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MARCH 2021
Tony Busalacchi

Dear Colleagues,

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. 

A variable resolution climate simulation performed at the NWSC shows a landfalling hurricane.

The other project, the installation of a new supercomputer at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center, is moving forward on schedule. The 19.87-petaflops system, expected to become operational in early 2022, is being built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It will be about 3.5 times faster than our current Cheyenne supercomputer and so efficient that it will use just 40% more electricity. One of its most exciting features is the use of graphics processing units, which are effective for newly developed artificial intelligence techniques and will position the NWSC for future exascale computing.

If you have time in the next few days, I encourage you to provide input to US CLIVAR (Climate Variability and Predictability Program) about a draft white paper on data commercialization. US CLIVAR seeks comments and input by March 15 about the paper, "Summarizing Weather, Climate, and Earth System Observational Data Sharing Needs for Research and Education." This is obviously a highly important issue for our community. US CLIVAR states that the purpose of the white paper is to “(1) raise community awareness of US federal agency decisions to restrict access and sharing of observational data sets through recently established commercial data buys and (2) articulate data needs and benefits of federal commitments to free, open, and unrestricted observational data access and exchange for scientific research and education.”

In staff news, I want to announce that Pamitha Weerasinghe will serve as UCAR’s new director of government relations and external engagement. Pamitha, whose first day is April 5, is coming to us with a deep well of experience advocating for the value of science in Washington, most recently as the senior manager of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists and, previously, serving for seven years on the staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. For more about Pamitha, please see our news release. At this time of change in Washington, I also want to highlight the UCAR transition document that we shared with the new administration.

Finally, I was deeply honored by the decision of the UCAR Board of Trustees to appoint me to a second five-year term as president of UCAR. It is a great privilege to lead this exceptional organization and its talented and dedicated staff at this time of landmark advances in Earth system science. I commit to all of you to continue working as diligently as I can to further our efforts to better understand the Earth system, partnering with federal agencies in the Biden administration, as well as with the university community and private sector, to provide meaningful benefits for humanity. 

I wish continued good health to all of you. Be safe and be well.

Antonio J. Busalacchi

Antonio J. Busalacchi

In From the UCAR President I highlight recent events that I believe are significant for our community. I look forward to any feedback that you may have. Please email me at with comments or suggestions. 

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