Thomas Karl leads new federal office devoted to climate

In October, 2010, NOAA will form a new federal office devoted solely to climate, called the NOAA Climate Service. EarthSky spoke with its interim director, Thomas Karl.

In October, 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – will form a new federal office devoted solely to climate, called the NOAA Climate Service. EarthSky spoke with its interim director, Thomas Karl.

Thomas Karl: It will, for the first time, provide a one-stop shop for the users across the nation who have been asking for climate data to help them in their decisions for not only near-term planning but long-term planning.

For example, Karl said, engineers and planners could use long-range forecasts on certain effects of climate change – such as sea level rise – in planning new roads.

Thomas Karl: We’re seeing sea level rise more rapidly than we have in the past. And it varies considerably from place to place – one part of the nation versus another part of the nation. We need to provide that kind of information so that designers of infrastructure along the coast can do so in an effective manner.

Dr. Karl said that the new Climate Service will not require new federal dollars. Instead, NOAA will re-organize their climate science and services.

Thomas Karl: First and foremost is we need to continue to strengthen the climate science and research that we have. Another goal would be to improve the delivery of the relevant information. We’ve heard over and over again, where can I go for the best information? And where can I go for the most current information?

Dr. Karl said the new NOAA Climate Service will in some ways be like the National Weather Service, which makes weather information easily available.

Thomas Karl: First I should just mention that this is a proposed structure for NOAA. We don’t need any special laws from Congress. However, we do need to go through the appropriations committee in Congress for final approval in terms of the way our budgets are distributed, starting next year. How it will be different from the Weather Service is, the Weather Service cranks out information on a demanding basis every few minutes, sometimes even down to the minute during severe weather, makes updated forecasts every six hours. It’s quite a demand to feed the information machine. The difference for the Climate Service will be, our timescales will be a little less demanding. And that is, we’ll be operating on timescales from weeks to decades or even longer.

Jorge Salazar