by Bob Henson
Over the next year, UCAR and NCAR will be commemorating their 50th anniversary (1959 for UCAR, 1960 for NCAR) in a variety of ways. We’ll be covering some of these milestones in the Quarterly as they unfold. A dedicated website with additional material is also on the way.
On a bright April day a half century ago, 25 people gathered at the University of Arizona’s campus in Tucson to launch an experiment—one that continues today. The occasion was the first members’ meeting of the newly minted University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (see photo).
The first meeting of UCAR’s 14 university members took place on 2 April 1959 at the University of Arizona, Tucson. For a larger version of this photo, see click here.
Front row (left to right): Michael Farrell (Pennsylvania State University), Theodore Wright (Cornell University), P. Stewart Macaulay (Johns Hopkins University), J. Robert Stinson (St. Louis University), A.W. Peterson (University of Wisconsin), Morris Neiburger (University of California, Los Angeles), Henry Houghton (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Seymour Hess (Florida State University), Jerome Spar (New York University), Benjamin Nichols (Cornell University), Werner Baum (Florida State University), Horace Byers (University of Chicago), George Benton (Johns Hopkins University), A. Richard Kassander (University of Arizona), and Herbert Rhodes (University of Arizona).
Back row (left to right): Carl Floe (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Gilbert Lee, Jr. (University of Michigan), Hans Neuberger (Pennsylvania State University), James Miller (University of California), Harold Work (New York University), Reid Bryson (University of Wisconsin), Dale Leipper (Texas A&M University), John Calhoun, Jr. (Texas A&M University), Thomas Malone (Travelers Corp.), and E. Wendell Hewson (University of Michigan).
UCAR had been incorporated in Delaware only a few days earlier, on 16 March 1959. The task before the trustees was immense—to refine and carry out plans for what was to become NCAR. But they had a head start: a document called Preliminary Plans for a National Institute for Atmospheric Research. Often called the Blue Book after its tinted cover, this typed, spiral-bound 300-page report, released in February 1959, served as a remarkably detailed and often-prescient guide (see “On the Web”).
The seeds that began to sprout in 1959 had been planted in 1956. That year, the National Academy of Sciences appointed a panel to “consider and recommend means by which to increase our understanding and control of the atmosphere.” Among the eminent scientists on this committee were Jule Charney, Carl-Gustaf Rossby, Edward Teller, and John von Neumann. Against the backdrop of the International Geophysical Year, the committee held a series of meetings and conferences and toured university departments of meteorology through 1957.
The panel’s observations, issued in early 1958, were sobering. Some 90% of the nation’s atmospheric scientists were weather forecasters, decoupled from the research world. Though a few university departments were carrying out fine work, their efforts were often disconnected, short on equipment, and obscured by a low profile. As noted in the Blue Book:
“The committee found that the total effort in basic atmospheric research was quite inadequate when considered in terms of the scientific and economic importance of the meteorological problem and the best interests of the nation.”
The group called for a 50–100% boost in support for basic research, as well as the establishment of a national institute to be operated by NSF. Within a matter of weeks, ten department heads met to discuss how to proceed. “I think it was clear from the outset that the problems and opportunities in meteorology were so enormous that individual university departments could not cope with their magnitude,” said Roscoe Braham (University of Chicago) in 1985.
Before long, the group of department heads had grown to 14 and dubbed itself the University Committee on Atmospheric Research. It didn’t take long for the group to agree that the National Institute for Atmospheric Research (NIAR, which happened to be “rain” spelled backwards) was a good idea. Even so, they recognized the risk that the new institute might pull personnel and funding away from university programs. As Henry Lansford noted in UCAR at 25 (see “On the Web”):
“A consensus was reached that this risk would be outweighed by the institute’s potential for gaining broader support by strengthening the whole field of atmospheric sciences and by its ability to attract scientists from other disciplines such as physics, mathematics, and chemistry into research on problems of the atmosphere.”
To come up with a plan for NIAR, the committee held 17 three-day workshops, each one pulling together a small group of specialists to ponder the problems they faced and the resources that might help. The workshop notes served as guidance for creating the Blue Book that led to NIAR (eventually renamed NCAR).
Academic Affiliates: Bringing undergraduate issues to the UCAR table
While doctoral-level programs have always been central to the UCAR mission, there’s another part of the family tree that’s blossomed over the last 20 years. The UCAR Academic Affiliates Program (AAP) includes 21 colleges and universities that focus on bachelor’s- and master’s-level education in the atmospheric and related sciences. (To qualify for standard UCAR membership, an institution must offer a doctoral-level program.)
