U.S. plans national climate service

After almost a year of wrangling, the U.S. government today said it wants to set up a National Climate Service that is designed to meet the burgeoning demand for climate information.

The Climate Service would be akin to the National Weather Service and would be the single point of contact on information climate forecasts and support for planning and management decisions by federal agencies, state, local, and tribal governments and the private sector.

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In announcing the intent to form a National Climate Service, the Commerce Deptartment said the service will provide critical business and community planning information about climate changes as well as discover new technologies and build new businesses. The new service would require congressional approval, but if all goes smoothly, it could be running by October.

The idea is to bring together the climate services of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which includes historical and real-time data, monitoring and assessments, research and modeling, predictions and projections, decision support tools and early warning systems, and the development and delivery of valued climate services.

NOAA also unveiled today a new Web site -- NOAA Climate Services-- that will serve as a single point-of-entry for NOAA's extensive climate information, data, products and services.

"More and more, Americans are witnessing the impacts of climate change in their own backyards, including sea-level rise, longer growing seasons, changes in river flows, increases in heavy downpours, earlier snowmelt and extended ice-free seasons in our waters. People are searching for relevant and timely information about these changes to inform decision-making about virtually all aspects of their lives," NOAA stated.

NASA scientists recently said that January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. NASA said records show 2009 was tied for the second warmest since 1880 and in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year on record.

While 2008 was the coolest year of the decade because of a strong La Nina that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to a near-record global temperatures as the La Nina diminished, according to analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

Establishing such a government entity isn't without its challenges. Last year the ClimateScienceWatch.org site put the trials of a National Climate Service this way:

"The need to be able to translate the fruits of the good work of the IPCC [Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change], the US Climate Change Science Program, and other ongoing scientific climate-related research and observations into information that is usable, useful, timely and relevant to people whose lives and livelihoods depend on present and future climate conditions is what the drive to create US National Climate Service is all about. Though the idea has been kicked around for years-for example, the National Research Council has issued two reports of relevance: A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future (2001) and Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services (2003)-a consensus has still not been achieved on how best to design, operate, and fund such an entity, or even whether a National Climate Service as it is being currently framed is the right vehicle for meeting today's needs. "

The question of whether the planet is heating and how quickly was at the heart of the so-called "climategate" controversy that arose last fall when hundreds of e-mail messages from the climate study unit at the University of East Anglia in England were released without authorization.

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This story, "U.S. plans national climate service" was originally published by Network World.

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