Responsibility…and true collaboration

A year and one day ago, while at the 2010 AMS Summer Community Meeting in State College, I wrote a post entitled From parallel play to true collaboration. The main idea? That government, private sector, and academic members of our community were still learning how to work together, and that more meaningful collaborations lay ahead.

Based on today’s discussion at the 2011 Boulder meeting, that day is coming faster than many might have thought. The focus of the morning was the National Weather Service’s strategic plan, and the early outcomes of a newly-formed Environmental Information Services Working Group (EISWG) of NOAA’s Science Advisory Board.

A pointy-headed aside. The Science Advisory Board is a FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act) group. That is, it was established under the rules and policies governing standing federal advisory committees. These rules are set out in 1972 legislation. For more information, check out this Wikipedia article and the links therein. Suffice it to say here that the FACA limitations on the number of advisory committees that government agencies may establish, how members will be selected, and how committees will operate, are stringent indeed. Once such groups have been established, it’s often easier to extend their purview than to establish a different group. So the term Science Advisory Board is a bit of a misnomer. And virtually everything NOAA does has a science aspect. Thus it is that the SAB really has a rather broad NOAA remit.

But back to the morning sessions.

National Weather Service future plans could easily have consumed a whole day of discussion in and of itself. Lots of intriguing ideas, but many if not all of these had been formulated prior to the apocalyptic debt ceiling debate. Even though the NWS has come through the first round relatively unscathed, it remains to be seen how things will go from here. So to some in the room, aspects of the discussions seemed a little out of touch with August 11 realities. [Then again, the national scene is currently so volatile that a steady-as-she-goes approach may be just the right one.]

To many participants at these meetings, the most interesting bits of the NWS story were an array of pilot projects getting underway at several levels – the national headquarters, the regions, and some of the field offices. What’s more, NWS management seemed amenable to discussion about possible outside participation in many aspects of this work.

The EISWG discussion tried to take this a step further. The working group has a vanilla title but its main role is to make suggestions on how NWS might better partner with the private sector in its provision of both weather and climate services. EISWG briefed the audience on an early report, entitled Towards Open Weather and Climate Services – an EISWG prospectus. Speakers emphasized two topics:

–          First, a desire that the National Weather Service share not just products derived from its raw data, but also much if not all of those raw data themselves, and in real time. In brief, this access would allow private-sector partners a larger arena in which to innovate and create new products and services.

–          Second, a desire that NWS partners be more actively involved in all stages of NWS product and service development.  This was backed up by a case for how such closer collaboration would both accelerate and increase the resulting societal benefit.

A lot to chew on!

The first talk of the afternoon was a keynote. Matt Parker, the incoming Commissioner for the Weather and Climate Enterprise, provided an overview of the worldwide response to the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster following on the heels of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami. The talk was an eye-opening look at the numbers of institutions and players involved, the wide array of forms the response took, and the overall complexity, magnitude, and ongoing duration of the work. Many national governments around the world. Defense and civilian agencies. Private-sector actors. As Matt summarized – pretty much everybody in the nuclear world.

This talk was followed by two sessions of talks on CO2 observations and modeling. The first talk was an overview of the policy and practice of greenhouse gas monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV). What was interesting about this and subsequent talks? The fact that even though the carbon policy debate has quieted down, the MRV work that would support any treaty enforcement has been proceeding apace. Other talks dealt with surface-, airborne-, and satellite measurements of carbon, both actual and contemplated, as well as modeling. A particularly interesting subtext to the largely technical talks was a thread surfacing the disconnect between the long-term nature of this work, and the small returns/lack of a sustainable value proposition for the several private-sector firms valiantly contributing.

Notably, the day’s presentations shared a common thread. Joint setting of strategic goals and development of services?  Partnership in moving ahead with greenhouse gas monitoring, despite an abysmal policy climate? Collaboration across the community sectors has hit a new level. All parties appear to be truly committed. They’re no longer just fair-weather friends. The United States and the world stand to benefit.


In the evening? Dinner with the panelists for tomorrow’s session on the environment and human health. Based on a few glimpses of what’s in store, Thursday looks to be another good day.

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