Friday, July 4, 2008

One earth, one US agency

In Climate Feedback, Anna Barnett has an excellent piece on the recent proposal to combine NOAA and the US Geological Survey. Well worth a look: The next US president should merge two huge government research agencies to bring forth a new independent and comprehensive Earth science body - that’s the idea put forth in a commentary by former agency heads in Science yesterday (subscription required). They call for NOAA and the USGS become a single Earth Systems Science Agency, ESSA.

…To face the daunting agenda of “climate change, sea-level rise, altered weather patterns, declines in freshwater availability and quality, and loss of biodiversity,” the authors say, the US needs massive scientific support from an integrated, streamlined institution - one as seamless as the Earth system itself.

But would ESSA really produce better science? The proposal’s authors have tempting suggestions for changes under a new agency, not least upping the amount of money that would leave the building: grants to outside researchers total a few percent of current NOAA and USGS budgets, they told me, but they want the sum to be at least 25% at ESSA. They also call for Big Science modelling and monitoring programs, and even for research into breakthrough green tech, a la DARPA.

…I talked to quite a few Earth and climate researchers about the ESSA idea - next week in Nature Reports Climate Change I’ll have a news story looking into it - and heard a range of reactions. Many were excited about the visionary qualities of the plan. Separating NOAA from the USGS “is not how you’d set it up when you were starting fresh,” says Richard Anthes, president of the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research and the American Meteorological Association. “We should be looking to future and designing our scientific institutions around the challenges we face.”….

I can see your house from here. Image from NASA, Wikimedia Commons

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