February 09, 2010

NOAAing Your Climate Science

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced yesterday that it would reorganize its climate services so it can provide Americans with more information on how climate change could affect trends such as drought and sea level rise. As part of the reorganization, NOAA announced a new climate services website, http://www.climate.gov:

With the rapid rise in the development of Web technologies and climate services across NOAA, there has been an increasing need for greater collaboration regarding NOAA's online climate services. The drivers include the need to enhance NOAA's Web presence in response to customer requirements, emerging needs for improved decision-making capabilities across all sectors of society facing impacts from climate variability and change, and the importance of leveraging climate data and services to support research and public education. To address these needs, NOAA embarked upon an ambitious program to develop a NOAA Climate Services Portal (NCS Portal). Our goal is for the Portal to become the "go-to" website for NOAA's climate data, products, and services for all users.

I want to focus particularly on NOAA’s response to the “emerging needs for improved decision-making capabilities across all sectors of society facing impacts from climate variability and change.” Dr. Jay Gulledge and I have been exploring these emerging needs in our forthcoming Lost in Translation report. What is clear is that there is not a lack of data, but simply a lack of data that is useful to stakeholders who need the information presented in a form that can help them make decisions as they relate to the impacts of climate change.

Some observers will note that the new climate website, as it currently stands in its prototype phase, might not have many useful climate projections (i.e. it has a lot of historical data, and short-term weather trends, but not a lot of longer-term projections) that will benefit decision makers tasked with long-term (decadal) planning; the long-lead multi-season climate outlooks only project about 12.5 months out. But nonetheless, having the information in a central location is a noteworthy first step to providing for the needs of decision makers who often decry the lack of coordination among the climate services. Indeed, NOAA claims that this initial effort is about infrastructure development before populating it with more targeted information and datasets. In fact, NOAA plans to engage decision makers to find out what is useful to them:

Our plan is to actively gather user feedback through focus groups, usability studies, and informal communications…Over the next several years, we will expand the NCS Portal's scope and functionality in a user-driven manner to greatly enhance the accessibility and usefulness of NOAA's climate resources. As this effort continues to expand in future years, partners from outside of NOAA will become involved in this effort.

It’ll be interesting to follow the website’s evolution over the next few years and to observe just how well it serves the needs of individual stakeholders.