This year’s AMS Annual Meeting Theme

Did you know that the American Meteorological Society’s Annual Meeting always has a theme?

Then you’re among a vanishingly small minority of the world’s seven billion people. Ask yourself…how many of those billions have ever even heard of the American Meteorological Society? In the United States, many of the tens of millions of people who watch a daily weather forecast on television are exposed to the AMS broadcast seal. Their broadcast meteorologist who’s AMS-certified may choose to display it. But any effect is subliminal at best. How many of those viewers know what the acronym AMS denotes? And how many of those know that AMS even has an Annual Meeting?

So we’re down to maybe 14,000 AMS members and their immediate families. And, AMS members, let’s face it. Even our spouses and life partners probably don’t know that the Annual Meeting has a theme. Doesn’t mean they don’t love us or aren’t interested. That’s the reality.

But the Annual Meeting theme is one of the few perks provided an AMS President. These men and women serve a four-year stint…one year as president-elect, one as president, and two as past-president. It’s four years of hard work…especially that year as president…and we’re all in their debt. How each finds the time to add to his or her day job is beyond me. Yet we’ve been fortunate, year after year, to be led and served in this way by a string of exceptional, high-minded, bright, energetic, and committed men and women. In choosing a meeting theme, AMS presidents shape a 4000-person-plus dialog, not just for the week of the meetings proper but for months of run-up to the meeting and ensuing months of follow-through. In the AMS universe, it’s a big deal.

This year’s president, Jonathan Malay, director of Civil Space and Environment Programs at Lockheed Martin, has chosen well. Look around, and you’ll find various formulations of his theme. They differ in detail, but this version, taken from the AMS Conference Program gives the flavor (and a little background):

“One of the first responsibilities faced by an incoming President of the AMS is to propose a unifying theme for the Annual Meeting, which will conclude his or her year of leadership of the Society. For Jon Malay, this process took about 10 seconds of thought. Technology has always been at the forefront of his career since one of his first meteorology professors [note added: at the U.S. Naval Academy; Jon served our country with distinction for many years] in the early 1970s taught from a textbook with the title “Computers and Satellites: The Coming Revolution in Meteorology.” His career has continually been touched along the way by that revolution. As a representative of one of the nation’s highest high-tech companies, he knows the dynamic challenges of research and operations in meteorological, hydrologic, oceanographic, heliophysical, and other related physical sciences can only be met by the development and employment of evermore sophisticated technologies. Satellite systems far overhead, seismic sensors in the ocean’s abyss, and in situ and remote sensing systems in between are providing essential data for geophysical models running on hyperfast supercomputers. Complementing these tools are advanced technologies for 4D data and simulation visualizations, data and information management and communications technology, and system of systems architectures. Because technology is vital to our research and operations, and by extension the society the AMS serves, it was a natural choice for the 2012 Annual Meeting Presidential Forum.”

Technology.

Here’s why this focus is so timely. Our generation faces a challenge unprecedented in human experience, a challenge no future generation will face. We are managing a transition from a world where people respond to the planet, to a world where the planet responds to the people.

Sobering.

But we tend to be dismayed by the prospect more than we should. There are two reasons for this. The second is for another day. But the first is this: too often, we fall into the trap of attempting to solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s tools.

That makes the job look a lot tougher than it really is.

Through his choice of Annual Meeting theme, Jon invites and equips those of us here to face the future armed with the future’s technology.

And that larger world of seven billion people, who are oblivious to these goings-on? If they knew, they’d be cheering.

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