I. Introduction

This NCAR strategic plan outlines seven institutional imperatives that describe our fundamental ongoing responsibilities as a national center. Each imperative is followed by a prioritized set of supporting actions that NCAR will undertake. Our plan also lays out a set of frontiers-areas where NCAR intends to build out from and across existing programs and research activities-listed in order of priority. Together, the imperatives and frontiers explain our highest-priority ongoing efforts and our aspirations for program development and enhancement. This is a five-year plan, but it often focuses on the next two to three years and also includes some activities that extend beyond the five-year horizon.

This plan is not a comprehensive overview of the many valued activities conducted within NCAR and in partnership with our community. Rather, it is intended as a concise, high-level explanation of institutional direction and priorities for growth. More detailed descriptions of the full sweep of NCAR activities can be found in the NCAR Annual Report and the plans of NCAR's laboratories, divisions, and institutes.

Many stakeholders, including members of the university science community and program officers of the U.S. National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, contributed to this document's development. Wide involvement in NCAR planning is essential because NCAR's work is collaborative; the activities described herein will be carried out in conjunction with numerous partners in the broader university and scientific community.

The NCAR Mission

To understand the behavior of the atmosphere and related physical, biological, and social systems

To support, enhance. and extend the capabilities of the university community and the broader scientific community, nationally and internationally

To foster the transfer of knowledge and technology for the betterment of life on Earth

NCAR and its Mission

NCAR is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) devoted to research, service, and education in the atmospheric and related sciences. We conduct scientific research, operate observational and computational facilities for the science community, develop and transfer technology and information products to interested users, and provide opportunities for educational and professional development to post-secondary students and early career scientists. Our primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation (NSF), with important additional support provided by other U.S. government agencies. As an FFRDC, NCAR has a strategic partnership with NSF, and we fully embrace NSF's mission and overarching goals: helping the United States to uphold a position of world leadership in science and technology, promoting the transfer of new knowledge to society, and contributing to excellence in science and technology education.

Partnerships and Collaboration

NCAR is a crossroads for scientific interaction and collaboration. We work closely with universities, environmental research and assessment programs, government laboratories, and other international and national research institutions to define grand challenge problems in the atmospheric, solar, and related sciences; and we collaborate with these partners to organize and support communities of leading experts in sustained, long-term projects that address such problems. We maintain strong ties to innovative researchers and other centers of excellence, nationally and internationally, and include our partners in decision making and direction setting for our institution. Successful implementation of this plan depends on close and ongoing engagement with a wide variety of scientific partners.

NCAR is also a venue for the interaction of science and society. Our partnerships and interactions with decision makers in business and industry; nongovernmental organizations; and local, national, and international governmental bodies and agencies are steadily increasing. We consider policy questions and societal issues as we develop research plans. We investigate decision making processes and develop decision-support mechanisms to help ensure efficient and effective applications of science to societal needs. We embrace both research and operational goals in model development. We reach out to diverse groups interested in the atmospheric and Earth system sciences, conduct our work in an open and transparent manner, and proactively inform the public about our programs and results. We see active engagement with stakeholders who can use and benefit from our work as a fundamental responsibility.


NCAR and the Academic Community

NCAR has a special relationship with the university community, which manages NCAR through the nonprofit University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) on behalf of NSF. The UCAR Board of Trustees and UCAR President's Advisory Committee on University Relations, elected by representatives of UCAR member universities, provide fiduciary, legal, and program oversight for NCAR and all other UCAR programs. University representatives are part of the NCAR Advisory Council and the advisory panels for all NCAR laboratories, divisions, and institutes. Collaborations among NCAR staff and university colleagues are integral to our institutional success; the strength, variety, and frequency of our university interactions provide metrics of our programmatic health.

NCAR-University Interactions in 2008: A Snapshot

  • 73 North American universities are members of UCAR, which manages NCAR
  • 23 universities and colleges are academic affiliates of UCAR
  • 77 academic representatives currently serve on NCAR advisory committees/panels
  • 702 university scientists are registered users of the NCAR Weather Research and Forecasting model
  • 79 NCAR staff served on thesis committees at 34 universities, 42 NCAR staff were graduate advisors at 33 universities, and NCAR scientists held 72 teaching appointments at 30 universities 
  • 70 universities and colleges around the world use data from the NCAR Mauna Loa Solar Observatory
  • 22 U.S. universities are deeply involved in development of the NCAR-led Community Climate System Model
  • NCAR submitted 205 collaborative proposals with 86 different universities for non-NSF funding 
  • Approximately 400 papers were coauthored by academic and NCAR scientists
  • Approximately 600 academic scientists participated in NCAR-supported field campaigns
  • 644 academic scientists used NCAR computational facilities
  • More than 1000 academic scientists attended over 125 workshops and colloquia at NCAR