March 17 will mark the one-year anniversary of the closure of the UCAR and NCAR campuses due to COVID-19. Like so many of us, I am hopeful that vaccines will bring about an end to the pandemic, especially as social distancing becomes easier with warmer weather. UCAR and NCAR will remain in the Orange Phase (5-15% building occupancy) through June. Our Pandemic Management Response Team (PMRT) will continue monitoring the situation, and we will have an update on our plan for returning to the workplace in early May. The ongoing work of the PMRT will help inform a recently launched research and staff participation effort to better understand the myriad factors and scenarios that our return-to-the-workplace plan will need to include, such as health and safety onsite and balancing work and responsibilities at home. As always, the health and safety of all staff continues to be our top priority and guiding principle in all pandemic-related decision making.
Due to the pandemic, the UCAR Board of Trustees held its February meeting virtually. They received briefings from Bill Easterling, assistant director of the Directorate for Geosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Gary Geernaert, director of the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division at the U.S. Department of Energy. The board also discussed NCAR’s proposal to build a next-generation weather radar (the Airborne Phased Array Radar, or APAR); UCAR’s hiring of chief information officer Greg Madden and our cybersecurity efforts; and the National Science Foundation’s upcoming virtual site visits, which are conducted midway through UCAR’s five-year cooperative agreement with NSF to ensure effective management and accountability of funds. To help the board understand if it is being an effective governing body and if its oversight of UCAR is helping the organization achieve its strategic goals, UCAR will engage an independent governance consultant for the first time in its history. The consultant will provide guidance on strategic approaches that could further enhance UCAR’s ability to fulfill its mission and support the university consortium.
The board also was pleased to welcome new trustees: Shuyi Chen, University of Washington; Susan Lozier, Georgia Institute of Technology; Sandra Yuter, North Carolina State University; Patty Leslie, University of Colorado Foundation; and Rita Colwell, University of Maryland, College Park, and a former director of NSF. After many years of service, the following trustees have now rotated off the board: Al Diaz, Marymount University; Charlotte Geffen, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Petra Klein, University of Oklahoma; and Gudrun Magnusdottir, University of California, Irvine. I very much appreciate all the service and guidance that the departing trustees have provided, and I look forward to the expertise and infusion of fresh ideas from the new trustees.
I also want to provide updates on two major projects that will advance Earth system science research for the entire community, thanks to support from NSF.
One of these projects, the renovation and expansion of the NCAR’s Research Aviation Facility, is expected to be completed this spring. The final steps consist of building finishes, including tile and millwork. The new building, at 42,391 square feet, will be more than twice the size of the previous structure, and it will offer state-of-the-art facilities for calibrating instruments, planning field campaigns, conducting briefings, making logistics decisions, and engaging in real-time remote participation in field projects. We will schedule a date for a virtual ribbon cutting.