Inside the national assessment

NCAR scientists, UCAR specialists help make it happen

May 22, 2014 | You’ll often find staff from UCAR’s Joint Office for Science Support working at registration tables and in operations centers, keeping field projects and conferences running smoothly. This month JOSS found itself in the spotlight with the release of the 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment.

JOSS’s Brian Duggan, Steve Aulenbach, and Karyn Sawyer at White House for U.S. National Climate Assessment launch on May 6, 2014
A day at the White House:  JOSS’s Brian Duggan, Steve Aulenbach, and Karyn Sawyer joined the launch event for the U.S. National Climate Assessment on May 6. Steve, Brian, and Travis Kuennen (not shown) worked with the NCA website developers on back-end processes associated with the site, including web hosting and security. Going forward, Brian is leading development of the Global Change Information System, a software framework and website where Steve will be curating and updating many sources of data and information related to USGCRP. (Photo courtesy David Allen, JOSS.)

More than a dozen JOSS staff were brought on board to work for the USGCRP in Washington, D.C., which carried out the assessment. JOSS employees in Boulder also contributed to the NCA, and several JOSS staff and NCAR scientists served as authors on the report (see list below).

On the release kickoff day, May 6, their work was rewarded with a burst of public interest, as well as rave reviews from journalists and recognition from President Barack Obama.

“This was the first invitation I ever got to the White House, and I figured I might not get another one,” says JOSS director Karyn Sawyer. Karyn and several other JOSS staff joined a public event at the White House as the report was unveiled.

Website is a winner

One of the brightest spots of the day was the debut of a compelling website for the NCA. Its creation was overseen by JOSS’s USGCRP staff working with two contractors, Habitat Seven and Forum One. The graphic-intensive site is smartphone-compatible, and each piece of the report can be shared via social media.

“The new National Climate Assessment is the most accessible scientific analysis I’ve ever seen,” enthused Bloomberg Businessweek’s Tom Randall in a tweet. The entire rollout event was live-blogged by the Guardian, which noted a comment by presidential advisor John Podesta: “Who says the White House can’t build a great website?”

“We had a lot of positive feedback on Twitter,” says JOSS science writer/editor Cat Wolner (@USGCRP). She says the website recorded more than 300,000 hits in its first week, which “exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

A partnership with roots

JOSS manages the USGCRP through a contract with NSF, a recurring role that extends back almost to the program’s inception. The USGCRP took shape as an initiative of President George H.W. Bush in 1989, followed by a congressional act in 1990.

JOSS employs about 20 people in the Washington, DC, area, most of them involved with the USGCRP. Four other JOSS/USGCRP staff are based at Stanford University.

Screenshot from U.S. National Assessment website

A screenshot from the Southwest highlights section, one of the regional reports on the NCA website.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the USGRCP produce a yearly report on its research, Our Changing Planet, as well as a full assessment of U.S. climate every four years. Due to political wrangling, only three such assessments have actually been produced (in 2000, 2009, and this year), but each one has gained wide attention and found extensive use among policy makers.

JOSS program specialist Emily Cloyd has served since 2010 as the NCA’s coordinator for public participation and engagement. “We started off with the vision that there would be engagement throughout the process,” says Emily. She assembled a network of more than 130 partners, ranging from professional societies to nongovernmental organizations, academic units, Native American tribes, and faith-based groups.

“We knew that the partnership network was growing and that folks were anticipating the report. The amount of attention has been really exciting and just amazing,” she says.

There’s more to come for Emily. She’s now working with partners to bring the report’s findings to stakeholders—“whether it’s planning panel discussions, working with educators, preparing teacher resources, whatever it might be. Now is the time to translate from the report to how people actually use that information in their day-to-day lives.”

Karyn sees the success of the NCA rollout as an index of the talent within her group. “I’m just dazzled by how they hung together and how it worked. They’re an amazing team of highly skilled, dedicated people working toward a common outcome. And this outcome was as close to perfect as you can get.”

Our authors

Current staff members involved with the creation of the U.S. National Assessment include the following authors, listed with the chapters they helped prepare.

Emily Cloyd (UCP/JOSS) — contributing author, Decision Support
Mary Hayden (RAL) —  lead author, Human Health
Julie Maldonado (UCP/JOSS) — lead author, Indigenous Peoples
Linda Mearns (CISL/IMAGe) — lead author, Research Needs
Emily Seyller (UCP/JOSS) – contributing author, Adaptation
Christine Wiedinmyer (NESL/ACD) — contributing author, Human Health
David Yates (RAL) – lead author, Water