Tom Karl discusses plans for NOAA Climate Service


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is developing its capability to play a leading role in providing data and information services in support of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts nationwide. This is one potentially valuable element of an overall U.S. climate change response strategy. On March 25, Climate Science Watch participated in a briefing on the proposed NOAA Climate Service.

Post by Alexa Jay and Rick Piltz

In a webinar/telecon briefing, NOAA Climate Service Interim Director Thomas Karl emphasized the importance of building broad, diverse partnerships with users as the service develops, NOAA invited members of various non-governmental and non-profit organizations to listen and give feedback.

NOAA will host subsequent Climate Service webinars for the academic research community, state and local government officials, and the corporate and business community.  More information can be found here

Karl outlined how the proposed service aligns with NOAA’s vision: that of an informed society able to anticipate and respond to climate and its impacts to make the best social and economic decisions. He said that the NOAA Climate Service is designed to inform the mitigation and adaptation decisions needed to respond to the impacts of a changing climate.  The Service aims to support decision-makers regionally to globally, on timescales of weeks to decades, in areas including public policy, resource management, infrastructure investment, business development, and decisions of individuals in their daily lives. 

The proposed NOAA Climate Service represents an intra-agency initiative to transform current science and data into understandable, usable and accessible information, and in doing so, position NOAA to effectively engage with a broader national climate service strategy.  As Karl noted, NOAA provides core capabilities to national climate services through its expertise in observing, monitoring, research, assessments, and modeling. 

NOAA has substantial regional service capacity that can be leveraged to better connect users with existing products and services, including the Weather Forecast Offices, Sea Grant Education and Extension programs, the Coastal Services Center, River Forecast Centers, and Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments.

NOAA deserves credit for advancing this initiative and should play a crucial role in providing climate information services in support of mitigation and adaptation efforts nationwide.  However, a national adaptation strategy will have to incorporate and coordinate the expertise and institutional capacities of other agencies, all of which will need to consider climate change adaptation and mitigation in relation to their ability to fulfill their missions and to larger national interest in adaptive preparedness.

Karl noted that to advance federal partnerships in support of climate science and services, it is important to leverage existing structures, such as the interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.  The Adaptation Task Force is coordinated by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science and Technology Policy, along with NOAA.  The Task Force, charged with reporting on the development of domestic and international dimensions of a US adaptation strategy and providing recommendations for further action, should consider how climate information services relate to the development of a broader capacity to provide technical and operational support for states and local entities implementing adaptation plans.

With the cooperation of Congressional appropriators, NOAA hopes to have its Climate Service functioning by the beginning of Fiscal Year 2011, i.e., October 1, 2010.

Climate change impacts may play a significant role in a wide range of future decision-making, for example on natural resources management, energy and water systems, coastal development, drought planning, wildfire planning, transportation infrastructure, and public health systems. We asked Karl how he views the NOAA Climate Service in relation to what we believe is the need to go beyond providing data and information to develop a fully operational national climate change adaptive preparedness capability, i.e., one that will connect the federal government with states and local communities and provide funding and technical support to implement practical actions to prepare for and seek to limit a wide range of potential damaging consequences of climate disruption.

He responded that NOAA should be able to provide essential information to inform adaptation planning, but left open the question of whether and how NOAA would extend its capabilities and role to engage more directly with stakeholder management decision-making. Clearly, the system is still without essential capabilities and is still near the beginning of a long road in dealing with the impacts of climate change.

For more information on the proposed NOAA Climate Service, see the Climate Science Watch post Commerce Department proposes NOAA Climate Service, with links to the NOAA website. 

Tom Karl’s March 25 PowerPoint presentation slides. Slide #12 is a chart showing the combination of exisiting NOAA components that will be combined in the Climate service.

March 18: Federal Climate Change Adaptation Task Force progress report shows early steps on a long road

Climate Change Adaptation Task Force site

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