufficiently crucial that ATM should seek new approaches. For example, ATM might consider instituting an explicit solicitation for high-risk research, which would allow these proposals to be judged with more appropriate criteria, make it clear to the research community that the division welcomes such proposals, and ensure that program managers proactively consider supporting high-risk projects. A target of about ten such grants per year should be reasonable, although it is important to realize that opportunities for transformative research may not come every year and sometimes come in spurts. The proposal process should be kept short and the process should be as flexible as possible, encouraging excellence and innovation both in terms of the proposals and the handling by ATM management. It likely would be necessary to modify the review guidelines to explicitly reward creative, exploratory ideas and to make clear what sorts of projects would be considered high-risk and potentially transformative. Such an effort might be undertaken as a pilot program and reevaluated after several years to see if it did indeed result in breakthrough concepts frequently enough to be worth continuing. ATM should consider other approaches to enhance opportunities for high-risk, potentially transformative research as well. For example, there
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences may be some research questions of this type that require a bigger investment than what typically can be made by a program director or under the SGER program. One option to be more effective is to pool some of the funding for exploratory research from all ATM programs and run an internal competition to which program directors can submit promising, high-risk ideas for consideration. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should increase the opportunities for targeted grants in support of high-risk, potentially transformative research. ENHANCING CROSS-DISCIPLINARY, INTERAGENCY, AND INTERNATIONAL COORDINATION The analyses of the case studies demonstrate the importance of the cross-disciplinary, interagency, and international aspects of those fields covered by ATM. Effective identification of cross-disciplinary opportunities and related funding mechanisms are critical to the health of the atmospheric sciences. Research questions in the subdisciplines of atmospheric science are interrelated. Further, many are connected to those in other scientific disciplines, such as oceanography, ecology, terrestrial science, solar physics, and social science. In some cases, the science questions extend beyond the boundaries of ATM or NSF’s Geosciences directorate. ATM has fostered cross-disciplinary research, for example, by partnering with Astronomy to fund solar-terrestrial research, and by partnering with other divisions to support individual proposals or to jointly solicit proposals on a topic that falls at their interface. Yet some research questions that fall at the interface between two or more disciplines continue to challenge NSF funding structures even when evaluations show these to be prime opportunities for scientific advancement. Examples of the challenges faced in cross-disciplinary science include the need to address the water cycle, biogeochemical cycles, paleoclimate, air-sea fluxes, and health impacts of atmospheric oxidants and fine particles. Improving opportunities for cross-disciplinary research will require commitments from ATM and other NSF divisions that support related research. It is important to also recognize the inevitable tension between disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research. In the absence of increased funding, funding cross-disciplinary work will decrease the resources available for disciplinary research. Yet there remain disciplinary barriers that will hinder cross-disciplinary research if advances are not made. These considerations should be addressed by the strategic planning process discussed later in this chapter. Despite compelling motivations for interagency coordination, ATM does not always have clear mechanisms to facilitate such interactions effectively.
