Atmospheric Sciences News

NOAA's 2017 Budget Would Support Observational Infrastructure

The Obama administration's budget request includes funding for an initiative to vastly boost the number of water-monitoring sites used to forecast floods, droughts, and other hydrological impacts.

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The latest budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls for a 1.3% increase for fiscal year (FY) 2017 compared to FY 2016 enacted funding for the agency. The proposal includes increases for some NOAA divisions (see Table 1). Among plans that the budget would support, the agency intends to maintain and extend its observational infrastructure and beef up priority programs such as providing information and services to improve resilience of communities to natural hazards and “evolving” the National Weather Service (NWS).

The $5.85 billion budget request provides funding increases for key infrastructure, including $12.25 million for an Integrated Water Prediction initiative that promises to raise from 4000 to 2.7 million the number of locations for measuring and forecasting river and stream properties, such as water flows and levels. The initiative would provide communities with the capability to better manage water resources and prepare for water-related hazards such as floods and droughts, according to NOAA officials. The increased coverage “will be almost like throwing a mesh down over the country,” NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan said at a 4 March budget briefing, noting that the improved monitoring network would be 700 times denser than the current one.

Table 1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) FY 2017 Budget Requesta
Program FY 2016 Enactedb FY 2017 Requestb Changeb,c Percentage Changec
National Ocean Service (NOS)   601.85   569.92 (31.93)   −5.3
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)   971.70 1015.93  44.23     4.6
Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)   481.98   519.79  37.81     7.8
National Weather Service (NWS) 1124.15 1119.29   (4.86)   −0.43
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) 2349.36 2303.69 (45.67)   −1.9
Mission support   253.93   286.07  32.14   12.7
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations   334.19   289.30 (44.89) −13.4
Total NOAA discretionary appropriations 5773.52 5850.59  77.07     1.3
aSource: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

bBudget authority in millions of current dollars.

cCalculated from data.

Preserving Weather Radar and Sensor Network

Additional funding for the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD; $25.26 million, up $8.54 million) would prolong by about 15 years the usefulness of this array with which NOAA meteorologists detect and track severe weather. Refurbishing NEXRAD is “the cost-efficient thing to do” for a system that is nearing the end of its life but remains viable and valuable, Sullivan said. So far, there is nothing on hand or on the horizon that could replace it, she said.

The agency is targeting $7.5 million to extend the life of the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), a network of ground-based, automated weather sensors at more than 900 airports nationwide serving aviation operations and meteorological, hydrological, and climatological research. The funding for NEXRAD and ASOS will help the agency continue to improve NWS, a process that has included reorganizing the weather service and upgrading its supercomputing capacity, according to NOAA.

Satellite Programs

Although some space-based infrastructure is slated for an increase, the budget trims other programs. Within NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), the budget proposal provides $752.78 million for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series, down by a planned reduction of $85.11 million. Funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program would drop to $787.25 million (reduced by $21.72 million), which the agency says would allow for operating and sustaining the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, launching and commissioning the JPSS-1 satellite, and continuing to develop the JPSS-2 spacecraft and its instruments. The budget would increase funding for the Polar Follow On satellite mission to $393 million (up $23 million).

“We have to continue investing in sustaining a robust array of observations because there is no such thing as viable and useful environmental intelligence unless you are keeping your fingers on the pulse of the planet in a very rich and robust way,” Sullivan said.

Other Budget Highlights

The budget proposal also allocates funds to a major agency priority of replacing its aging fleet of regional-class and ocean-class vessels. With $24 million in the FY 2017 budget and $80.05 million available from 2016, NOAA plans to construct a regional survey vessel (RSV) as part of that process. RSVs can operate in shallow coastal waters and help with hydrography, fisheries sampling, and ocean sensing and monitoring.

The proposed NOAA budget also calls for $100 million to construct a second RSV. However, that money would come from so-called mandatory funding, unlike the “discretionary” money that makes up the bulk of funding for government agencies. This mandatory funding, which comprises an unusually large portion of some proposed science agency funding for FY 2017, requires additional congressional approval that’s unlikely to come through in the current partisan political climate, budget analysts have said.  The Obama administration’s FY 2017 budget requests unveiled last month for NASA and the National Science Foundation include mandatory funding of $763 million and $400 million, respectively.

Under NOAA’s plan, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), which integrates research across NOAA, receives $493.41 million in the operations, research, and facilities (ORF) part of its funding, a net increase of $24.46 million. Within the ORF budget, the agency allocates $189.87 million for climate research (up $30.76 million). The budget provides $22.14 million for innovative research and technology (up $10 million) to create a new Research Transition Acceleration program to identify and fund the transition of promising research into operation, applications, and commercialization, according to NOAA budget documents. NOAA also plans some trimming of its OAR programs, for instance, to weather and air chemistry and to ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes research.

As part of the overall budget for the National Ocean Service (NOS), $528.4 million would support its ORF category, a net increase of $23.2 million. Slated for ocean and coastal management and services is $243.4 million, which includes an additional $4 million to respond to extreme events and an additional $5 million for ecosystem-based solutions for coastal resilience to extreme weather, climate hazards, and other threats. However, NOS funding for navigation, observations, and positioning would dip to $197.9 million. The $10 million decrease from FY 2016 includes a $2 million cut to discontinue single-year cooperative agreements with academic institutions for joint ocean and coastal mapping centers, a $6 million reduction to end the Regional Geospatial Modeling Grant program, and a $2 million decrease to reduce acquisition of hydrographic data from contract surveys.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), NOAA’s 2017 budget would support observational infrastructure, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO047829. Published on 10 March 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0