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Strengthening Our Understanding of a Changing Planet

The Nation’s primary global change research program has a new leader who will oversee these enhancements at time of great import for the global-change science community and for society as a whole.

Appropriately enough, change is underway at the Nation’s primary global change research program. Teams of top scientists and policy makers representing over a dozen different Federal agencies are hard at work drafting a new strategic plan to strengthen not only scientists’ fundamental understanding of our changing planet but also the program itself, known as the U.S. Global Change Research Program or USGCRP.

As part of these changes, the program also has a new leader who will oversee these enhancements at a time of great import for the global-change science community and for society as a whole.

Established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, USGCRP coordinates and integrates Federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. Thirteen Federal agencies participate in the program, which is also responsible for executing the quadrennial National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive inventory of climate-change-related impacts, vulnerabilities, and efforts across the United States.

Driven by the Obama Administration’s commitment to fortifying the role of science in policy-making, the new strategic plan aims to augment USGCRP’s existing technical research strengths by providing decision-makers with increased access to relevant and sustained science and technology. The result will be an enhanced ability to understand the Earth’s dynamic processes and predict its responses to natural and human-induced stresses, ultimately serving a wide array of users from teachers and students to fishermen and first selectmen.

Taking the helm amidst this sea of change is the newly appointed Director of USGCRP’s National Coordination Office, Dr. Thomas Armstrong. He comes to the position having most recently served as the Senior Advisor for Climate Change at the Department of the Interior, where he was a key figure in the development of the Department’s climate-change-related policies, organizational elements, and budget strategies. 

As the Vice Chair for Adaptation Science on the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR), the steering body of the USGCRP, Dr. Armstrong has been an active participant in the program’s restructuring and the drafting of the new strategic plan. He has worked closely with the SGCR’s chair, Dr. Thomas Karl of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and its executive committee to identify key priorities in the field of adaptation research and oversee the seamless integration of these goals into the larger evolving vision of the program.

The implications of this critical strategic realignment of the USGCRP, an effort directly overseen by the SGCR’s Vice Chair for Strategic Planning, Dr. Timothy Killeen, of the National Science Foundation, extend beyond the program itself. The involvement of these and other talented leaders, such as the remaining SGCR Vice-Chair, Dr. Michael Freilich of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is helping the program maintain strong links between USGCRP activities and broader, related endeavors across the Federal enterprise. Through Dr. Freilich’s leadership, for instance, the Program’s renewed focus on integrated observations will work synergistically with the Obama Administration’s broader strategy for civilian earth observations.

Revitalized by these able leaders and a reinvigorated vision for the future, the USGCRP will be better able than ever to serve its many stakeholders-including Federal officials, local businesses, and community planners—by enriching our understanding of climate change and informing science-based efforts to mitigate and adapt to its impacts.

Shere Abbott is Associate Director for Environment at the Office of Science and Technology Policy