“Because we tend to be even more active and vocal than some of the regular UCAR members, we’re able to help inform the strategic direction of the UCAR community,” says Richard Clark (Millersville University). “Conversely, the regular members help us gauge where we’re going and what we need to do to better prepare students. It really is a very synergistic relationship.”
To express interest in AAP, a faculty member may contact the UCAR Governance office; application procedures can be found on the AAP website (see “On the Web”). The group convenes over breakfast on the first day of the UCAR member meetings each October, discussing topics that range from student diversity to undergraduate curricula. “We have an agenda flexible enough to include time for meaningful open discussion,” says Clark.
AAP was conceived in 1989 by Russell DeSouza (also of Millersville) and UCAR president Rick Anthes. DeSouza and Anthes agreed that undergraduate-oriented programs needed more of a voice within UCAR. When DeSouza died in 1997, Clark took the AAP reins. He’s now moving to a different role after his election in October to the UCAR Board of Trustees.
David Smith (U.S. Naval Academy) has stepped into Clark’s shoes to coordinate AAP. Smith says the academy has benefited from several of the training modules offered by UCAR’s Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training (COMET). “We utilize COMET modules in a number of our courses,” says Smith. “Being a small department, this enables us to fill holes in our curriculum where we lack expertise.”
Being part of the UCAR umbrella also helps AAP members spot areas where their students can be groomed for graduate work. For example, Millersville now offers a senior-level course, “Numerical Modeling of the Atmosphere and Oceans,” in which students learn how to modify parameters in an in-house version of the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF). “Our students are going into grad schools and getting right into numerical modeling and running with it. They’re doing quite well,” says Clark.
If your department is interested in becoming a UCAR or AAP member institution, please contact Susan Friberg, UCAR Governance, 303-497-1658.
At its outset, the UCAR Board of Trustees was twice as large as UCAR’s membership. The idea was to accommodate one administrator and one scientist from each university, thus entraining the membership more closely into the center’s development. In a 1987 oral history, former board chair Horace Byers (University of Chicago) recalled this decision as being “extremely wise, because the people who could really push and commit the university were the administrative representatives.”
The UCAR Board of Trustees, circa 2009. Not pictured: Steven Ackerman (University of Wisconsin–Madison), Shirley Malcom (American Association for the Advancement of Science), Franklin Nutter (Reinsurance Association of America).
Front row (left to right): Rana Fine (University of Miami), Efi Foufoula-Georgiou (University of Minnesota), Roberta Balstad (Columbia University), Barbara Feiner (Washington University), Fred Carr (University of Oklahoma), Anne Thompson (Pennsylvania State University), Len Pietrafesa (outgoing board member, North Carolina State University), Rosina Bierbaum (University of Michigan), Richard Truly (formerly of Georgia Institute of Technology).
Back row (left to right): Richard Anthes (UCAR), Donald Wuebbles (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Dennis Hartmann (University of Washington), Mark Abbott (Oregon State University), Steven Rutledge (Colorado State University), Kerry Cook (University of Texas at Austin), Robert Palmer (former staff director, U.S. House Committee on Science), Richard Clark (Millersville University).
However, as UCAR’s membership began to grow, the board’s size threatened to become unwieldy. Thus was born the present system: two representatives from each UCAR institution (typically including one administrator) meet in Boulder each October, where they vote on board members and carry out other business pertaining to UCAR, NCAR, and the community. The board itself works closely with management, setting the overall direction and guiding UCAR and NCAR activities, with board members meeting in person three times a year and holding occasional teleconferences.
Harriet Barker, one of NCAR’s first staff members and eventually a vice president for corporate affairs, saw the board in action at various points from the 1960s through the 1990s. In the early days, she recalls, “The board’s involvement was incredibly hands-on. They had to review every scientific appointment, every salary. There was no organ in UCAR itself to develop the policies.” At the same time, she notes, “the early trustee meetings were much less formal.” One mid-1960s meeting took the form of a picnic on the construction site where the Mesa Lab was being built.
More than 180 men and women have served on the UCAR board since 1959. Most have been university faculty, but a few have come from federal or private-sector backgrounds, and the roster includes at least one former congressperson (David Skaggs of Colorado).
“As an academic, serving on the UCAR Board of Trustees has provided me with an opportunity to work with first-class dedicated professionals,” says Rana Fine, an oceanographer at the University of Miami and the board’s current chair. “The UCAR ‘corporate’ setting provides an enlightening perspective on bigger issues facing the scientific community and our society.”