The head of a major NASA research facility in California is downplaying efforts by a handful of House Republican members to strip the agency’s budget of its climate science funding.
S. Pete Worden, the director of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, expressed confidence that the agency’s 2012 budget would remain intact, despite a letter sent to committee heads from Congressmen from Florida and Utah, urging an end to climate science research at the agency.
Kate Sheppard has more about the letter at the Mother Jones Blue Marble blog.
“It’s more than just climate research — it’s understanding the Earth that we live on,” said Worden at a Monday press briefing at Ames. “We think once the Congress understands the details of what we do, that support will be strong.”
NASA’s $18.7 billion budget request for next year maintains Ames funding at about $755 million. Worden said that climate-related activities make up a small, but significant portion of Ames projects.
Worden said that losing Ames’ $40 million budget for Earth sciences would mean having to deploy the 50-100 people who work on climate projects to different areas. “Since the budget is very tight, that’s going to be tough,” he said.
Worden said there are two critical research areas that could be under threat if NASA’s climate funding were cut. One is airborne measurements. Ames builds instruments that measure atmospheric pollutants, dust, and other environmental factors that have impacts on the Earth, he said. The second is site-specific climate prediction.
“We’re now getting to the point where climate models are good enough that we can say not just [that] the global climate may get warmer 30 years from now, but some areas may get less warm, some may have more rainfall, some many have less,'” said Worden.
A lot of this sophisticated modeling, he said, is done on Ames’ supercomputer, Pleiades, which he counts as one of the top ten high-end computing systems in the world.
So, will climate scientists soon have to do without NASA’s help?
“I don’t anticipate that,” said Worden. “Traditionally we’ve had very strong support. I want to emphasize that [last year’s NASA] authorization bill had broad bipartisan support, very strong with both Democrats and the Republicans, and it included a lot of Earth science research.”
Ames is one of two major NASA research facilities in California, the other being the larger Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, which recently announced a joint mission with NOAA to study the mechanics of severe winter storms that drench the West Coast.