A tribute to Steve Worley

Retiring after 30 years with CISL

April 14, 2017 | At the 30-year mark of his career at NCAR, Steve Worley is announcing his plans to begin a phased retirement. From now into 2018, Steve will be transferring his responsibilities in CISL’s Data Support Section (DSS) to DSS staff and assisting with Doug Schuster’s transition to DSS Manager. Steve will reduce his working hours to 60 percent in July 2017, and in September 2017 he will conclude his third year as Chair of NCAR’s Data Stewardship Engineering Team (DSET). Steve looks forward to continuing his work for NCAR and the research community because he still loves his job.

Steve Worley
Steve Worley (©UCAR. Photo by Eliott Foust. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

Steve completed his undergraduate studies in meteorology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and his Masters Degree in Oceanography at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. After 10 years being a Research Associate at the Texas A&M University Department of Oceanography and reading about NCAR’s historical research data collection, he wrote a letter to Roy Jenne expressing his interest in contributing to that project.

Roy needed someone to manage NCAR’s growing ocean data collections that included the newly created Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (COADS, now named ICOADS) that was being developed as a partnership between NCAR and several NOAA facilities. Steve’s qualifications and timing were just right, and–remarkably–that project is still ongoing 30 years later: ICOADS is recognized worldwide as the foundational marine surface dataset for many climate studies, and it is an essential ingredient for nearly all global reanalyses produced to date.

In addition to being NCAR's Data Support Section Manager, Steve is an accomplished bicyclist. He has won three Masters World Championship gold medals and over 10 national championships in his age group in track racing. He also competes in road racing at the national level where he has one gold medal, racing in a tandem bicycle time trial with his sister, and other medals in criteriums and individual time trials. His nickname among cycling friends is 227, which stands for his current world record best time (2 minutes and 27 seconds) in the 2 km individual pursuit  (roughly 31.5 mph in sustained speed) for men 65 years and older. He has been bicycle racing for more than 30 years. 

Steve, who is married to NCAR scientist Joanie Kleypas, said his plans include continuing to enjoy work at NCAR, of course bicycle racing and simply riding, and living more in a remote Pacific Ocean coastal region of Costa Rica. 

 Steve Worley bicycling racing

Steve Worley heading the field in a 2016 International Cycling Union Masters Track World Championship race in Manchester, England. In this race, Steve finished third. (Photo courtesy Steve Worley. Photo by Mike Gladu.)

During roughly the first half of his career at NCAR, Steve was the software engineer responsible for data stewardship and curation of all oceanographic datasets in NCAR’s historical collections. Looking back, Steve feels satisfaction from managing the data, helping researchers identify what would help their investigations, and supporting their scientific advancements. Steve assumed the DSS manager role in December 2003, and gave the NCAR data collections a proper name: the Research Data Archive (RDA) at NCAR.  

Under Steve's leadership, the RDA grew to be about one petabyte in size, with most of it readily available via the web and directly accessible via NCAR’s supercomputing environment. Today more than 12,000 unique users use this resource every year. Steve credits DSS staff for the RDA’s accessibility, usability, and ongoing success: “To manage the amount and complexity of all this research data, the DSS team developed tools to do all the archiving, standard interfaces for all datasets, huge metadata bases–terabytes in size–to support discovery across more than 600 collections and eight million files, and standard access tools that work across most datasets. We now have a scalable and an effective way to grow the archive and provide more services with the same number of people.”

Reflecting on his experiences in DSS, Steve said, “I think about my career at NCAR in three ways: it has been about the people, the CISL organization, and the impacts of the RDA. The first people I think of are the DSS staff. They are a great team of science-educated software engineers who always place data user needs first. They know science, and this helps them organize data for scientific users. They do the quality checking, and they act as expert consultants. I am proud that we have maintained this level of service for decades. I have been asked, ‘why is the DSS in CISL?’ and in fact, this is an excellent place from which to stage the RDA. We benefit significantly from close collaboration with other CISL teams responsible for networking, storage, servers, and HPC. They provide the essential infrastructure on which we build the RDA. Finally, the prestige of NCAR, combined with the long-term data management professionalism demonstrated by the DSS and built into the RDA, is recognized by the national and international research communities. This allows us to impact the science we support by executing data sharing, collaborative projects with peer organizations, and exchanges of data management strategies and plans.”

In the Fall of 2014, Steve took on another important role for NCAR: he became the inaugural Chair of the Data Stewardship Engineering Team (DSET). With other like-minded people, he responded to a call from NCAR Director Jim Hurrell to develop and implement an organization-wide system for all digital assets currently held at NCAR and deemed appropriate for sharing with the research communities and the public. This team of 12 people represents all the NCAR labs, the NCAR Library, UCAR Community Programs, and it includes support from CISL software engineers, a metadata engineer from NCAR’s Earth Observing Laboratory, and NCAR’s Data Stewardship and Curation Coordinator. The DSET team shares the goal of ensuring that the research community can find and acquire all of NCAR’s digital assets: data, software, models, and publications. Their work will also help bring NCAR into compliance with recent federal mandates for open access to data resources. Steve plans to continue his work with this team after he leaves the Chair position this September.

Retirement story by Brian Bevirt, Outreach Services Group, CISL. Bicycling sidebar by Jeff Smith, NCAR Communications