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Winter 1998

Ten Years of Change

On 19 September 1988, the UCAR Board of Trustees appointed me president of UCAR. In this column, I was asked to reflect upon some of the changes that have occurred in the decade since then.

Changes in UCAR organization and programs

In my first meeting with the UCAR Board of Trustees as president on 10 October 1988, the late Vern Suomi urged that UCAR take a strong leadership role in global change, saying the habitability of the globe was at stake and should be UCAR's top priority. I reported on my plans for a national initiative on climate system modeling, an initiative that led to the Climate System Modeling Program and the extremely successful NCAR climate system model.

At that time UCAR had 57 member universities, and Bob Street was chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees. Jeff Kimpel succeeded Street in 1991, followed by Richard Somerville in 1993, Susan Avery in 1995, and John Snow in 1997. It has been one of the pleasures of my job during this past decade to work with such smart, energetic, and positive people.

In 1988 NCAR was organized pretty much the same way it is now, except that the Research Applications Program (RAP) was not a division. Bob MacQueen was acting director until I appointed Bob Serafin the following April. The UCAR Projects Office was quite different from today's UCAR Office of Programs (UOP), consisting of three programs that still exist--Unidata, the Joint International Climate Projects/Program Office (now the Joint Office for Science Support, or JOSS), and the Visiting Scientist Program--and four programs that have since ended.

Ten years later, there are 63 members in UCAR. The Academic Affiliates Program, which began in 1990 with five institutions, has grown to 20 affiliates. RAP is a highly successful NCAR division. UOP includes five important new programs: the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training (COMET), Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications, the Program for the Advancement of Geoscience Education, GPS Science and Technology (GST), and the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC).

Changes in scientific emphasis

Perhaps the greatest change in scientific priorities over the past decade has been the shift toward interdisciplinary science directed at understanding the earth as a system. In 1988 the multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program was just starting. UCAR has played a significant role in all stages of the USGCRP, including the former Office for Interdisciplinary Earth Studies' work in planning, the support of field programs by NCAR's Atmospheric Technology Division (ATD) and JOSS, and the global change research taking place at NCAR.

Science at UCAR outside the USGCRP has also broadened considerably over this period. The explosion in the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) for atmospheric research using ground-based and space-based platforms, including the highly successful GPS/MET program, is but one example. This new method of observing the atmosphere has advanced so rapidly largely as a result of the introduction into UCAR of the UNAVCO facility (now part of GST) in 1992.

Changes in scientific facilities

In 1988, NCAR's Scientific Computing Division (SCD) had just two supercomputers, a CRAY-1 and a four-processor X-MP. They provided approximately 0.21 Gflops (0.21 billion operations per second) when executing the NCAR workload. In 1998, the SCD suite of computers includes a CRAY-90, four CRAY J90s, and a 128-processor SGI Origin. Together these provide about 16.6 Gflops, an increase over 1988's power by a factor of 79. This advance has made possible the enormous improvements in NCAR's climate modeling activities over the decade.

In 1988 the observational facilities of ATD included a Beechcraft King Air, a North American Rockwell Sabreliner, and a Lockheed Electra; two 5-centimeter Doppler radars; 60 portable automated mesonet (PAM) stations; and a number of cross-chain Loran atmospheric sounding systems (CLASS). Development was progressing on the Electra Doppler Radar (ELDORA), and ATD was preparing surface and upper-air sounding systems for the TOGA-COARE experiment (held in the winter of 1992-93), while at the same time supporting the Terminal Doppler Weather Radar program at Denver's Stapleton International Airport. ERICA (Experiment on Rapidly Intensifying Cyclones in the Atlantic) was about to begin.

In 1998 the NCAR aircraft fleet consists of the Electra with ELDORA and a Lockheed Hercules EC-130. ELDORA has greatly expanded the ability to observe the kinematic structure of weather systems ranging from convective storms to tornadoes. The C-130 has supported multi-investigator missions to the southern oceans and the Arctic. CLASS has become GLASS (GPS/Loran atmospheric sounding system) and is part of ATD's integrated sounding system, which provides higher-quality, higher-resolution data at worldwide locations. An S-band dual-polarization radar (S-Pol) provides better resolution and better storm penetration than the old radars, and provides information on the physical characteristics of precipitation as well. Another advantage of S-Pol is its transportability, which enables it to support weather and climate research anywhere in the world. The PAM system has evolved into the Integrated Surface Flux Facility (ISFF), which measures surface fluxes of heat, water vapor, and several chemical species; soil fluxes; and turbulence. Increasingly the ATD systems work in combination to support major international research projects, such as the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) in early 1999.

