This morning I came to work ready to tackle a workshop report and a research proposal that urgently need attention, but the mail in my chair decided me on a brief delay.
That’s because the stack included the latest print copy of the AMS journal, Weather, Climate, and Society, for January 2018.
Volume 10, Number 1. What a milestone!
For the AMS. Ten years ago the American Meteorological Society was approaching 90. For all of those years its purposes included (1) the advancement of science and technology, and (2) the application of those advances for societal benefit. The strategy for the former was clear and longstanding, revolving around technical conferences and comprising a range of journals. The approach to the latter included conferences for and certification of the broadcasters and those in government and the private sector producing operational forecast products. The consensus was that societal benefit from weather forecasts was limited primarily by the quality of those physical forecasts. Attention focused on their improvement. And improvement there was, thanks to new physical understanding, new observing platforms and instruments, and computing power.
Over the more recent past, however, societal benefit had failed to keep pace with improvements in forecasts of atmospheric conditions. The reasons? These were numerous but included limitations in communication of forecasts; insufficient attention to the links connecting weather conditions to economic and social impacts; little information for users about their options for action; inadequate characterization of uncertainty; and much more. It was time to be disciplined and structured not just in the development of meteorological information (broadly construed, to include not just weather but hydrology, climate, space weather, etc.) but also in the application of that information..
These realities posed a challenge for AMS staff, AMS volunteer leadership, and ultimately, every AMS member. Science – and the integrity of that science – would of course remain paramount. But should AMS sharpen its focus to study of the physical atmospheric and oceanic sciences per se, or should it expand and step up its activities to support the application of that science for societal benefit? To focus on the former would allow AMS to rely on existing resources and stay in its comfort zone. To do justice to the latter – an ambitious job – would carry both financial implications and risk.
After considerable discussion and debate, the AMS opted for the latter course. The implications have shaped every AMS action and decision since, but two of the more consequential decisions were (1) the establishment of an annual Symposium on Societal Applications, Policy Research, and Practice, and (2), standing up a new scientific journal, Weather Climate, and Society (WCAS), to be published quarterly.
The initial issue of WCAS was published in October of 2009. The first slim number contained only 90 pages; in the ten years since the issues have doubled or tripled in size, as the journal’s reputation has grown, the numbers of social scientists entering the research space have multiplied, and as AMS has adapted its business model for the journal, making it more congruent with practices elsewhere in the social sciences.
None of this has been easy! To achieve this growth in submissions, breadth, and quality has required vision and sustained hard work from Keith Seitter, the AMS Executive Director, Ken Heideman, the AMS director of publications, and AMS editorial staff; from AMS volunteer leadership, including two Publications Commissioners, Dave Jorgensen and Bob Rauber; three chief editors, Roberta Balstad Miller, Amanda Lynch, and most recently Henry Huntington; and from their WCAS Editorial Board and the hundreds of authors who’ve been doing the research and writing the journal articles themselves.
For meteorology and social science, and for the larger world. But the accomplishment isn’t limited to the AMS per se; it’s changing our field – how we view ourselves and how others view us. WCAS and the related technical meetings at the intersection of meteorology, social science, and policy have shaped AMS priorities and impacts in subtle but important ways. Earth scientists or geoscientists or meteorologists and social scientists can today see career paths and opportunities without limit, spanning the physical and social sciences, public-, private, and academic sectors, and basic research and applications, with few constraining boundaries or barriers to impede progress. They can bring their attention and energies to bear on solving big challenges – capturing Earth’s energy-, water-, and agricultural bounty; building community-level resilience to hazards globally; protecting the environment, habitat, and ecosystems.
Increasingly, the larger society sees the Earth scientists and social scientists working in this space as pivotally important to national and global aspirations to live a little better, a little more safely, and a little longer on this generous but dangerous and fragile planet. They see community values of innovation, inclusion, and international reach as invitations to partner and collaborate to make a better world. And increasingly, political leaders, business leaders, and publics domestically and internationally are accepting that invitation.
And all this stemming from a single – and singular – technical journal.
Want to get a feel for how important WCAS will be at the end of AMS’ second century? Go back into the AMS archives and look at some of the 1870’s vintage Monthly Weather Reviews. Compare them with a current issue. The best is yet to come.