The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget is increasing by about $450 million in fiscal year 2022, and the Biden administration is seeking a further $1 billion boost for the coming fiscal year. Top priorities include expanding the agency's climate information services and accelerating work on next-generation weather observation systems.
Congress increased the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 8% to just under $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2022, well short of the Biden administration’s request for nearly $7 billion. The administration is now requesting a $1 billion increase to NOAA for fiscal year 2023, in large part to expand climate change research, climate information services, and planning for next-generation weather observation platforms.
Outside the regular appropriations process, NOAA is receiving $3 billion over five years through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. While the bulk of these funds are for environmental protection and restoration activities, a portion is for acquiring new supercomputers, improving ocean observation systems, and expanding wildfire research and monitoring.
Detailed congressional direction for fiscal year 2022 is included in an explanatory statement accompanying the appropriations legislation, as well as in a report prepared by House appropriators. Summary figures for the appropriation and the request are compiled in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Oceanic and atmospheric research
Excluding funding from the infrastructure act, which is not allocated to specific offices, the budget for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research is increasing 6% to $648 million in fiscal year 2022. About half of the increase is for climate research, and the remainder is divided between weather research, oceans and coastal research, and supercomputing. For fiscal year 2023, the administration proposes a 20% increase to $775 million, with most of the additional funding allocated to climate research and supercomputing.
Climate research. The Climate Research account is increasing $18 million to $200 million in fiscal year 2022. Of the additional funds, $13.5 million is for work at NOAA’s labs and cooperative institutes, $2.5 million is for expanding NOAA’s Climate Adaptation Partnerships (formerly known as Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments), and $2 million is for the Climate Competitive Research grant program.
Congress instructs NOAA to expand its climate information services, including by beginning development of a “global nested high-resolution atmospheric model,” which it states will enable “more accurate and geographically focused climate services across all timescales.” The increase for Climate Competitive Research is directed to water supply trend analysis and sub-seasonal to seasonal weather prediction.
Congress specifically directs NOAA to conduct a study of “hydroclimatological changes in the major river basins of the Western U.S. over the next 30 years.” The study is to be completed within two years and then refreshed every five years.
For fiscal year 2023, the administration requests a $57 million increase for the Climate Research account, directed toward expanding platforms for long-term climate data collection, a “Climate-Smart Communities” initiative, and a “Precipitation Prediction Grand Challenge.”
Geoengineering research. Within the budget for climate research, Congress directs NOAA to allocate at least level funding for “continued modeling, assessments, and, as possible, initial observations and monitoring of stratospheric conditions and the Earth’s radiation budget.” This work is to include study of “the impact of the introduction of material into the stratosphere from changes in natural systems, increased air and space traffic, and the assessment of solar climate interventions.”
Congress also encourages NOAA to develop an interagency program to “manage near-term climate hazard risk and coordinate research in climate intervention” and coordinate with NASA on “long-range manned and autonomous in-situ atmospheric observational capabilities.” It also directs the agency to produce a five-year plan for “scientific assessment of solar and other rapid climate interventions in the context of near-term climate risks and hazards.”
Congress first directed NOAA to study modifications to Earth’s radiation budget in fiscal year 2020, and last year allocated $9 million for the effort.
Weather research. The Weather Research account is increasing $5 million to $144 million, of which $2.5 million for phased array radar development, $2.2 million is for work at NOAA’s labs and cooperative institutes, and $0.3 million is for the U.S. Weather Research Program. Congress also directs NOAA to provide at least level funding for the Earth Prediction Innovation Center, an initiative to make it easier for external researchers to contribute improvements to NOAA’s computer models of the Earth system. For fiscal year 2023, the administration requests essentially flat funding for the U.S. Weather Research Program and work at labs and cooperative institutes.
Weather radar replacement. For fiscal year 2023, NOAA requests $46 million in new funds to evaluate the possibility of replacing the current NEXRAD radar network with phased array radar technology (PAR). NOAA explains, “PAR is a promising technology that could advance NOAA’s current radars from 1988-based technology to radars that would be viable until the end of the 21st century.” The agency adds that it intends to launch a “formal Radar Acquisition Management Program and decision point in 2028 with the objective to evaluate the capabilities of PAR as a replacement for the current NEXRAD radar network by 2040.”
