On February 8, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) unveiled a major new proposal for the establishment of a NOAA Climate Service, a new office tasked with serving the nation’s increasing climate information needs. We support this initiative as a significant step in the right direction, while noting that it appears to leave aside, for now, the question of how the Climate Service office will ultimately coordinate with the full suite of federal activities relevant to climate change adaptation and preparedness planning.

Post by Alexa Jay, Climate Science Watch

According to NOAA’s website, the Climate Service will “provide a single, reliable and authoritative source for climate data, information and decision-support services to help individuals, businesses, communities and governments make smart choices in anticipation of a climate changed future.”

Under the current proposal, the new Climate Service office will reorganize NOAA’s existing climate assets to create a single, visible and accessible point of entry for users, bringing together “research labs, climate observing systems, modeling facilities, integrated monitoring systems and extensive on the ground service delivery infrastructure.”

More information about the proposed program organization can be found here, and more general questions are addressed here.

Tom Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center and NOAA’s lead on climate services for more than a year, will serve as Acting Director of the NOAA Climate Service. New positions for six NOAA Regional Climate Services Directors will also be announced, providing “regional leadership for integrating user engagement and on-the-ground service delivery within the Climate Service.”

Early priorities for the new office are as follows:

•  The NOAA Climate Service will work to develop a sustained capacity to provide regional and sectoral climate vulnerability and risk assessments to more effectively meet the requirements of the US Global Change Research Act (national assessment required every 4 years).
•  The NOAA Climate Service will have a more clearly established regional footprint to coordinate and provide improved regional climate services.
•  The NOAA Climate Service will be able to better align climate observing and modeling assets with strategic needs.

According to ClimateWire (by subscription only), Administration officials said they intend to have the Climate Service up and running by October 1. Its establishment does not require formal legislation or an increase in funding, but will involve negotiations with Congress, employee groups, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in order to reallocate funds within NOAA to the new climate service office.

NOAA notes that it has worked closely with its Federal partners and the Administration in developing the Climate Service proposal, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy, OMB, and the Council on Environmental Quality, and it is in keeping with the intent of the climate services section in the Waxman-Markey bill and the NOAA climate services authorization language in the Kerry-Boxer bill.

The NOAA website states: “NOAA will continue to work with OSTP who is leading an inter-agency effort to establish an integrated climate service enterprise that is inclusive of all relevant Federal climate capabilities.” NOAA currently participates in a number of inter-agency efforts including co-chairing with CEQ and OSTP the interagency Adaptation Task Force, and leading several assessment reports as part of the US Global Change Research Program. 

However, the current proposal appears to leave aside the question of how the Climate Service office will ultimately coordinate with the full suite of federal activities relevant to climate change adaptation and preparedness planning. Climate Science Watch has consistently advocated for the creation of a federal capacity to provide operational support for state and local adaptation, supported by a comprehensive, proactive national planning and preparedness strategy for attempting to limit the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of climate change. A Climate Service office should play a key role in this support capacity, which will be a vehicle for applying USGCRP and Climate Service information in operational contexts, and as such must articulate with a national adaptation strategy and related federal programs. Climate Science Watch will continue to monitor and comment on the evolution of this framework as the inter-agency planning process progresses.

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Climate Services Portal

NOAA also unveiled the Climate Services Portal, intended to become the “‘go-to’ website for NOAA’s climate data, products, and services for all users.” The Portal will be a “central component of NOAA’s commitment to enhancing the access to and extensibility of climate data and services, timely articles and information, education resources, and tools for engagement and decision-making.”

According to the site, the Portal was created in response to “emerging needs for improved decision-making capabilities across all sectors of society facing impacts from climate variability and change, and the importance of leveraging climate data and services to support research and public education.”

The site is currently in a prototype phase and will gradually transition to full operational capacity over the next year. NOAA will “actively gather user feedback through focus groups, usability studies, and informal communications,” and over the next several years, will “expand the NCS Portal’s scope and functionality in a user-driven manner to greatly enhance the accessibility and usefulness of NOAA’s climate resources.”

The Portal currently includes ClimateWatch magazine, with a series of online science articles examining different aspects of climate change. (What can we say? ‘Climate Science Watch’ can only approve of ‘ClimateWatch’ as the title NOAA has chosen for a science magazine.)

Short-Term Cooling on a Warming Planet

One article, “Short-Term Cooling on a Warming Planet” by Michon Scott, is notable in that it specifically addresses the deliberate use of a cherry-picked temperature data trend from 1998 to 2008 by climate change “skeptics” to conclude that global warming has stopped. 

David Easterling of NOAA is quoted in the article explaining that, because 1998 was a very strong El Niño year and arguably the warmest year on record (or very close to 2005), a straight line from 1998 to 2008 does indicate that 2008 was cooler. However, temperature data must be examined on a longer timescale to draw meaningful conclusions about climatic trends. As Easterling says, “the bottom line is that current temperatures are way above the long-term average.” Making statements about global warming based on a ten-year interval is inaccurate at best, and deliberately misleading at worst. 

This type of straightforward explanation from a highly credible source is crucial in an atmosphere where scientific data can be plausibly misrepresented in a sound bite. NOAA has a wealth of resources to offer to the public, and the creation of the Climate Services Portal is an important step.

The Portal also features an Education section with teaching resources, professional development, and multimedia tools. A Data and Services section focuses on both larger climatic trends and the information needs of specific sectors of society, and an Understanding Climate section provides climate assessment reports and information about NOAA public engagement activities.

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