The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched a new climate service today, a reorganization effort aimed at improving long-range assessments of climate change, sea-level rise and severe weather.
The effort is aimed at providing long-term forecasts to assist fisheries managers, farmers, state governments, renewable energy developers, water managers and others.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke likened the new climate shop to the 140-year-old National Weather Service, recounting how weather forecasting helped citizens prepare for the blizzard that slammed the mid-Atlantic region last weekend.
"This will provide a single point of contact, a one-stop shop for businesses and government that need NOAA's high-quality forecasting for making predictions," Locke said. "They turn to the Weather Service for making predictions in the short range, now we need the climate service ... because increasingly climate change is affecting everyone's bottom line."
The NOAA initiative would bring together existing climate science, currently spread through various branches at the agency. Thomas Karl, currently director of the National Climatic Data Center, would serve as transitional director of the climate service, which would also have six regional directors.
Since the reorganization would require shifting some agency funds into a new climate service fund, it will need congressional approval in the Commerce Department's spending bill. Locke said he hopes to have the reorganization fully implemented by October, the beginning of fiscal 2011.
The new climate service would initially rely on existing resources, according to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, but would eventually need additional funds to provide additional service in the future.
But even without congressional action, NOAA can do some of the reorganization on its own. For instance, the service has already launched a new online portal for the climate service.
Scientists and government officials have discussed for years possibilities for a National Climate Service, akin to the Weather Service. Efforts heated up in recent years. The George W. Bush and Obama administrations both endorsed the concept, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have taken a stab at bills to authorize the service.
The administration's fiscal 2011 budget request includes $1.5 million for the new NOAA climate services portal.