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Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation‘s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences
seek collaborations across disciplinary boundaries, for example, with solar physicists who examine how solar variability may impact the atmosphere, ecologists who investigate the impact of climate change on terrestrial and marine ecosystems, soil scientists who study gas exchange with the atmosphere, or oceanographers who probe how ocean variability drives the climate system.
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) supports research to develop new understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere and the dynamic Sun. In addition, ATM supports activities to enhance education at all levels, the diversity of the scientific community, and outreach to the public. ATM has asked the National Academies to perform a study that will guide the division’s strategy for achieving its goals in the atmospheric sciences (see Appendix A for full statement of task). In response, the Committee on Strategic Guidance for NSF’s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences was formed and subsequently authored an interim report released in fall 2005 and this, its final report. The committee reviewed the accomplishments of the atmospheric sciences over the last few decades; it discussed the evolution of the scientific, societal, and institutional context in which atmospheric research is conducted; and it responded to this invitation to offer some guidance on how NSF can best support the atmospheric sciences into the future.
The committee found that ATM is operating in an environment that is ever more cross-disciplinary, interagency, and international, necessitating a more strategic approach to managing their activities in a way that actively engages the atmospheric sciences community. At the same time, ATM must preserve opportunities for basic research, especially projects that are high risk, potentially transformative, or unlikely to be supported by other government agencies. Finally, ATM needs to be proactive in attracting highly talented students to the atmospheric sciences as an investment in the ability to make future breakthroughs. These issues are of importance to ATM broadly, and thus the committee chose to highlight them in this summary.
One important and especially challenging aspect of the committee’s charge was to assess the balance among the modes of support employed by ATM. The committee defines balance as the evolving diversity of modes and approaches to ensure the overall health of the enterprise; the use of the word balance does not imply a specific percentage to any particular component. ATM employs a range of modes of support for its activities: grants to individuals and to teams of researchers; small research centers; a large federally funded research and development center, specifically the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) located in Boulder, Colorado; and the acquisition, maintenance, and operation of observational and computational facilities operated by NCAR, universities, and other entities. The committee finds that the diversity of activities and modes of support are