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences Some interagency coordination takes place through formalized interagency programs (e.g., Climate Change Science Program, National Space Weather Program), interagency working groups, community-driven initiatives (e.g., Climate Variability and Change), and ad hoc interactions between program directors. A more strategic approach is needed to facilitate interagency coordination. The inclusion of mechanisms for interagency program participation in the ATM strategic plan would both increase the transparency and strengthen NSF’s approach to these interagency collaborations. The atmosphere knows no national boundaries; thus, international collaboration is critical to study of the atmosphere. The research capabilities of other nations are becoming more sophisticated and their investments in the atmospheric sciences are growing. There is a breadth of atmospheric research coordinated internationally through organizations such as the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the Scientific Committee on Solar Terrestrial Physics. Often, these international efforts address broad cross-disciplinary research agendas. ATM has been extensively involved in international efforts, but U.S. participation has been largely on an ad hoc basis. A more strategic approach is needed to facilitate international coordination in the future especially as pressure on ATM funding increases. A proactive and judicious mechanism, including the ability to commit with long lead time the participation of U.S. facilities and investigators, is needed for coordinated, efficient, and effective participation in international programs. Such a mechanism would help U.S. investigators and international bodies more fully understand the basis for ATM funding decisions and hence plan accordingly. In particular, this mechanism would be useful for evaluating potential ATM involvement in international field campaigns; in this case, existing international bodies (such as WCRP, the World Weather Research Program, and WMO) could help determine the merits of potential field campaigns. RECOMMENDATION: As a part of its strategic planning process, ATM should develop systematic and clearly communicated procedures for tracking international program development, identifying potential ATM contributions, committing resources where appropriate, and reevaluating participation in international activities at regular intervals. With the increasing importance of cross-disciplinary, interagency, and international research to the advancement of the atmospheric sciences, scientists need help to navigate interagency, intra-agency, and international boundaries and overcome the many challenges to successfully finding the support for such work. NSF ATM’s public interface, its Web site
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences (http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=ATM), provides potential PIs information on specific, active funding opportunities. Some of these opportunities are flagged as cross-cutting and the Web pages point to a partnership of NSF program managers in and out of ATM. However, the ATM Web site does not specifically encourage or guide those who would seek to grow or obtain funding for participation in cross-disciplinary, interagency, or international research program. It lacks any discussion of how to establish a dialog with ATM toward that end and then how links between the ATM and other divisions of NSF, other agencies, or research programs in other countries should be pursued. There should be guidelines for the proposal process for these efforts. The main Web page should provide a link to a discussion of the process, perhaps following the example set by UCAR’s introduction to field project support (http://www.ucar.edu/communications/quarterly/summer05/president.html) that provides an explanation of the process and a generic timeline. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should encourage and guide scientists seeking support to participate in cross-disciplinary, interagency, and international research by developing guidelines and procedures for initiating a dialogue about such research opportunities and then submitting formal proposals. MEETING SUPERCOMPUTING NEEDS The ATM-supported numerical simulation community has done a commendable job at producing high-quality research and assimilation products, given the computational constraints. How best to direct future investments in computing resources for the atmospheric sciences is a complicated issue that requires more detailed study than possible in this report. Nonetheless, the committee is convinced that good science with important societal impacts would be enabled by better, faster models, which require more powerful computers and enhanced data-storage and data-transfer capabilities. Supporting state-of-the-art computing infrastructure should be a high priority, but must be balanced by the other needs of the community so as not to jeopardize maintaining observational facilities and, especially, continued support in basic research. Meeting this demand will not likely be possible with the approaches used today and may require new organizational mechanisms, sources of funding, and partnering with other agencies, the private sector, or other nations. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should continue to develop creative means, including interagency and international partnerships, to meet the community’s demand for increased computing and data storage
