Background and Mission
NCAR is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and all parts of NCAR conform to the NSF mission “To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.” In addition to serving as the Nation’s premier agency for promoting fundamental research, NSF programs are also intended “to foster and encourage the translation of new knowledge generated through basic research into processes, products, and methodologies with significant economic or societal impact.”
In conformance with the NSF statements above, the RAL mission closely follows the NCAR mission and may be stated as:
- To conduct directed research that contributes to the depth of fundamental understanding of the atmosphere and its interaction with society
- To support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the scientific community, nationally and internationally
- To develop and transfer knowledge and technology that contributes to the betterment of life on Earth
The latter area is closely connected to the Broader Impacts Criterion of NSF and the “translation of new knowledge” for the benefit of society. RAL makes important contributions in each of the three elements listed, though it places an emphasis on carrying advances from the first two elements into the third as a matter of course.
While NCAR is largely supported by NSF, RAL receives about 90% of its funding from other sources including other Federal agencies, the private sector, and foreign entities. In fact, a hallmark of RAL’s effort has been building programs directly with the operational agencies, stakeholders, and end users, and by keeping their requirements in focus at all times, developing and transferring capabilities to them that are put into practical use.
RAL has grown from its origins as a small research program at NCAR in the early 1980s to its current status as one of the five laboratories of NCAR, with six program divisions. The staff is comprised of approximately 240 persons with a diverse set of skills and experience in the physical sciences, social sciences, mathematics, software engineering, project management and administration.
RAL seeks to be a world-class leader in performing collaborative end-to-end research, development, and technology transfer that expands the reach of atmospheric and related sciences by addressing important problems that impact society.
Achieving this vision requires the willingness and ability to work in an interdisciplinary way with teammates inside the Laboratory, with other units of NCAR, with stakeholders, and with a host of colleagues in universities, federal laboratories, and the private sector. Ensuring that people, projects, and programs are woven into a diverse, but coherent whole is a primary objective of RAL management.
RAL’s research areas are organized around themes and described in more detail elsewhere in our website. The research themes are outlined below.
A. Weather Technologies for the Global Air Transportation System
Provide national leadership, research, and technical innovation toward development of advanced weather technologies that enable a vastly improved air transportation system.
B. Weather and Climate Information for Improved National Security and Public Safety
Advance fundamental understanding and the community’s ability to predict fine-scale weather and climate processes for the purpose of providing forecasters, decision makers, and emergency managers with accurate information to save lives and property.
C. Hydrometeorological Research and Applications on Local to Global Scales
Improve the understanding of interconnected cloud, precipitation, and surface hydrological processes, and develop tools to promote societal resilience to changes in the water cycle across a wide range of temporal and spatial scales.
D. Research and Applications for Surface Transportation, Energy, and Other Emerging User Sectors
Identify, develop, and implement advanced weather decision support systems for new and emerging user sectors such as surface transportation, renewable energy, precision agriculture, and other applications.
E. Testing, Validating and Verifying Advanced Numerical Forecasting Techniques
Provide a state-of-the-are test and evaluation function (in collaboration with others) for numerical forecast systems serving both research and operational users, and facilitate the transfer of research into operations.
F. Climate, Weather and Society
Promote societal resilience to environmental variability by conducting interdisciplinary research on the interactions among society, weather, and climate, and enhance societal gains by infusing social science into new weather and climate research and products.
Science in Service to Society
NCAR’s founder, Dr. Walter Orr Roberts, promoted “Science in Service to Society” from the earliest days of NCAR’s history. RAL adopted that theme to describe its primary mission. In order for this mission to be carried out successfully, a process that is sometimes referred to as “end-to-end R&D” must be employed. The process begins with basic science (physical and social), which is always the foundation of any successful effort to transfer technology. The process continues with directed research and development aimed at finding tailored solutions to specific weather and climate problems. The end point is the delivery of a new technology that increases productivity, safety, mobility or efficiency within some operational environment, or social science results that provide a basis for making difficult decisions. RAL participates in all phases of this cycle, with careful assessment of the science and its readiness for application, thoughtful discussions with the user community about real needs and the readiness to accept and exploit new capabilities, and focused attention on the necessary human and computational resources.