Testimony Regarding Fiscal Year 2018 Funding for NSF, NASA, and NOAA

Submitted to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, April 28, 2017

Dear Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony from the organizations and institutions listed below recommending strong and balanced funding for the research programs of NSF, NASA, and NOAA.  A strong and balanced research portfolio should include support for the geosciences – by which we mean the earth sciences, the ocean sciences, and the atmospheric sciences. 

These disciplines are vital contributors to this Nation’s national security, economic competitiveness, and public safety.

While an estimated $60 billion in losses were attributed to Superstorm Sandy, the accurate forecast enabled evacuations and other actions that saved an enormous number of lives. Hundreds of thousands of people lived on land flooded catastrophically by the storm, but the total number of deaths was less than 150, due to timely warnings and evacuations. The impact would have been much worse if Sandy had hit just fifteen years ago, when hurricane forecasts extended only three days into the future, as opposed to five days in 2012. Over the last several decades, forecasts have improved steadily in accuracy, due to continuous improvements in both observations from satellites and aircraft, in the weather prediction models, and in the data assimilation methods used to combine models and observations to produce forecasts. Without these advances – all built on the foundation of broad and deep research programs at NOAA, NASA, and NSF - forecasters would never have seen Sandy’s last minute westward turn into New Jersey, but with them they were able to see it five days ahead of time. The resulting accurate and timely forecasts by our academic-government-commercial weather enterprise allowed nearly a week of preparations by governments (local, state, and federal), businesses, institutions, and families, and undoubtedly made a life or death difference for many thousands of people?

How did we acquire this life-saving weather forecasting system?  The short answer is that consistent funding for research, observations, infrastructure, and training by the Federal research agencies, thanks to this Subcommittee, the Congress, and ultimately the taxpayers – in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and education – produced that capability. These investments supported everything from basic research in mathematics and the physical sciences, the computer sciences, and the geosciences to the development of sophisticated models, satellites, radar, and parachute-borne instrument packages that could make the key observations.  Those investments also allowed us to develop an understanding of how the Earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere collectively impact our weather and the environmental conditions that ensued. They enabled us to develop and run forecast models on advanced computing systems that turned huge amounts of raw observations into “actionable advice” for businesses, local and state governments, and our citizens. These advances were coupled with investments in education and training that created the talented and dedicated workforce needed to put it all together.  Finally, a host of innovative technologies and the application of social science-informed best practices in communications allowed all this information to be presented in a manner that people could understand and on which they could act.

The Geosciences and National Security

In September 2016, the Center for Climate and Security released a report entitled, Military Expert Panel Report – Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission. The panel included retired flag officers from all the Armed Services: General Ronald Keys, USAF (ret); Lieutenant General John Castellaw, USMC (ret); Vice Admiral Robert Parker, USCG (ret); Rear Admiral Jonathan White, USN (ret); and Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, USA (ret). The expert panel concluded that risks of sea level rise to coastal military installations and supporting civil infrastructure will present serious threats to military readiness, operations, and strategy. The panel concluded that policies and plans for addressing climate change risks must go beyond infrastructure resilience, and into the realm of operations and strategy.

The authors recommend that policy-makers support comprehensive and preventive measures to address increasing risks from sea level rise. Recommendations included: building capacity to address infrastructural, operational, and strategic risks; gaming out catastrophic climate scenarios in planning; tracking trends in climate impacts; and collaborating with adjacent civilian communities. To get ahead of the risks, policy makers will need the research and the educated and trained workforce that comes from the geosciences community. They will need the basic research, computing, and modeling that comes from the support NSF provides the academic research community. They will also need the data, observational capabilities, computing, and modeling that NASA and NOAA can provide.

The Geosciences – Producing a Workforce for U.S. Industry

The geosciences research that NSF, NASA, and NOAA fund helps educate and train the next generation of geoscientists. Using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American Geosciences Institute calculated a total of 324,411 geoscience jobs in 2014, and this number is expected to increase by 10% by 2024 to a total of 355,862 jobs. Approximately 156,000 geoscientists are expected to retire by 2024, but over the next decade, approximately 58,000 students will be graduating with their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in the geosciences. According to the American Geosciences Institute’s (AGI) Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2016, given minimal non-retirement attrition from the geoscience workforce, there is expected to be a deficit of approximately 90,000 geoscientists by 2024.