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences capability, balancing such investments carefully against those for other research activities. SUPPORTING FIELD PROGRAMS, DATA ARCHIVES, AND DATA ANALYSIS ATM has well-established mechanisms for supporting short-duration field programs. However, ATM has not yet clearly articulated mechanisms for supporting field programs that require continuous, longer-term (i.e., up to multiyear) deployment and observations not available from operational monitoring networks. This type of observation protocol is generally ill suited to the existing funding opportunities, in part because they were prohibitively expensive until recently. Three factors motivate the need and appropriateness of this approach today: (1) these types of observations are especially critical to understanding the interaction between the atmosphere and Earth’s surface, which is a growing area of research and concern; (2) many instruments that would be used are less expensive to operate, making it reasonable to deploy them in the field for longer durations; and (3) there are existing observational programs developed by other NSF divisions and agencies (e.g., Long Term Ecological Research, the Ocean Research Interactive Observatory Networks Ocean Observing Initiative, the proposed hydrological observatories of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc., and the National Ecological Observing Network), which can be leveraged with additional investments to conduct atmospheric research. RECOMMENDATION: ATM, in coordination with other NSF divisions and federal agencies, should develop the explicit capability to support longer-term (i.e., up to multiyear) lower-atmosphere field programs to study atmospheric processes that are important on these longer time scales. A long-standing challenge in the atmospheric sciences is providing sufficient support for scientists to analyze data obtained during field programs and from observational networks. Because analysis comes at the end of a field program and competes against the start of other new field programs, it is at times subject to reduction in support. Thus, support for field data archives, visualization tool development, and analysis is not commensurate with the investment in obtaining the measurements and the full benefit from the investment in a field program often is not realized. Maximum benefit from many NSF-supported studies also would be facilitated by easy access to data from operational observational and monitoring networks (including surface, upper air, radar, and satellite) in addition to easy access to
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences field-program data, historical data, and numerical model data. In enhancing these capabilities, there are opportunities for NSF to work with other federal agencies that have faced similar challenges, particularly in terms of data archiving. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should maximize the benefit of field data by ensuring that archiving, visualization, and analysis activities are well supported and continue for many years after field campaigns. Currently, there are varied destinations for data archival, including NCAR, Web sites set up by universities, and data archives established by other government agencies (e.g., the National Climatic Data Center). For example, JOSS and the NCAR Archives have worked with the researchers on an ad hoc basis to ensure that valuable resources and datasets are stored and accessible. CEDAR maintains an archive of upper-atmosphere observations, and the Virtual Solar Observatory archives observations of the sun. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access older data from the standard observing network and from field programs: changing technology and analysis packages make these datasets more difficult to analyze and supporting metadata are often absent from the historical datasets. There is not always a clearly identified agency or office that has responsibility for providing archived data for researchers for both large, multi-investigator field experiments and small field experiments, and the arrangements for data management vary from experiment to experiment. Thus data archival formats, quality control, and metadata are not necessarily standardized. Furthermore, even when the data are readily available, the lack of standardized analysis software packages makes it difficult to compare analyses from different cases. At present, there is neither a formal procedure nor is their funding set aside for addressing these problems across ATM. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should convene a committee to (a) set standards for data and metadata archival for future field programs, (b) set criteria and recommend procedures for keeping historic datasets accessible, and (c) recommend standards for software packages to enable comparison of data from different time periods. DEVELOPING OBSERVATIONAL TOOLS Innovative observational instruments and systems are crucial to the continued advance of atmospheric science. However, the main NSF-funding paradigm of grants to individual academic investigators is often not consistent with the wide skill sets and long time scales required for successful observational tool development and deployment. Further, it has been
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences difficult for NCAR to sustain this capability while still maintaining and deploying its observational facilities. Given the challenges of this activity, ATM could encourage the establishment of instrument development partnerships among interested university groups, private-sector organizations, and the large center and other federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) in order to draw upon the full range of scientific and engineering skills and experience with field measurement requirements necessary for successful instrument and measurement systems development. FFRDC facilities as potential hosts of observational tool development activities should be assessed. The operation of other NSF instrumentation programs, including Major Research Instrumentation, Small Business Innovation Research, Small Business Technology Transfer Research, and other agency-wide, directorate, or division-level instrumentation activities, could provide possible models. