New climate institute ramps up in Asheville

A newly established climate research partnership partially based in Asheville will begin working on projects this fall with an urgent focus: developing accurate, long-range climate-change forecasts.

The Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, announced May 27, will work as a nationwide collaboration of researchers and institutions. The institute will have a working site in Asheville under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, home to the world’s largest archive of climate data. The other main base of operations will be in College Park, Md., at the University of Maryland.

The institute, set to receive $93 million in federal tax money over the next five years, will bring together academic, nonprofit and community organizations that will use satellite data to detect and forecast climate change.

Dr. John J. Bates, chief of the Remote Sensing Applications Division of the climatic-data center in Asheville, revealed more details about the institute during a June 8 panel discussion on climate change sponsored by the Colburn Earth Science Museum and the Asheville chapter of the American Meteorological Society.

The institute is poised to be a “trailblazer” in work on climate change and will “educate and train the next generation of NOAA’s and the nation’s scientific workforce,” Bates said.

The primary goal is to collect data and find the best ways to transform it into useful information for people and businesses, Bates said. Outreach will be key, and along the way, Asheville could hold major conferences and forums on climate and climate change, he said.

Speaking at the same panel discussion, Dr. Greg Wilson, director of Asheville operations for the Scientific Research Corp., said the “long-term task is to predict the future of the climate” through the collection of data and the creation of new computer models.

The institute’s creation also fits with another long-discussed plan to create a National Climate Service, which would provide warnings and forecasts of climate change.

“Establishing this Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites is a major step forward in the NOAA-led effort to create a National Climate Service that would provide longer-term forecasts and warnings related to climate change, just as the National Weather Service does for storms and other short-term weather changes,” University of Maryland climate scientist Phillip Arkin, director of the new institute there, said in a written statement.

Dr. Otis Brown, who will direct the institute for North Carolina State, said the institute “is an excellent step towards observing and documenting climate impacts on national and regional scales, and a wonderful partnership between government and academia that will be a major player in climate research.”

Collecting and analyzing satellite data, and making it useful for the private sector, is key for the new institute, said Ron Birk, a Northrop Grumman Space Technology official who also spoke at the Asheville panel. New satellite systems, such as the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, will help “build a global climate-change monitoring system” that will feed the institute.

NOAA also recently announced that the Harris Corporation was awarded a $736 million contract to design, test and implement the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series of satellites. The satellites are scheduled to be launched in 2015, and are expected to double the clarity of current satellite imagery and dramatically improve atmospheric observations from space.

The new institute will be led by scientists from the University of Maryland and N.C. State University, and will also include researchers from a dozen additional top universities and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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