U.S. proposes new climate service

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Obama administration proposed a new climate service on Monday that would provide Americans with predictions on how global warming will affect everything from drought to sea levels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service, modeled loosely on the 140-year-old National Weather Service, would provide forecasts to farmers, regional water managers and businesses affected by changing climate conditions.

The move is essentially a reorganization of NOAA, and would bring the agency's climate research arm together with its more consumer-oriented services. It would not come with a boost in funding.

A Web portal launched Monday at www.climate.gov provides a single entry point to NOAA's climate information, data, products and services.

The effort was announced at a time when skeptics have become increasingly effective in attacking the credibility of global warming forecasts.

NOAA, along with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, ranks as one of the federal government's key agencies for monitoring the climate and conducting climate research.

"We currently respond to millions of annual requests for climate information, and we expect those requests to grow exponentially," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco in an interview, adding that in light of recent scientific advances, "the models will continue to improve, and we will be able to provide more and more information."

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in an interview that the service would be able to provide advice on such diverse topics as where ski operators might want to refocus their activities in light of changing snowfall patterns and which farm crops will need increased irrigation.

In the same way businesses such as the Weather Channel and AccuWeather.com have taken advantage of the National Weather Service's predictions, Locke said, "you'll see much of the private sector will want to build on this one-stop shop of climate services."

In order to formally launch the reorganization, Locke said, the House and Senate Appropriations committees with jurisdiction over NOAA will have to approve the move, which is planned for Oct. 1.

Even without the reorganization, NOAA has recently been providing more detailed climate-related forecasts. The National Integrated Drought Information System, which became law in December 2006, provides drought forecasts and impacts for the West and Southwest for at least a season and up to a year. Climate models suggest that both these regions will experience increasing dryness over the next 20 to 40 years, and Lubchenco said the agency will expand this system to cover the Southeast as well.

It remains unclear whether the new Climate Service could answer all the questions Americans have about global warming. Researchers are still looking at how best to make regional climate projections and pinpoint future changes in precipitation, as well as determine what cooling effects aerosols have and how to better interpret tree-ring temperature data over the past several hundred years.

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