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should maintain innovative observational tool development, demonstration, and deployment as a major component of its research and development portfolio. ATM should foster new instrument development by enhancing opportunities for individual investigators to build partnerships, establish collaborative facilities, and access NCAR facilities. Universities are becoming increasingly reluctant to invest in education programs in the observational aspects of the science for various reasons. Although there are opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in NSF-funded research projects that use or develop observational tools, it is rarer for them to be able to take courses that provide the concepts of engineering design, siting, instrument and sampling limitations, or data processing. The challenges of providing such education and training at a single university may be overcome if a more community-oriented approach is used in the development of new course materials and information technology is utilized for wide distribution of these materials. The development of good online material that can be shared nationally should be the topic of an NSF-sponsored collaboration among atmospheric science and engineering departments, the national center, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the private sector, and other federal laboratories that engage in observational tool development. Such a collaboration could also select fieldwork sites that encourage handson engineering internships for students. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should take concrete steps to enhance the availability of collaborative tools for university instruction in observing techniques to foster continued development of cutting-edge
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences instruments and to increase the general literacy among atmospheric scientists on the subject of instrumentation and observational data. EFFECTIVELY UTILIZING CENTERS NCAR has a rich history of collaboration with university and private-sector scientists, particularly to make progress on large scientific problems that are beyond the reach of a single university department or private-sector laboratory. Whereas there are many opportunities for collaboration between NCAR and university scientists, decisions about NCAR strategic initiatives (e.g., recent new efforts in biogeosciences and water) could benefit from broader community input. Indeed, because both NCAR and the broader atmospheric sciences community have grown in size and complexity, there are new challenges for the center in terms of maintaining a balance between inward- and outward-looking efforts. New challenges also exist in engaging a larger, more fragmented university and private-sector research community. This suggests that there may need to be additional new mechanisms to leverage the investment in a large center in a way that provides synergism with the needs of the university and private-sector research community. Partnerships between university or private-sector scientists and existing and emerging national centers need to be strengthened. Collaborations between large national centers (both existing and emerging) and university or private-sector scientists could be enhanced by new mechanisms to stimulate joint research initiatives at a larger scale than existing ad hoc collaborations. For example, ATM could conduct a regular competition for collaborations between NCAR and the outside community, focusing on research efforts that address important atmospheric-science problems that are beyond the capability of single university departments or individual private-sector laboratories. The award should be significant, in excess of $1 million a year for five years. For initiatives that have large cross-disciplinary scope, ATM could seek mechanisms for shared funding with other NSF divisions. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should encourage new modes of partnership between the university and private-sector research community and the large national center. Since the late 1950s, the atmospheric research enterprise has greatly expanded to its present state in which impressive research capabilities exist in the universities, the private sector, and in federal laboratories. Even so, the fundamental rationale for a large national atmospheric sciences center outlined in the Blue Book remains valid. The national center continues
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences to serve important objectives of the atmospheric sciences community, as articulated in its stated vision: It is NCAR’s mission to plan, organize, and conduct atmospheric and related research programs in collaboration with the universities and other institutions, to provide state-of-the-art research tools and facilities to the atmospheric sciences community, to support and enhance university atmospheric science education, and to facilitate the transfer of technology to both the public and private sectors. The capabilities of each sector have increased tremendously since that time as have the myriad challenges and opportunities in the atmospheric sciences and allied fields. Thus, the challenge for the management of the large national center will be to prioritize and direct its activities so that it, together with the other research sectors in the atmospheric sciences, can best advance the field to the benefit of society. RECOMMENDATION: In making choices for allocating their resources, the large national center should continue to be guided by the following mandates in consultation with and with representation from the broad U.S. atmospheric research community. It should: tackle large, complex research problems, in coordination with the universities, other federal agencies, and the private sector; maintain standards of scientific excellence and openness that are commensurate with its university-based mission; assume a share of the leadership in the atmospheric sciences community, building on effective community collaborations; provide leadership in supercomputing in support of the atmospheric sciences and the modeling of the Earth system; develop community models in partnership with universities, other federal agencies, and the private sector; develop advanced computational and numerical techniques and tools for use in atmospheric science; enable field campaigns by coordinating their planning, managing, and logistics; provide state-of-the-art archiving, access, analysis, and visualization tools for community datasets and data from NSF-sponsored field programs; design, develop, and maintain state-of-the-art atmospheric instrumentation and observing platforms in partnership with universities, other federal agencies, and the private sector;