Industry hiring of geoscience graduates fluctuates between sectors, with the oil and gas sector taking on some 60 percent of recent Master’s graduates who gained employment in the geosciences, and the environmental services sector hiring the largest share (31 percent) of recent Bachelors graduates who stayed in the geosciences, according to the American Geosciences Institute’s Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates 2016 report. Other industries hiring geoscientists include mining, construction, agriculture, transportation, and information technology services, all of which contribute to our national infrastructure. NSF, NASA, and NOAA support for the geosciences contributes significantly to the education and training of these individuals via programs in research, graduate and undergraduate student support.

The Geosciences and Economic Competitiveness – Research Yielding Economic Benefits

The Federal investment in the geosciences provided the fundamental understanding of geologic structures and processes necessary to utilize hydraulic fracturing (fracking) processes to release oil from shale formations. The ability of U.S. companies to develop these natural resources is built upon decades of fundamental research and technology development in the earth sciences. According to a 2013 report from U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Energy Institute, fracking has created a job boom even in states that don’t have shale deposits, with 1.7 million jobs already created and a total of 3.5 million projected by 2035.

Research on hot-spring-dwelling microbes in Yellowstone National Park resulted in development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technology that made the molecular biology revolution possible. Scientists discovered that hot spring microbes utilize enzymes that are resistant to the high temperatures required for PCR. PCR is the process by which scientists can generate copies of a single strand or piece of DNA and is indispensable for the multi-billion-dollar biotechnology industry.

Moreover, private enterprise – ranging from insurance companies and large engineering firms to the marine and overland shipping sectors and to small farmers – increasingly relies on the results of the long-term weather, climate, and other natural hazards research enabled by government and university scientists to make strategic management decisions. The Nation’s private sector needs to incorporate weather and climate risks into its risk-management portfolios to remain globally competitive. Industries that rely on global supply chains and distribution centers, such as the major overnight shipping companies, are beginning to use the results of fundamental geoscience research in their day-to-day decision making as well as long-term strategic planning.

The Geosciences and Public Safety

The benefit of the investment in public weather forecasts and warnings is substantial: the estimated annualized benefit is about $31.5 billion, compared with the $5.1 billion cost of generating the information (Lazo et al., 2009). In 2016, there were 15 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included a drought event, four flooding events, eight severe storm events, a tropical cyclone event, and a wildfire event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 138 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.

We continue to experience extreme weather events in nearly every region of the country.  Tornadoes in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri; floods in Louisiana; droughts in Texas; and blizzards in New England. According to the NAS Report, When Weather Matters, the annual impacts of adverse weather on the national highway system and roads are staggering: 1.5 million weather-related crashes with 7,400 deaths, more than 700,000 injuries, and $42 billion in economic losses (BTS, 2007) and $4.2 billion is lost each year because of weather-related air traffic delays (NOAA, 2010). The death, destruction, and economic harm communities and businesses experience from these and other weather events could be further reduced with continued research and training in the geosciences.

Technologies and observing systems developed to examine the fundamental earth structure have also provided data and enabled models necessary for forecasting and estimating the impact resulting from major earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and landslides. Understanding of disaster events enables business and government to engage in informed risk management and mitigation and to develop response strategies. When an event does occur, early warnings for evacuation based on timely forecasts and characterization of these disasters has the potential to save billions of dollars and countless lives.  For example, EarthScope is a NSF program that has deployed thousands of seismic, GPS, and other geophysical techniques to explore the structure and evolution of the North American continent and to understand the processes controlling earthquakes and volcanoes. Thousands of geophysical instruments create a dense grid covering the continental United States. Scientists from multiple disciplines have joined together to conduct research using the large influx of freely accessible data being produced.  The data collected through EarthScope and other NSF research investments are critical for the development of an earthquake early warning system.  As the data is collected and disseminated in real-time, computers, communications technology, and alarms are devised to notify the public when an earthquake is in progress.  Just ten seconds of warning that an earthquake is occurring is enough to halt trains, shut off gas lines, and open emergency bay doors for first responders.

Concluding Thoughts

We appreciate the difficult decisions Congress must make within the constraints of the budget environment.  We have provided several examples where the geosciences contribute to the Nation’s national security, economic competitiveness, and public safety.  We believe that the future of this Nation is well served by a strong and sustained investment in the full scope of our research enterprise – including the geosciences programs sponsored by NSF, NASA, and NOAA.  This Subcommittee has consistently been a strong champion for the Nation’s research enterprise and, despite the budget challenges that it must confront, we urge you to maintain the high priority the Subcommittee has long placed on research and training in all fields of science and engineering.

