Climate Research in Asheville, NC

By Anne Gillem on April 26, 2011 at 10:11 am EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Ian Curcio

Since the days of our founding fathers, notably Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, Americans have been fascinated with weather – watching it, experiencing it and recording their observations.

Data Collection

Over the past half-century, Asheville has played a key role in the collection, storage and analysis of such data – including some from Jefferson and Franklin – as the home of the National Climatic Data Center, or NCDC, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

Asheville has been a repository for climatic data since the post-World War II era, selected because of its climate, and also for both its distance from Washington, D.C., for security reasons, and its proximity, so data would be accessible.

Today, those assets and access are more important than ever, and Asheville is favorably positioned. An increasing global awareness about the relationship between climate change and the environmental implications is yielding more investment in this type of research.

New Research Ventures

One of the newest ventures for climatic research, the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, or CICS, was launched here in October 2009 as a partnership between NOAA, North Carolina State University and the University of Maryland.

CICS Asheville, directed by Dr. Otis Brown, is using satellite observations to study and forecast climate change and its effect on the environment.

“I see, and my partners see, that NCDC is one of the foundational elements in this because of its perspectives and data holdings,” Brown says. “But we also saw that no one academic institution – or three or four – have a corner on all the expertise it’s going to take in terms of research and education to deal with climate change. So that’s why we put together a broad-based national consortium. We recognized up front that this was going to have to be a partnership to deal with all the research and societal challenges associated with climate change.”

Dr. Scott Hausman, deputy director of NOAA’s NCDC, says historically, academia and the private sector have had more success attracting top scientific talent than NOAA, so this new cooperative institute will benefit them, as well.

“Dealing with the challenges of a changing climate will require new sets of skills in jobs that haven’t even been defined yet,” adds Eileen Shea, chief of the Climate Services and Monitoring Division at NCDC.

“We’re hoping that this gives us an opportunity to help educate, train and bring up the next generation of scientists who can work across multiple scientific disciplines … scientists and communicators who can help people who are not in the scientific community understand how climate is changing. What does it mean for me and the way I live my life, and what can I do to both change my lifestyle to manage the risks we’re facing, but also what can I do to be better prepared for what the future is bringing in our direction?”

Modern technological tools enable scientists to simultaneously study a wide range of up-to-date data across many fields, but the value of historical information can’t be discounted.

“For me, the Thomas Jefferson records are an inspiration,” Shea says. “He encouraged the nation to invest in monitoring weather in part for very public reasons – transportation, safety, commerce and national security. … Being reminded of Jefferson reminds me of why we’re in this business. We’re in this business to help people.”

Learn more about the growing business in Asheville, NC.

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