Another major change was the acquisition of the new Foothills Lab buildings in the spring of 1990. In 1988 UCAR staff were scattered across 14 sites in the Boulder area, and the Mesa Lab was seriously overcrowded. Foothills Lab has been an enormous improvement over that situation.

Changes in budgets and salaries

UCAR expenditures have almost doubled over the decade, from $72.05 million in FY 1987 to $139.79 million in FY 1997 (an increase of 94%). NCAR's expenditures increased by 101.7% and UOP's by 69.0%. The Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation, increased by approximately 40.2% during this period, so both NCAR and UOP showed real growth.

UCAR salary ranges, which are based on surveys of appropriate outside comparison groups, generally increased at a rate slightly above inflation. For example, the average midpoint of all scientists (I to Senior) increased by 44.2%. The corresponding increase for software engineers was somewhat greater (50.2%), reflecting changing market conditions.

Changes in UCAR demographics

On 1 September 1988 there were 635 NCAR employees, 80 UOP employees, and 75 employees in UCAR corporate, administrative, and facilities positions. (In discussing these and other numbers, I assume that the UCAR organization of today was in place in 1988.) The average age of UCAR staff was 40.1 years. Women accounted for 33.0% of all UCAR staff (10.9% of scientific staff), and minorities accounted for 8.3% of all staff (7.7% of scientific staff).

A decade later, in FY 1997, the number of NCAR staff had grown to 793, the number of UOP staff to 144, and the number of UCAR corporate and administrative staff to 114. The average age of UCAR staff had increased slightly to 41.8 years. More important, the percentage of females and minorities had increased to 37.5% (20.7% of scientists) and 12.4% (19.1% of scientists), respectively. And NCAR now has two female senior scientists. Thus UCAR has become significantly more diverse in the last decade. This is at least partly the result of a conscious effort by our leadership, and it is a trend of which I am proud. Before leaving the topic of diversity, I must mention the satisfaction I have had in helping develop the SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science) program, which began in 1996.

The growth of administrative support staff reflects another important change over the past decade. Besides the increase in the size of NCAR and UOP, there has been an even greater increase in the number and complexity of demands placed on administrative functions. For example, the number of prime contracts and cooperative agreements increased from 4 in FY 1987 to 252 in FY 1997, and the number of active interagency agreements increased from 51 to 192. The move to a full indirect-cost-recovery system added significant accounting requirements. Yes, UCAR management and administration have become more complicated in the last decade.

Changes in information technology

Of all the many changes that have affected UCAR's activities over the past decade, the revolutionary advances in information technology rank at the top. These include the use of powerful desktop computers by most UCAR employees, rapid and reliable communication via the Internet, and the development of the World Wide Web. In 1988 my office in the Fleischmann Building contained an NBI computer system. The printer was a slow, clunky device that was about five feet high and took up the floor space of a medium-sized desk. E-mail was exchanged via OMNET, a dial-in system used almost exclusively by scientists. There was no capability to send formatted documents or other enclosures. I prepared scientific papers pretty much the way I had for my whole career, going to the library for research, preparing hard copies of figures, and sharing drafts and data with colleagues via "snail mail."

In 1998 the much faster and more convenient Internet has replaced OMNET. Colleagues around the world share huge files of data, manuscripts, and color figures. Literature searches are done at a scientist's desk quickly and efficiently using powerful search engines. Figures and tables are downloaded from the Web, modified, and inserted directly into manuscripts. Animated PowerPoint presentations of 10 MB or more are on my laptop computer, edited over dinner on airplanes and used to drive high-resolution projectors the next day in countries halfway around the world.

A brief look to the future

Driven by advances in observational, computational, and information technologies, the changes we will see over the next decade are likely to be every bit as significant as those we have just experienced. Just a few of the achievements I hope we will read about in 2008 are the successful completion of the High-resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder and COSMIC missions; the acquisition and successful use of the high-performance instrumented airborne platform (see p. 11); a fully developed earth system model, including atmospheric chemistry, that the community is using to answer a wide range of exciting questions about the earth-sun system; a successful Solar Magnetism Initiative and U.S. Weather and Space Weather Research Programs; and a much better integration of human impacts in these and other community programs. It will be an exciting and productive time for the atmospheric sciences!

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Apr 4 14:56:02 MDT 2000