U.S. Weather Agency Wants to Help Pentagon Prepare for Climate Change (UPDATED)

By Sandra I. Erwin
The U.S. intelligence community has listed climate change as a potential "black swan" that could cause great disruption in the coming decades. The Defense Department also worries about the damage that rising sea levels and natural disasters could wreak on its facilities, and the U.S. military increasingly views disaster relief as one of its key missions.
To prepare for the possibility of dangerous weather events, the Pentagon and each branch of the military have set up their own climate research and analysis shops. But they should also be tapping the rich weather-prediction resources that already exist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says an independent report published by the Logistics Management Institute, a non-profit government consulting firm.
NOAA has some the world’s most advanced weather-prediction technologies and skilled analysts who could help the Defense Department sort through massive databases and produce reports that suit military planners’ needs, says the report, titled, “Climate: Opportunities for Improving Engagement Between NOAA and the U.S. National Security Community.”
The authors, LMI analysts Rachael Jonassen and Jeremey Alcorn, drew their conclusions from a three-day workshop that NOAA’s office of climate, water, and weather services hosted in March in Miami, Fla.
The demand for climate prediction tools is growing across the federal government, and especially in national security agencies, Alcorn says in an interview. Special operations commanders, for instance, might need specific microclimate reports before they deploy forces or land a helicopter on top of a building.Military bases in coastal areas want to be able to accurately predict sea level rise years into the future. At the strategic level, theintelligence community wants to know how food shortages caused by floods or droughts might affect global security.
NOAA can help fill many of these needs, the report says. Some of the organizations that would benefit from NOAA’s work, however, often are unaware of what this agency does and might even hire contractors to conduct research and analysis that NOAA already performs, participants at the workshop said, according to Alcorn.
“NOAA has a lot of data, analysis and expertise. But they don’t know how to contextualize it or translate it to the type of inputs a Defense Department planner or analyst might need, or how to make it meaningful for national security planning or budgeting,” Alcorn says.
Federal agencies are required to do “climate adaptation plans,” he says, but they have little data to help them predict what to adapt against.
NOAA produces an official climate forecast for the United States that extends to one year in the future. Weather reports that are produced by NOAA's international desks for areas outside the United States could be useful to military planners, says the LMI study.
The report suggests NOAA could apply existing tools to develop predictions of active layer thickness in permafrost in Alaska. “This information can help protect energy supplies and improve planning for military mobility in Arctic regions,” the study says. “NOAA could work in cooperation with the Naval Oceanographic Office to calculate estimates of tidal range with higher sea level.” That would help inform commanders on the vulnerability of coastal military installations.
“Climate scientists and national security professionals, especially at the federal level, are just beginning to learn each other’s needs,” the report says. “Much work remains to build a partnership.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post characterized LMI as a federally funded think tank. It is a non-profit government consultancy.
Photo Credit: NOAA

Topics: Energy, Climate Change, Energy Security

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