FY 2017 Budget Request: NOAA Research Up 7.8%, Major Growth for Climate Science

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Publication date: 
22 February 2016

Funding for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would see a 7.8 percent leap forward under the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, most of which is aimed at restoring deep cuts to climate research that began in fiscal year 2011. 

Overall, I think we have a rather handsome budget that is helping us advance the NOAA mission in many ways,” concluded Craig McLean, assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), on a Feb. 22 call that touched on NOAA research highlights in the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

The weather, climate, and oceans agency would see a 1.3 percent funding increase under the President’s recently released budget plan, slightly above the flat rate of growth in overall discretionary spending between fiscal years 2016 and 2017. OAR, NOAA’s research line office, would see a much larger increase of 7.8 percent.

The lion’s share is designated for climate research, an Obama Administration priority that Congress began to cut each year beginning in fiscal year 2011. Climate research at NOAA has fallen nearly 30 percent, from $225 million in fiscal year 2010 to $158 million in fiscal year 2016; the President’s request would only partly restore these perennial cuts. 

In contrast to the requests for some of the other science agencies this budget cycle, NOAA’s request relies only marginally on a proposal for new mandatory spending: $100 million to begin construction of an additional regional survey vessel, as part of a multi-year ship fleet recapitalization initiative. The rest of NOAA’s funding increases, including all proposed research and development increases, are proposed via discretionary spending, which Congress appropriates on an annual basis. See this FYI for details on mandatory versus discretionary funding requests in the fiscal year 2017 budget.

The table below shows the funding requests for NOAA, including OAR, the National Weather Service (NWS), and the agency’s weather satellite line office, the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS).


Table 1: President's FY17 request for NOAA discretionary spending

Agency / Account / Subccount FY15
NOAA 5,448.9 5,773.5 5,850.6 1.3%
Office of Atmospheric & Oceanic Research 443.8 482.0 519.8 7.8%
Climate Research 157.3 158.0 189.9 20.2%
Weather & Air Chemistry Research 90.3 103.2 101.9 -1.3%
Ocean, Coastal & Great Lakes Research 171.2 188.6 179.5 -4.8%
National Weather Service 1,081.3 1,124.1 1,119.3 -0.4%
Observations 196.8 216.4 223.0 3.0%
Central Processing 96.1 92.9 88.4 -4.8%
Analyze, Forecast, & Support 480.4 496.0 485.9 -2.0%
Dissemination 40.1 44.7 47.2 5.6%
Science & Technology Integration 122.9 138.8 132.0 -4.9%
National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Service 2,208.0 2,349.4 2,303.7 -1.9%
GOES-R Class 980.8 871.8 752.8 -13.6%
Joint Polar Satellite System 916.3 809.0 787.2 -2.7%
Polar Follow On - 370.0 393.0 6.2%

* all figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars


The President’s budget would hold NWS funding fairly steady in fiscal year 2017. NESDIS would see a small decrease, but NOAA indicates that its weather and environmental satellites are fully funded in the budget. Much of NESDIS’ proposed decrease can be explained by slightly lower funding requirements for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and especially the Geostationary Operations Environmental Satellites – R Class (GOES-R) this year.

These two satellite systems, which are respectively the nation’s next-generation line of polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellites, are scheduled for three major launches in 2016 through 2018 ( JPSS-1, GOES-R, and GOES-S), and some of their contracted development and engineering is beginning to wind down. At the same time, NOAA is requesting a 6.2 percent increase, for a total of $393 million, for a “Polar Follow On,” to begin planning and procurement for a future polar-orbiting weather satellite platform that will one day succeed JPSS.

NOAA research highlights in the budget request

Other highlights in the budget request for NOAA research and the NWS include:

Climate Research

  • A $6 million increase for the logistics and science of greenhouse gas monitoring and atmospheric baseline facilities;
  • A $4.5 million increase for priority climate research areas, including extreme weather and climate events and marine ecosystem tipping points;
  • A $2.3 million increase for the Climate Resilience Toolkit and Climate.gov web portal, which are part of the President’s climate action plan;
  • A $4.3 million increase for northward development of NOAA’s Arctic Observing Network, which will improve NOAA’s ability to predict seasonal sea ice coverage;
  • A $4 million increase for regularized climate assessments at national and regional scales (NOAA’s contribution to the U.S Global Change Research Program);
  • A $4 million for an additional Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments research team, bringing the total to 11;

Weather & Air Chemistry Research

  • An increase of $4 million to improve the accuracy of NOAA’s next-generation weather prediction and modeling, out to three to four weeks;
  • An increase of $4 million for Airborne Phased Array Radar to improve detection and understanding of severe weather through a next-generation aviation radar platform;
  • Zero funding, or a $6 million decrease, for the Joint Technology Transfer Initiative that Congress directed NOAA to launch in fiscal year 2016, and a movement of these funds into a new $10 million Research Transition Acceleration Program that will have a broader scope and involve all of NOAA’s line offices;
  • Zero funding, or a $5 million decrease, to eliminate funding for a joint NOAA-National Science Foundation VORTEX-SE research study, proposed by Congress to investigate the fundamental science of the tornado formation and dynamics in the southeast U.S.;

National Weather Service

  • $12 million for a new Integrated Water Prediction initiative at the recently minted National Water Center, headquartered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama;
  • A $5 million increase for the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System cyclical refreshment, to upgrade the cornerstone system of NWS field operations;
  • A $2 million increases to full fund the NOAA Weather Radio network to prevent the decommissioning of 235 transmitter station; and
  • A decrease of $3 million to ramp down the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project and refocus hurricane prediction efforts toward an integrated approach.

On the call, McLean touched on some of the ways OAR’s work over the last year has been instrumental to achieving a better scientific understanding of the ongoing El Nino, one of the most active in recorded history. He also highlighted OAR’s efforts in scientific collaboration and review that underpinned the breakthrough U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties negotiations in Paris last December. McLean expressed his admiration:

I am proud and grateful for the hard work of our collective community.We’ve been able to demonstrate the science and convey it effectively not just to national policymakers but also the international community.


About the author

mhenry [at] aip.org
+1 301-209-3094

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