Wakimoto at the helm

From mesocyclones to management, NCAR’s new director has plenty on his plate

9 June 2010  •  Roger Wakimoto had a very specific request when he accepted NCAR’s invitation in 2005 to direct its Earth Observing Laboratory. After more than two decades in the meteorology department at the University of California, Los Angeles, Wakimoto wasn’t ready to give up his research into tornadoes and severe storms. NCAR agreed to let him continue with his research agenda, including participation in a major tornado study in 2009–10.

Little did anyone know that in January 2010, Wakimoto would be asked to direct NCAR. While orchestrating the demands of his new job, which began in February, Wakimoto has stuck to his research guns. He headed to the Great Plains this spring as a principal investigator in the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment (VORTEX2).

Roger Wakimoto at VORTEX2Roger Wakimoto and VORTEX2 in western Oklahoma.

“I’m excited and stimulated by discovery,” says Wakimoto. “I think that a lot of the scientific staff appreciate the fact that I want to maintain a scientific career and not just be a manager. I also realize that when I come back from VORTEX, most of what I do in research will probably be late at night and on the weekends.”

Wakimoto succeeded Eric Barron, who left NCAR in January to assume the presidency of Florida State University.

“Roger is a world-class scientist and administrator with broad knowledge of both the atmospheric sciences and the university community that NCAR serves,” says UCAR president Richard Anthes. “I am are very pleased to have him at the helm of NCAR.”

Wakimoto’s involvement in university-based research played a large part in his decision to join NCAR in 2005. “Even though I was at UCLA for 22 years, I was always a huge admirer of what NCAR provided to the community and to me,” he says. “I don’t think I would have accomplished as much as I have scientifically had it not been for the resources and, in my case, the facilities, that NCAR provided. It was so critical to my successful research career at UCLA.”

One of Wakimoto’s top priorities is to strengthen community-oriented visitor programs at NCAR, including the Advanced Study Program (ASP), which hosts postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. “We have protected the ASP budget in our most recent annual budget reviews. It’s one of the most important programs we support, with obvious benefits to the universities.” He and colleagues are examining ways to enhance long-term visits by university faculty as well as promoting on-campus sabbaticals by NCAR scientists, both of which are now supported by ASP’s Faculty Fellowship Program.

In addition, Wakimoto would like to see NCAR sponsor what he calls “Chapman–type conferences,” referring to the tightly focused, retreat-style Chapman Conferences organized by the American Geophysical Union. “Scientists and universities could propose topics of community interest, and then we would host a two-or-more-week workshop to meet and discuss those topics.”

NCAR space physicist Maura Hagan, who was appointed by Barron as the center’s deputy director, is continuing as second in command with Wakimoto. A search is now under way for a new director in ASP, which Hagan has headed since 2005. Meanwhile, Sue Schauffler is serving as interim director of NCAR’s Earth Observing Laboratory, which oversees instrument development and major field