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Fall 1999

NCAR at 40 and the New Millennium

For most people, the next year begins a new millennium. Such marks in time, though arbitrary, evoke a sense of change, a look back to the past and forward to the future. For NCAR and UCAR, the year 2000 represents the 40th birthday. And 2000 is the 60th birthday for the High Altitude Observatory, the institution that eventually became NCAR under the leadership of Walter Orr Roberts, and the 50th anniversary of the National Science Foundation, UCAR and NCAR's primary sponsor over all these years. All of these milestones make it appropriate for the UCAR community both to look back at its achievements over the past 40 years and to look forward to the early years of the next century.

Beginning at the October 1999 meeting of the UCAR members' representatives, UCAR and the community will carry out a year of celebration and thoughtful planning. The goals will be to celebrate our community's history and accomplishments, to create closer ties with NSF and our member institutions, to educate the public about our science and its value to society, and to prepare for even greater achievements in the future.

At NCAR's 40th anniversary, its founder Walter Orr Roberts and many of the visionaries who created NCAR are dead. Today's young atmospheric scientists were not even born when NCAR was created, and they may be unaware of the special role that NCAR plays in the atmospheric sciences community. No other scientific discipline has a national center that is run by and for the universities, and the partnership between the center and the universities has undoubtedly been one reason for the remarkable growth and success of the atmospheric sciences since 1960. Activities during the next year will celebrate this partnership and seek to make it even stronger.

The celebration will begin with a scientific visualization presentation at the October 1999 meeting. NCAR's Don Middleton and NASA's Fritz Hasler, two of the world's leading experts in visualization of atmospheric phenomena using computer simulation models and satellite imagery, will give a spectacular educational and entertaining show at the auditorium of the National Institute of Standards and Technology building in Boulder on 12 October. The public will be invited. Other activities will include a special panel at the University of Colorado's World Affairs Conference in April 2000 and a number of Walter Orr Roberts Forum public talks throughout the year. The highlight of the year's celebration will occur in connection with the UCAR Board of Trustees meeting on 18-19 June 2000. There will be a festival for staff and the public at the Mesa Laboratory, a public talk by NSF director Rita Colwell, and the unveiling of a new Mesa Lab science exhibit. The year of celebration will conclude with a banquet at the October 2000 members' meeting.

The activities looking forward to the future will begin with the UCAR Forum at the October 1999 members' meeting. The forum and subsequent activities will address the following question:

"How should the universities and UCAR/NCAR, working in partnership with the rest of the atmospheric sciences community, evolve both to define and to meet the highest priority challenges and opportunities of the next several decades?"

There are several key words and phrases in this question.

". . . the universities and UCAR, working in partnership . . ." Both the universities and UCAR/NCAR need to change in response to a changing environment and new challenges and opportunities. We need to reaffirm and perhaps to clarify or reorganize the partnership in ways that ensure organizational independence and individual creativity, yet make UCAR/NCAR-university collaboration a more natural and effective strategy for conducting basic and applied research as well as education and outreach.

". . . with the rest of the atmospheric sciences . . ." Historically, our community has had productive relationships with the private sector, government, and the international community. The need to work with these groups is increasing. Some of the biggest and most important changes and opportunities are occurring in these sectors, particularly in the private sector as the value of weather and climate information increases dramatically and as companies develop capabilities and services that rival those now offered by major government facilities. For example, data issues now before Congress could have major impacts on our community. Parts of the private sector are proposing significant changes to the hundred-year-old Organic Act, which defines the mission of the National Weather Service. NSF and other agencies that support our community also are changing. The funding outlook for science is uncertain, and the greater rapidity of changes in the nation's and the world's political structure--with concomitant feedback to federal funding--makes the situation even more serious. Focused advocacy and communication are becoming more important.

". . . highest priority challenges and opportunities . . ." To define these, we will use the recent report of the National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC), The Atmospheric Sciences Entering the Twenty-First Century, and the soon-to-be-completed NSF Geosciences beyond 2000 report. We assume that these reports represent a consensus of some of the best minds in the community. We will ask ourselves, "How can the universities and UCAR/NCAR help implement the recommendations in these reports and help realize their vision and goals?"

During the next year we plan to write an article for the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society summarizing the past accomplishments of the UCAR community (with emphasis on NCAR and its collaborators) and the changes our entire community must embrace to address the most important research and policy questions of the next decade. The article will also summarize the results from a range of activities we will conduct over the coming months.

Discussions at the October 2000 members' meeting will focus on the Bulletin article's recommendations and how best to implement them. To ensure that the discussions encompass all aspects of our community, we are proposing the topics listed below (taken from Chapter 2 of the BASC report):

The needs and priorities in each of these four areas--in particular, the universities' and UCAR's contributions and requirements for meeting them--can be discussed in terms of a number of programmatic concerns, including:

  1. Observing facilities (community and single-investigator, remote sensing, in situ sensing, instrumentation development)

  2. Computing facilities (sustained speed, data sets and mass storage, visualization, consultation for, e.g., adapting codes to new architectures)

  3. Data issues (collection, analysis, archiving, distribution)

  4. Field programs

  5. Education and human resource issues (need for people with the right education and training to meet upcoming challenges, need to incorporate more women and minorities)

  6. Community models

  7. Administrative issues (funding, problems with agencies, overhead, government or institutional regulations and other barriers, data policies, organizational issues, etc.).

Following the October 2000 members' meeting, UCAR will conduct a survey that targets all who interact with our organization: users of UCAR facilities and products, collaborators with UCAR scientists, visitors to UCAR, participants in UCAR governance, reviewers, and sponsors. Results from this survey will be useful in guiding the evolution of NCAR and UCAR in the next decade.

I look forward to the next year of celebration and discussions about future directions of our field.

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Apr 4 15:11:20 MDT 2000