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Budget Puts NOAA's Focus on Weather

By Stephanie Paige Ogburn, E&E reporter
1/11/2013 10:42:07 AM

Following recent predictions of a severe hurricane season and with much of the West facing more severe drought, the president's budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prioritizes improved forecasting of extreme weather.

Superstorm Sandy as seen from space. Photo by NOAA

"Our 2014 proposal proposes significant changes to the Joint Polar Satellite System program to sharpen its focus on the weather missions," said acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan yesterday at an Office of Science and Technology Policy budget briefing.

With NOAA focusing on more on weather, responsibility for the key climate monitoring sensors that go on polar orbiting satellites and measure solar radiation has shifted to NASA.

The 2014 budget asks for NOAA to add $2 billion to fund satellite development for NOAA's geostationary satellites, used in extreme weather monitoring and prediction, and polar orbiting satellites, key for weather models and climate science.

The increase is likely a response to concerns that cost overruns and program delays will lead to a gap in satellite coverage with negative consequences for extreme weather forecasting and public safety, said Kaitlin Chell, an analyst at Lewis-Burke Associates who tracks environmental science policy.

"I'm not surprised that they've put that sort of commitment towards those programs," Chell said.

The budget proposal also increases funding for the National Weather Service's computing infrastructure. The supercomputing ability of the service has fallen behind that of Europe, and Director Louis Uccellini has signaled this as a high-priority issue.

Landsat lead goes to NASA

With NASA taking over responsibility for climate monitoring sensors, it is possible they will no longer go on the polar orbiting satellites, but will fly on other satellites instead.

"NASA will determine how best to get those measurements made on a long-term basis as part of its overall portfolio of science objectives," said Steve Cole, a public affairs specialist at NASA.

NASA's Decadal Survey Missions have absorbed the cost of the sensors; that line item in the NASA budget increased $71 million from 2012. The agency did not include a comparison from the 2013 continuing resolution.

In addition to taking charge of the polar satellite climate sensors, the NASA budget proposal gives that agency responsibility for the next Landsat satellite, which had previously been proposed to shift to the Department of Interior.

"I think the key message in this budget is that NASA is assuming more responsibility, given the lead on climate sensors and land imaging," said Nancy Colleton, president of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.

The administration budget narrative also highlighted its support for climate change research and monitoring, specifically mentioning work on understanding changes in the Arctic and efforts to improve coastal community adaptation and resiliency of marine ecosystems to climate change and ocean acidification.

It proposed $2.7 billion for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a 13-agency effort that funds research on climate science and transitioning to a clean energy economy -- a 6 percent increase over fiscal 2012 enacted levels.

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