Ocean Scientists See Waves of Change Lapping Up

16 January 2009 4:15 pm

[Editor's note: the following text has been corrected in italics.]

The only funds directed towards the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the House of Representative’s draft stimulus package is include $600 million specifically targeting satellite and sensor development. (It's a little ridiculous to use a word like "only" in that sentence, but in a $550 billion spending package ... see new text after the jump) But Terry Schaff of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts says the funding for space based Earth monitoring could revolutionize ocean science as a whole if Congress were to pass it and the president signed the bill.

The reason is that the skyrocketing costs of equipping and launching satellites has crippled the science components elsewhere within NOAA’s $3.9 billion budget. "This is a huge deal. If they can offload the satellite stuff with the stimulus package, that releases enormous budget pressure within the agency for other research at NOAA." Ocean and atmospheric researchers also stand to benefit from another pot of funds being doled out to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The House proposes to give National Institute of Standards and Technology $300 million for a competitive grant program aimed at creating new science and research buildings at colleges and universities. But the grants wouldn’t go just to support NIST-backed research, such as work on advanced atomic clocks. It would support all the missions of the Commerce Department, home to both NIST and NOAA. NIST first ran the competitive grants program last year, doling out three grants for a total of $24 million. Two of those, in fact, went for NOAA-type work on marine ecosystem sensing and an aquatic animal health facility. Only one went for a NIST-related center on quantum measurement. Ninety applications didn’t make the cut. So if the stimulus plan goes through as written, expect atmospheric and marine researchers to look again to NIST for help.

NOTE: NOAA is also getting $400 million for habitat restoration. Report language:

    The funding of $400 million will support those habitat and fisheries restoration, marine debris and mitigation projects identified by NOAA as “shovel-ready”.  These projects will create jobsand address the $1 billion in NOAA’s backlog of restoration and mitigation and related projects.

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