by Tim Killeen, NCAR director
|Tim Killeen. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)|
Since NCAR was founded, its mission has been to meet the needs of the university atmospheric science community through its research and facilities. The passage of time has validated this mission, but has also brought increased demands and new possibilities for meeting them. Advances in technology are fundamentally changing the way research is done. Science is becoming more interdisciplinary. Over the next few decades, the pace of change will continue to quicken. Greater scientific understandingexpressed in quantitative terms, wherever possiblewill become ever more important as society faces the multifaceted challenges of global environmental change.
In order to address these opportunities, NCAR has evaluated its strengths and resources and discussed options for its future. The resulting strategic plan was finalized during 2001. It was presented at the UCAR members meeting last October and is now being put into place. It has an ambitious agenda, one that extends the original concept of NCAR.
We see NCAR as an integratora center for the broad geosciences community that brings together ideas, people, and tools to address the scientific questions that are of critical importance to society. The breadth and depth of NCARs disciplinary work enable this vision. We plan to integrate by building on NCARs strengths, collaborating with traditional colleagues in academia and government, and forging links with a host of new partners in the industry and policy arenas.
Our strategic plan is not just NCARs and UCARs. It really belongs to the university community that governs NCAR, and its implementation is being conducted in partnership with the community and NSF. In that context I greatly welcome your comments and suggestions.
At all scales, atmospheric and other environmental research issues are no longer the purview of single disciplines; many now span a wider range of the earth sciences. For example, chemical transport studies require the integration of atmospheric dynamics, radiative transfer, and atmospheric chemistry. Precipitation studies require expertise drawn from experimental and theoretical hydrology, cloud physics, ecosystem dynamics, and large-scale atmospheric circulation. Predictive space weather models require detailed knowledge of solar physics, magnetospheric and ionospheric processes, and the dynamical coupling between upper and lower atmospheres. Some issues range beyond physical science altogether. For instance, socioeconomic studies of severe weather require an integration of qualitative social science and numerical modeling.
Because of these and other similar interconnectionsand the need to bring disciplinary as well as interdisciplinary tools to their studythe NCAR strategy involves extending and leveraging the existing divisional programs to enable a series of formidable scientific challenges to be addressed.
NCARs nine existing divisions and two interdivisional programs provide the "seed corn" for this approach and serve specific functions and particular segments of the university community. Each division obtains input from external, university-based advisory committees. Divisional programs should, and will, evolve in time in response to scientific challenges. Our strategy includes a willingness to revisit organizational boundaries as called for by scientific priorities.
We began a series of 19 new disciplinary and interdisciplinary initiatives during fiscal year 2002. Eight of these (outlined in the sidebar on page 3) have already developed into major efforts that involve multiple NCAR divisions. Plans and research agendas are being developed for 11 smaller-scale activities.
Each of the 8 larger-scale initiatives represents a key area where substantial progress may result from the type of integrated, interdisciplinary approach facilitated by NCAR and its close connections to the university community. Seven criteria, incorporating the well-known NSF Merit Review Guidelines, were used to determine which scientific initiatives received funding and at what level: scientific excellence, breadth of impact, uniqueness, appropriateness, staff commitment, timeliness, and opportunity.
The larger picture
As we developed our strategic plan, we carefully considered the societal and institutional context in which we find ourselves. For example, the challenges presented by the information technology revolution will affect the fundamental ways that research is conducted. We must develop virtual centers and collaboratories (the very types of capabilities facilitated by the AccessGrid, discussed in the cover story of this issue) as our new workplaces. Data portals, digital libraries, and visualizations will elucidate our understanding. New observing technologies, including remote sensing innovations and nanotechnologies, also hold great potential.
Education at all levels and the effective integration of research and education continue to increase in importance. As society becomes more complex and the interdependence of the Earth systems components becomes more apparent, we must educate the publicas well as policy and decision makersabout how we humans interact with the Earth system. New knowledge systems and educational products that emerge from the research world will help further this mission.
Finally, more than ever, NCAR will rely on a diverse, thoroughly educated, and highly valued staff. To address a growing demographic imbalance favoring the senior ranks of scientists, NCAR has been increasing the number of junior scientists and building a program of continuous professional training and mentorship available to all staff. As a mature institution, we must ensure that our scientific staff retains a mix of current and future generations of researchers and that this group reflects the diversity in our society.
We are excited about the new directions laid out in the strategic plan. Our staff members have embarked on the challenging yet rewarding process of forging research and development links across divisions, programs, and institutions. They are eager to work as closely as possible with the university community.
Updates on the strategic planning process, including details on each of the new NCAR initiatives, are being posted at the Web site below. I encourage you to explore the materials available online and to consider how your interests might coincide with the new directions NCAR is taking.
The NCAR Biogeosciences Initiative
The Wildland Fire Collaboratory
Advancing the Science of Weather and Climate Impact Assessment
The NCAR Data Assimilation Initiative
The Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model
Fundamental Issues in Geophysical Turbulence
The Water Cycle across Scales
Outreach and Education
Edited by Bob Henson,
Prepared for the Web by Carlye Calvin
Last revised: Mon June 10 16:42:17 MST 2002