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences support education and diversity in the atmospheric sciences research community in partnership with universities, other federal agencies, and the private sector; maintain vibrant postdoctoral and scientific exchange programs; and foster opportunities to transfer knowledge and technology to public- and private-sector users. These mandates are broadly in agreement with NCAR’s existing mission. Over the past decades the atmospheric sciences community has carefully considered the role of the large national center and these mandates attempt to encapsulate the collective view about what its goals should be. The few atmospheric sciences STCs (i.e., Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms [CAPS], Center for Clouds, Chemistry, and Climate [C4], Center for Integrated Space-Weather Modeling [CISM]) and Engineering Research Center (i.e., Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere [CASA]) have contributed or are currently contributing significantly in advancing innovation and research in the atmospheric sciences. All of these small atmospheric science centers have played pivotal roles in major scientific achievements in the field that led to direct societal benefits such as improved severe storm prediction or improved space-weather forecasting. They have achieved their intended goals to: (1) support research and education of the highest quality; (2) exploit opportunities where the complexity of the research agenda requires the advantages of scope, scale, duration, equipment, and facilities that a center can provide; and (3) support innovative frontier investigations at the interfaces of disciplines and fresh approaches within disciplines. This research mode is clearly effective in advancing the science and its transition to operation. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should actively foster opportunities for atmospheric scientists to pursue funding under the small center mode by broadly advertising the opportunity, assisting in identifying appropriate research agendas, and supporting scientists in the development of such research agendas. RECRUITING AND TRAINING TOP STUDENTS IN THE ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES Recruiting and training gifted scientists is perhaps the single most important way to enable the atmospheric sciences to advance more quickly on many research fronts that are important to our nation and the rest of the world. Because relatively few undergraduate programs offer degrees in the atmospheric sciences, talented students may be unaware of career oppor-
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences tunities in the field. While there is no shortage of applicants for graduate studies in the atmospheric sciences, it is not clear that a sufficient number of the top students are being attracted to the field. Indeed, as opportunities for science and engineering careers increase, there will be greater competition to attract talented students to the atmospheric sciences. Given the societal importance of atmospheric science and the significant national investment in an excellent university infrastructure, a large national center, and other laboratories and institutions, the committee believes that increased efforts to attract more bright students into the field are warranted. In the past, NCAR has offered a fellowship program for graduate students. This effort could be revitalized and expanded as an ATM–universities–NCAR cooperative effort. Such a program could offer graduate student fellows (1) multi-year stipends similar to those for NSF graduate research fellowships and (2) a summer program, conducted jointly by NCAR and the universities near the beginning of the students’ graduate studies, to acquaint students with available facilities and research opportunities. A program of this sort, sized to support about 20 new students per year at U.S. universities and advertised widely to undergraduates in related scientific majors (e.g., physics, chemistry, applied math), could be a powerful tool for recruiting top students to the atmospheric sciences. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should establish a new university–NCAR graduate fellowship program to attract a larger share of the world’s brightest students into Ph.D. programs in the atmospheric sciences. Given the critical role of atmospheric sciences in the nation’s well-being, it is important to cast as wide a net as possible in attracting the next generation of atmospheric scientists. Interestingly, the aforementioned lack of awareness of atmospheric sciences among undergraduates may provide opportunities to locate talent that would not otherwise be attracted to our field, including students from minority-serving institutions, students with backgrounds in the liberal arts, first-generation students, and students from junior colleges. Women and those students who belong to underrepresented minority groups should be sought out in particular. The geosciences are recruiting a smaller percentage of minority students than other scientific fields. Well-advertised, hands-on, summer programs supervised by scientific mentors are a valuable pipeline for potential talent in the atmospheric sciences. Likewise, visiting lecturer programs at minority-serving institutions, liberal arts colleges, and junior colleges attract talented students who would not otherwise know about the opportunities in the atmospheric sciences. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should support activities that diversify the student pool by (1) continuing to support and expand research
