NSF renews agreement with UCAR to continue managing NCAR

Five-year cooperative agreement will support the advancement of critical Earth system science

Sep 15, 2023 - by Laura Snider

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has renewed its agreement with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) to continue managing the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) for another five years. UCAR, a consortium of 122 North American colleges and universities, has managed NCAR since its inception in 1960.

NCAR is a world-class center for Earth system science research. It provides resources and support to the university community to bolster scientific discovery, including research aircraft, ground-based instrumentation, open-source community models, high-performance computing, education and training, and more. NCAR’s work has made essential contributions to our ability to understand and predict a range of important phenomena in the Earth system, from hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather to floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise, and long-term changes in our climate regime.

“NSF is pleased to renew its commitment to UCAR in the management of NCAR, advancing the frontiers of Earth system science research,” said Alexandra Isern, assistant director for NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences. “By leveraging cutting-edge observational and modeling capabilities, NCAR empowers the scientific community to explore innovative approaches that deepen our understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere and its interconnected systems. This research has profound societal implications addressing critical challenges related to weather, climate, and environmental changes, while also advancing workforce development.” 

The new agreement significantly raises the budget ceiling for the five-year period, from $630 million for the previous period to approximately $938 million, including interagency transfers to support NCAR activities as well as funding from other programs at NSF. As a ceiling, NCAR’s enacted budget will be subject to the annual funding process.

“This substantial increase in NCAR’s budget ceiling is testimony to the value of the work going on at NCAR to the nation and a sign of approval of the way UCAR has been able to support that work and be the best possible steward of the NSF funds entrusted to us,” said UCAR President Antonio Busalacchi. “NCAR’s Strategic Plan, developed under the leadership of NCAR Director Everette Joseph, clearly lays out how the national center’s work can continue to meet the critical needs of society as our country contends with increasingly severe environmental challenges. I am very appreciative of the confidence and investment in UCAR demonstrated by NSF with this award, and I am excited that UCAR will be able to continue enabling NCAR’s vital work. This investment will also allow us to deal with important infrastructure needs such as UCAR’s transition to net zero carbon emissions.”

UCAR and NCAR are based in Boulder, Colorado, where they play an important role in the state’s research ecosystem and receive strong support from the Colorado congressional delegation. Colorado political leaders hailed the agreement.

“Colorado has first-rate research institutions and is a proven leader in fighting climate change — the 21st century's most pressing challenge,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. “The National Science Foundation recognizes Colorado's leadership and is supporting Earth system science research by renewing this partnership with UCAR to manage NCAR. NCAR’s work is essential to predict extreme weather events and help protect communities from the effects of climate change.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis added: "NCAR is a cornerstone of Colorado's nation-leading work in aerospace and climate science, and we welcome this exciting federal support. The research findings that come out of NCAR have expanded our knowledge of wildfires, severe storms, air pollution and more, giving us better tools to address the root causes of these issues and make sure Coloradans can thrive now and for generations to come.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, whose congressional district includes Boulder, said: “I am excited to see and support continued federal funding for Colorado’s scientific labs — the research teams at NCAR are making strides to develop groundbreaking research that is forging new energy and climate solutions. The work being done at NCAR will benefit our communities for generations to come, and I am thrilled that this announcement will allow them to continue and grow their work.”

UCAR is a nonprofit organization led by a board of trustees that is elected by UCAR’s member institutions. This unique structure for management of a premier science organization allows UCAR to stay deeply connected to the needs of the university community that NCAR serves.

“Over more than six decades, UCAR has proven that this model of partnership with universities  can be a powerful catalyst for scientific progress in weather, climate, and Earth system science,” said UCAR Board Chair Shuyi Chen, a professor at the University of Washington. “I look forward to continuing to build on our solid foundation with NSF to help UCAR be a successful steward of NCAR to meet the grand challenge of climate change over the next five years.”

Beyond its management of NCAR, UCAR also manages a suite of community programs that complement and enhance the research at NCAR. These programs focus on data delivery and analysis; data assimilation; workforce training, development, and support; K-12 education; ocean science advocacy and support; and other important services for the broader Earth system science community. 

“UCAR provides essential services to the research community through its management of NCAR, its community programs, and its advocacy for the value of Earth system research to policymakers and beyond,” said Susan Avery, who served as UCAR Board of Trustees chair for much of the last five years. “I am delighted UCAR will continue to ensure that NCAR thrives and will remain a valuable community resource over the next five years.”

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