include the High Altitude Observatory in the new NCAR, as a condition of Walt Roberts’ becoming the first NCAR director, creating a partnership between NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences and ATM in funding solar physics that continues today. The definition of cross-disciplinary research for atmospheric sciences has expanded substantially over the past 45 years to include biology, oceanography, economics, and societal impacts in current research. As highlighted by several of the case studies in Chapter 2 and the personal testimonials in this report, some of the highest impact and most transformative atmospheric research has taken place at disciplinary boundaries, including the discovery of and research on chaos theory, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change. Major efforts in climate modeling have depended upon cross-disciplinary connections.
Many challenges remain. There is a growing need for a better understanding of, for example, the linkages between chemistry, cloud microphysics, and climate; the linkages between oceans and the atmosphere; the relationship between climate and ice dynamics, including the key challenge of changes in the crysophere; the water cycle; paleoclimate; and the health impacts of atmospheric oxidants and fine particles. In addition, cross-disciplinary aspects of the coupling between the atmosphere and the land surface, including the biosphere and the carbon cycle, remain areas of focus. Studying the climate also presents challenges to standard NSF funding mechanisms because of the long time scales of many of the phenomena. Emerging research avenues linking economics and societal impacts are of great interest, but also represent the greatest challenge insofar as their maturity and readiness must be balanced with their potential.
Aggressively pursuing cross-disciplinary research runs the risk of diverting funding from or diluting discipline-specific research. It is important to also recognize the inevitable tension between disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research. In the absence of increased funding, funding cross-disciplinary work will decrease the resources available for disciplinary research. Yet, there remain disciplinary problems which, if advances are not made, will hinder interdisciplinary research.
Effective identification of cross-disciplinary opportunities and related funding mechanisms are critical to the health of the atmospheric sciences. Yet, some research questions that fall at the interface between two or more disciplines can challenge NSF funding structures even when evaluations show these to be prime opportunities for scientific advancement. Several members of the committee, as well as many members of the broader atmospheric research community who provided input to the study, recounted anecdotal information suggesting that some cross-disciplinary research is falling between NSF’s programmatic boundaries. These programmatic boundaries exist both within ATM (e.g., support for projects that straddle climate and weather research questions) and between ATM and other NSF