NOAA chief says new Asheville institute key to understanding climate

It's all about understanding our global climate

That's why Asheville, with its repository of government weather records and a host of experts in climate science, makes the perfect home for a newly established federal research institute, according to the chief administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jane Lubchenco visited Asheville on Aug. 12 to help celebrate the creation of the North Carolina home of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, which will also be based at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. The environmental scientist and marine ecologist said the institute's unique structure and mission suit Asheville, which is home to the NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

"Climate change is a reality, and people are hungry for information," Lubchenco said. The new institute will make that information, in the form of old weather records and new satellite data, "accessible and understandable to a variety of users, and that could not be more important," Lubchenco said.

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. It will initially employ about 20 people in Asheville.

Dr. Otis Brown, who will direct the institute in Asheville, said the institute will focus on "new public outreach and connection to NCDC, as well as the community and the region." North Carolina State University is a partner in the institute, so "you'll see a significant presence of Research Triangle educational institutions here," Brown said.

There will be a focus on the improved communication of climate issues in a nonpartisan way, Brown said, as well as helping NCDC broaden its impact by working on regional and national climate issues. On the academic side, the institute plans to create a science-policy degree track for graduate students to "bridge that gap between hard science and policy issues" — a track that doesn't currently exist — Brown said.

"The institute is a grand experiment and an experiment we think is worth doing," Brown said. "We think it can make a difference in addressing the issues climate change has put in front of us."

Lubchenco, who spoke to a group of local officials at the North Carolina Arboretum, also told Xpress that the much-discussed creation of a federal source of user-friendly climate change information is still in discussion stages. Dubbed a National Climate Service, it would be a one-stop shop for all kinds of climate information.

"It's an idea whose time has come," Lubchenco said. "There is active dialogue" to determine how such an organization would be structured, she said, but no decisions have been made.

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