  1. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Earth Institute, Columbia University

  2. University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

  3. National Association of Marine Laboratories

  4. Consortium for Ocean Leadership

  5. Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology

  6. American Geophysical Union

  7. American Meteorological Society

  8. Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

  9. Aerospace Industries Association

  10. The Weather Company, an IBM Business

  11. Vaisala, Inc.

  12. Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc.

  13. Cleantech San Diego

  14. Aquaai Corporation

  15. Highwave Ocean Energy

  16. MRV SYSTEMS LLC (Marine Robotic Vehicles)

  17. Ocean Innovations

  18. RBR USA

  19. American Wave Machines, Inc.

  20. Reinsurance Association of America

  21. American Energy Society

  22. Catalina Offshore Products Inc.

  23. Analytics Ventures

  24. Grassy Bar Oyster Company, Inc.

  25. Teledyne RDI Instruments

  26. Assure Controls, Inc.

  27. BMT Group

  28. Deep Ocean Engineering, Inc

  29. OceanGate, Inc.

  30. FlyWire Cameras

  31. National Instruments

  32. Ocean Aero, Inc.

  33. Del Mar Oceanographic

  34. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

  35. UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography

  36. The Geological Society of America

  37. American Geosciences Institute

  38. University of California System

  39. Penn State University

  40. University of Oklahoma

  41. University of Wisconsin-Madison

  42. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

  43. University of California, Irvine

  44. University of Georgia

  45. University of Arizona

  46. University of Washington

  47. The University of Texas at Austin

  48. Texas A&M University

  49. University of Colorado Boulder

  50. Oregon State University

  51. University of New Hampshire

  52. University of Delaware

  53. Colorado School of Mines

  54. University of California, Davis

  55. Iowa State University

  56. Michigan Technological University

  57. School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa

  58. Rutgers University–New Brunswick

  59. Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute

  60. Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University

  61. The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute

  62. Annis Water Resources Institute, Grand Valley State University

  63. National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado

  64. The School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

  65. Sitka Sound Science Center, Alaska

  66. Large Lakes Observatory, University of Minnesota Duluth

  67. Savannah State University

  68. Grice Marine Laboratory, College of Charleston

  69. Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, University of South Carolina

  70. Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory, Morgan State University

  71. National Ground Water Association

  72. National Estuarine Research Reserve Association

  73. North Carolina A&T State University Division of Research and Economic Development

  74. Metropolitan State University of Denver

  75. Earth & Planetary Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University

  76. Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, San Francisco State University

  77. National Weather Service Employees Organization

  78. Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

  79. School of the Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of South Carolina, Columbia

  80. Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (Bermuda and New York)

  81. The Oceanography Society

  82. Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute

  83. The Ocean Foundation

  84. Council on Undergraduate Research

  85. UNAVCO, Inc.

  86. The Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation

  87. Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve

  88. Department of Marine Outreach, Rutgers University

  89. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

  90. Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, University of Georgia

  91. School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

  92. National Association of Geoscience Teachers

  93. American Association of Geographers

  94. Soil Science Society of America

  95. Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport Oregon

  96. University of California Santa Cruz

  97. College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

  98. North Carolina State University, Center for Marine Sciences & Technology

  99. Institute for Water and Environment, Florida International University

  100. Association of Ecosystem Research Centers

  101. Stony Brook University

  102. Desert Research Institute

  103. George Mason University

  104. University of South Florida – College of Marine Science

  105. Utah State University

  106. The Weather Coalition

  107. Boston University

  108. Florida State University

  109. San Francisco State University

  110. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Institute of Marine Sciences

  111. University of Miami

  112. Washington State University

  113. University of Denver

  114. St. Cloud State University

  115. Earth2Ocean, Inc.

  116. Virginia Institute of Marine Science

  117. School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University

  118. Lyndon State College

  119. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah

  120. University of Oregon

  121. Oregon Institute of Marine Biology

  122. University of Connecticut

  123. The University of Alaska Fairbanks

  124. University of Maine Darling Marine Center

  125. University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise

  126. University of Pittsburgh

  127. FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

  128. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

  129. Duke University Marine Laboratory

  130. California State University Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology