and outreach activities, and other community service efforts. Federal agencies besides the National Science Foundation (NSF), including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense, and Environmental Protection Agency, have added to the support for atmospheric research, both internally and extramurally. These other agencies have focused efforts on their own missions and supporting research objectives (e.g., air quality) and have pioneered new approaches to research, most notably the introduction by NASA of space-based platforms for observing the atmosphere and near-space environment. International collaborations, including large multi-investigator and multinational field campaigns, now play a major role and require a significant fraction of the research budget.

The committee believes that this evolution of atmospheric science research since 1958 introduces not only new opportunities but also new challenges. For example, five years of steady growth in NSF budgets have given way to a new period of limited budget growth, while support of atmospheric science research by other federal agencies exhibits considerable volatility. The constrained budget environment combined with the expanded scope of scientific questions have increased the need for interagency and international coordination. In developing findings and recommendations in this interim report, the committee first reviews how atmospheric science research has evolved. With that foundation the committee goes on to conduct a preliminary examination of the opportunities, challenges, successes, and shortcomings of the various modes of support for the atmospheric sciences. The final report will include a more complete analysis in order to address issues of balance among, and future evolution of, the modes.


The atmospheric sciences have enjoyed a slow but steady increase in funding by NSF since the late 1950s. NSF funding for atmospheric sciences was $16.3 million (in constant 1996 dollars) in 1958, increasing to $53.9 million in 1959. The Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) budget had increased to $122 million by 1972, reaching $196 million in 2004 (Figure 2-1). Much of the budget increase that ATM has experienced since the 1980s can be traced to new funds for facilities operated by entities other than NCAR ($27 million increase since 1982) and for NSF-wide priorities, such as “Biocomplexity in the Environment” and “Information Technology Research” ($25 million increase since 1989). The core grants program and NCAR have experienced modest increases in support over the past 30 years.

The funding is currently directed to the modes of support of core grants, university facilities, NCAR facilities and science, and NSF priorities, as shown in Figure 1-1. These modes overlap in many ways, for example, because facilities are integral to the research process. Over these 30 years, core research has

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