levels of airborne particulates have serious health impacts. Both forecasting and managing air quality require more precise knowledge of pollutant emissions, transformations, and transport. Furthermore, following the model of numerical weather prediction, new prediction capabilities will be emerging for concentrations of key chemical constituents and for aerosols that impact human health.
Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are warming the surface of the Earth, with worrisome implications for vulnerable ecosystems, low-lying coastal communities, hydrological systems, the cryosphere, and degraded air quality. Crucial policy decisions involving our energy, industrial, and transportation systems will be made on the basis of increasing capabilities to model the future climate and its response to societal actions. Understanding the atmospheric component of climate variability and change is crucial for making successful projections of future climate conditions.
Intense solar storms impact near-Earth space and the planet’s atmosphere, with sometimes dramatic effects on communications and observational satellites as well as ground-based electrical distribution systems. Quantitative models and approaches to forecasting space weather are now reaching the stage similar to the early stages of numerical weather prediction. Our understanding of the Sun now makes it possible to predict future solar cycles on the basis of numerical, physics-based models, and useful predictions that trigger actions to protect satellites, astronauts, and the electrical power grid are emerging.
Farsighted and effective support for the atmospheric sciences will have a crucial impact on needed advances addressing these important problems. During the past 50 years the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) has played a vital role in the advancement of the atmospheric sciences and the enhancement of the field’s capabilities to address issues vital to society. Over the next 50 years addressing the pressing atmospheric issues noted above will demand wise and bold investments in the atmospheric sciences. In this report we review the record of ATM activities and the advances they have enabled, assess the current state of NSF-sponsored atmospheric science programs, and discuss actions that we hope will help aid future ATM investments to strengthen our science and enhance its ability to address the atmospherically related problems facing humanity.
The fact that Earth’s atmosphere is by and large beyond our experimental control fundamentally shapes how atmospheric research is conducted. Atmospheric scientists employ a mix of direct observations of