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences experiences for undergraduates; (2) providing opportunities for minority-serving institutions and junior colleges to partner with research universities, the large national center, and the private sector; and (3) supporting lectures given nationally by prominent atmospheric scientists. Most U.S. atmospheric science departments are too small to fully cover the extensive subject matter that constitutes the atmospheric sciences. Also, many of the sophisticated tools used in state-of-the-art atmospheric sciences research are unavailable in many atmospheric science departments. Thus graduate students in many atmospheric sciences departments may not have access to courses or opportunities to learn about important subject areas. The situation is particularly challenging for observational tools, as discussed above, and for data assimilation techniques, graphical techniques, and modern statistical methods. It could benefit the U.S. atmospheric science education effort if collaborative instructional materials were available to universities that do not have in-house capabilities to teach such material. Some such materials may already be available, so ATM support to make them more widely accessible could also benefit atmospheric sciences education. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should support efforts to assess the course material in U.S. atmospheric science programs, identify areas where collaborative course material could be beneficial, and fund the development of such materials for a limited number of subjects each year. DEFINING FUTURE STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS ATM will face continuing pressures in making decisions that impact the balance among the various modes of support. For instance, there has been, and there will continue to be, tensions about how ATM funding is allocated to the university community and the large national center. There will also be tensions about the balance between investing in major observing or computing facilities and supporting research. The committee did not find obvious problems in the balance among the various modes at present, but there are some trends that, if continued, could cause problems. One is the decrease in the fraction of single investigators versus multi-investigator proposals. Another is the increase in the fraction of funding for facilities versus research. There are good reasons for these trends and the present balance is appropriate for a healthy ATM research program today, but the implications of these trends must be periodically examined and adjustments made to ensure the long-term health of the atmospheric sciences. A strategic plan will be essential to maintain a balanced, effective portfolio in an evolving programmatic environment. This is a time of rapid change in the demographics of graduate education, the role of the
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences United States in the global atmospheric science community, the role of NSF in national atmospheric science funding, and the maturation and cross-disciplinary growth of atmospheric science. It is a time of increasing challenges and opportunities in the face of constrained budgets. The atmospheric sciences community is now larger and more diverse, with an active private sector and several mission agencies along with the academic community. All three sectors are seeking improved predictions, developing new data products, and are engaged in research to some extent. Many more atmospheric observations are being taken, by more diverse platforms, including satellites, commercial aircraft, radar, and other methods. At the same time federal funding for basic research proposals in the atmospheric sciences is down. Of particular concern is decreasing funding for basic atmospheric research by other federal agencies, including NASA and the Department of Defense, forcing more and more of the community to turn to ATM for basic research funding. It is against this new context that ATM must define its role. ATM has not published a strategic plan to guide its activities in the coming years. Given the changing programmatic environment, ATM should take a more proactive approach to strategic planning. A flexible strategic plan developed by ATM staff with ample community input will enable determination of the appropriate balance of activities and modes of support in the ATM portfolio; help plan for large or long-term investments; facilitate appropriate allocation of resources to cross-disciplinary, interagency, and international research efforts; and ensure that the United States will continue to be a leader in atmospheric research. In addition, a strategic planning effort that effectively engages the atmospheric sciences community will enhance the broad understanding of the rationale behind ATM decisions. In short, a community-based strategic planning effort could provide a means by which ATM can advance the preceding recommendations. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should engage the atmospheric sciences community in the development of a strategic plan, to be revisited at regular intervals. Strategic plans can take many different forms, ranging from describing a mission and fairly high-level goals for a program to providing more details about implementation. At a minimum the strategic plan recommended here should clearly articulate ATM’s mission and goals in the context of the multidisciplinary, multiagency, and multinational environment of atmospheric research. However, the committee envisions ATM’s strategic plan going beyond providing a set of goals to include actions on how to attain the goals. Although not prescribing in great detail the specifics of implementation, it should address practical implementation challenges, such as
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences interagency relations, international relations, university, and private-sector organization relations with NCAR. Further, the plan should put flexible structures in place that will give ATM a means for making decisions about prioritization, for example, in response to pressures resulting from an evolving budgetary environment, competing international initiatives, and multiple demands for facilities. Having a strategic plan in place may call for a reorganization of ATM to direct staff and resources in a way that may better address emerging challenges. The committee believes that the strategic plan itself will be useful to ATM, but the process of producing it may prove even more valuable, particularly if it is conducted with ample and transparent community engagement. The committee envisions the strategic planning process as providing a mechanism for the community as a whole to participate in an active conversation about the direction of the field and where best to use resources, while remaining sensitive to the societal expectations of that research. Thus, the strategic plan must be flexible and responsive, developed by the science community in collaboration with ATM