Society chooses to invest in basic research not only because of perceived tangible benefits but also because of the intrinsic value of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. Few would deny the largely intangible but very real value of intellectual achievements such as the formulation of quantum mechanics, the discovery of DNA, or the characterization of the physics of deterministic but nonperiodic systems. In the United States, the intellectual appeal of progress in the atmospheric sciences rivals that of such fields as cosmology and molecular biology.
Atmospheric science is poised to make another series of major advances, many of which will lead directly to improved weather warnings and predictions. Great strides in the basic understanding of the dynamics of weather systems and the development of new techniques such as ensemble forecasting combine with the deployment of new measurement systems and advanced means of communicating information to offer the promise of much improved forecasts to the American public.
To realize these potential improvements, new means of measuring the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface must be developed and implemented, and existing measurement systems such as rawinsondes, mobile radars, and research aircraft must be maintained and upgraded. We cannot stress enough the continued need for in situ and ground-based remote sensing capabilities and are alarmed at the deterioration of fundamental observing systems such as the global rawinsonde network. In surveying the state of basic research in weather dynamics, time after time we came to the conclusion that further progress was limited by the lack of appropriate measurement capabilities. For this reason, many of our recommendations focus on the need for better measurement systems. However, it must be recognized that we have the ability to predict, with some accuracy, how improvements in observing systems or techniques might actually improve forecasts. This capability is largely unexploited. One of our most important conclusions is that far more must be done to exploit known techniques, such as observing system simulation experiments, to make a priori estimates of optimal combinations of observing systems and forecasting techniques for application to specific forecast-related problems. Further, we feel that atmospheric scientists must work much more closely with other disciplines, particularly economists, to determine the potential costs and benefits of new observing systems and forecasting methods.
The major body of this Disciplinary Assessment was completed just as the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP) was being defined. Much of what is contained here is strongly consonant with the objectives of the USWRP as outlined in Emanuel et al. (1995).
We have identified a number of emerging basic research, technique, and technological developments that, on the basis of their intrinsic intellectual value