Research supercomputing. Base funding for acquiring research supercomputers is increasing $5 million to nearly $50 million, with Congress encouraging NOAA to “prioritize efforts to understand and predict sea level rise and coastal inundation and extreme weather.” The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides NOAA with a further $80 million for research supercomputing. In addition, a recent disaster recovery appropriation includes $50 million for upgrades to supercomputers and observational infrastructure.
For fiscal year 2023, NOAA seeks to increase the research supercomputer acquisition base budget to $69 million, in part to help close the gap between the amount of computing resources available for research versus operational forecasting. The agency notes its operational computing capacity will increase by a factor of three in 2022.
Earmarks. NOAA’s appropriation for fiscal year 2022 includes more than $80 million in earmarks, of which Congress notes $14 million is for projects focused on “climate science, adaptation, and resilience.” The largest climate-related earmark is $5 million for a “coastal infrastructure and resilience research initiative” at Georgia Tech.
Satellite acquisition and operations
NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) funds the acquisition and operation of space-based platforms that observe terrestrial weather and solar activity. Congress increased the budget for NESDIS by 6% to $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2022, supporting ongoing acquisition of polar and geostationary weather satellites as well as preparations for next-generation constellations. The administration is requesting a 41% increase to $2.3 billion for fiscal year 2023, which would enable it to quickly advance planning for a more distributed satellite architecture.
Budget restructure. Congress partially accepted NOAA’s proposal to structure its budget around accounts dedicated to low-Earth orbit observations, geostationary orbit observations, and space weather observations. The agency maintains that the inflexibility of the earlier structure leads to higher acquisition costs “due to an inability to balance risks across observation sets.” However, Congress preserved budget lines for certain ongoing satellite acquisition efforts, stating that “no amount of assurances regarding additional transparency or oversight can substitute for the transparency that is provided by having discrete [accounts] for each ongoing program of record.” NOAA repeats the proposal to consolidate the budget lines in fiscal year 2023.
Geostationary satellites. The fiscal year 2022 appropriation includes $150 million for the recently created Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) program, which will develop satellites to replace the current GOES-R satellite series in the early 2030s. NOAA requests $664 million for GeoXO for fiscal year 2023 to support design work on instruments to observe lightning, atmospheric composition, and ocean color, among other phenomena. Contracts for studies on a “lightning mapper” instrument were awarded on April 20.
Wildfire monitoring. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $50 million for wildfire observation and modeling activities in fiscal year 2022 and an additional $50 million for supporting “observation and dissemination infrastructure,” with the latter funds available through fiscal year 2024. In addition, the act provides $20 million over five years for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to establish a program that that uses the GOES satellites to rapidly detect wildfires in areas they oversee.
Space weather satellites. Funding for development of new space weather monitoring satellites is ramping up to just over $200 million in fiscal year 2022, split between the Space Weather Follow-On program and the recently created Space Weather Next program. Congress also permits NOAA to spend up to $5 million begin piloting the use of space weather data collected by commercial companies, as called for in PROSWIFT Act. For fiscal year 2023, NOAA seeks to increase funding for space weather satellite acquisition to around $280 million.
Joint Venture Partnership. The fiscal year 2022 appropriation includes a $25 million increase for the recently created Joint Venture Partnership program, which will support projects with external organizations that “leverage emerging capabilities for NOAA’s operational use.” Congress allocated the program an initial minimum budget of $2.7 million last fiscal year. For the coming fiscal year, NOAA states the program will “enter into agreements with other federal agencies, industry, or academia for detailed studies of instrument or other component concepts needed for the first Low Earth Orbit Weather Satellite demonstration and/or next generation Space Weather mission needs.”
Space commerce. The budget for the Office of Space Commerce is increasing $6 million to $16 million in support of space traffic management efforts, which have grown in priority due to concerns over proliferation of space debris. For fiscal year 2023, NOAA proposes to increase the budget to $88 million and elevate the office out of NESDIS to “ensure the highest level of visibility and accountability.”
The appropriation provides essentially flat funding of $34 million for NOAA’s Office of Education, of which $20 million is for a program that supports partnerships with minority-serving institutions. NOAA now proposes to increase the office’s budget by $8 million, of which $3 million is for the MSI partnership program to establish a Climate Cooperative Science Center, $3 million is for expanded outreach, and $2 million is for environmental literacy grants.
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