management. Ideally, the process of developing the strategic plan should be straightforward and revisited at regular intervals. Furthermore, the balance of modes should evolve in the future in a manner that is consistent with strategic planning efforts. The GEO-2000 report (GEO, 2000) represents a broad vision for the NSF Geosciences Directorate and reflects the considerable evolution of the geophysical scientific enterprise. The committee understands that GEO is revisiting its vision document and urges ATM to coordinate its efforts with those of the directorate. Indeed, the development of a strategic plan for ATM is an excellent opportunity to identify important connections with GEO and with many other parts of NSF, including the Biological Sciences Directorate, the Engineering Directorate, and the Education and Human Resources Directorate. Many of the advances in the atmospheric sciences have been enabled by the availability of sophisticated, and expensive, facilities, including supercomputers, research aircraft, and high-power radar systems. During the past 30 years, the fraction of ATM funding devoted to facilities has grown from 23 to 33 percent of its budget. Valid arguments can, and will, be put forth for ATM purchasing bigger, and more expensive, computers and very valuable, and expensive, observing facilities in the coming years. Without significant increases in ATM’s budget, purchasing these facilities will require trade-offs between investments in “tools” and funding the scientists who use them. It will be up to NSF ATM management to make these difficult decisions, and ideally this should be in the framework of their strategic planning. Some areas of the atmospheric sciences are not presently a priority for ATM and do not receive emphasis in the form of ATM support. These areas
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences might be (1) newly emerging, such as research efforts that exploit newly available instruments and remotely piloted vehicles; (2) subfields in which support from other agencies has in the past sustained research but has recently been greatly reduced, such as marine meteorology; or (3) areas in which ATM interest and support has waned significantly. Despite the lack of current ATM support, some of these areas are important in their own right and as a component of a well-balanced national effort in the atmospheric sciences. ATM strategic planning efforts should include a proactive approach to identifying underemphasized research areas, and responding to community needs by investing resources in currently underemphasized subdisciplines where such resources would enhance overall progress in the atmospheric sciences. RECOMMENDATION: NSF strategic planning should consider the need to invest resources in underemphasized subdisciplines of the atmospheric sciences where the new investment would enhance progress in the atmospheric sciences. ONGOING STRATEGIC GUIDANCE FOR ATM The atmospheric sciences have changed greatly from the late 1950s when the NAS/NRC first assessed the status of atmospheric science research (NAS/NRC, 1958) and the “Blue Book” that guided the establishment of what is now UCAR and NCAR was written (“UCAR,” 1959). There has been a significant overall expansion of federal research support for the atmospheric sciences, which in turn has led to much improved meteorological services for the U.S. public and research input into U.S. governmental and industrial decision making (see, e.g., NRC, 1998b). The infrastructure for atmospheric research has grown to be much larger and more complex than was the case 50 years ago. The committee has concluded that the diversity of support for the atmospheric sciences is a good thing, and the balance between the various means of ATM supporting atmospheric research that now exists is reasonable. We live in a dynamic environment though. The federal funding for research ebbs and flows, institutions grow, scientific fields evolve, and scientific and technological breakthroughs can sometimes greatly accelerate the pace of change. Hence, the modes by which atmospheric research is supported need to be continually reexamined. The balance between the modes that now exists will not necessarily be correct for a future time. Furthermore, as the national center has grown in size and scope, it is not surprising that some tension has arisen between the center and the diverse community of university and private-sector PIs. This tension was anticipated in the Blue Book (“UCAR,” 1959). It is likely a natural
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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences result when a single large entity (i.e., a national center) and a collection of small entities (i.e., university and private-sector PIs) compete for the same resources in that the latter does not necessarily benefit from a unified voice and governance. In the case of the atmospheric sciences, there is the additional dimension of the desire for the national center to serve the larger atmospheric sciences community by providing observational and computational resources and opportunities for fruitful partnering. Periodic external strategic guidance could help ATM ensure that its activities are continually evolving in a way that meets the needs of the broad atmospheric sciences community. This advice should be sought approximately every five to ten years to enable input at regular intervals. The advisory mechanism should engage the broad atmospheric sciences community, with an emphasis on obtaining balanced, objective input. Some of the issues that should be addressed include the balance and relationships among the range of scientific and societally driven research avenues, among the various modes of support employed by the division, particularly regarding potential inequities in resource distribution between large research centers or facilities and individual research scientists, and among the various subdisciplines in atmospheric research. RECOMMENDATION: ATM should seek strategic guidance from a panel that includes representation from the fields it supports at regular intervals to ensure that its programs are well balanced and continue to meet the needs of the atmospheric sciences community.
Representative terms from entire chapter: