(DoD), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 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.

In this chapter, some aspects of the evolution of the atmospheric sciences from 1958, when the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) first considered the status of research and education activities in the field, to the present are analyzed. While illustrative rather than comprehensive, this consideration of a number of key factors that influence the field—including the broader intellectual and societal context, demographics, and technology developments—has helped inform the committee’s thinking about what factors are important in shaping future directions for the atmospheric sciences.


During much of the 20th century, atmospheric scientists focused primarily on issues of weather, greatly expanding our understanding of the physical dynamics of the lower atmosphere required for weather forecasting. In the early years, the Navy, Department of Agriculture, the Army Medical Department, the Smithsonian Institution, the Signal Office, and other government programs supported research to develop accurate weather predictions for storm forecasting, aviation, and agriculture (Fleming, 1997). Indeed, the 1959 “blue book” report of the University Committee on Atmospheric Research (“UCAR,” 1959) that presented the scientific rationale for the establishment of a large national atmospheric sciences research center focuses on atmospheric physics topics relevant to meteorology, balanced by a recognition of cross-disciplinary research avenues such as aeronomy, atmospheric chemistry, and the possible impact of atomic weapons detonations on the atmosphere’s electrical structure. Basic and applied research in meteorology over the past several decades has contributed to remarkable advances in knowledge of the atmosphere, discoveries of relevance to scientific inquiry more broadly (e.g., the discovery of chaos theory, as described in Box 3-1), and greatly improved abilities to forecast atmospheric conditions.

Atmospheric science has been deeply rooted in practical applications since its inception, so that the need for research to meet societal expectations and to lead to progress in operations has long been an organizing principle. Indeed, it is striking that many of the topics highlighted in the

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