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University of Oklahoma Selected to Host One of Eight Regional Climate Science Centers Nationwide

Published: Friday, October 7, 2011

The University of Oklahoma has been selected by the U.S. Department of the Interior as the site of one of only eight regional climate science centers nationwide, OU President David L. Boren announced today.  The Center will link weather and climate projections with on-the-ground decisions about how best to manage federal lands, natural resources and fish and wildlife.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar initiated a department-wide climate change strategy in 2009 and today announced the South-Central Regional CSC at Oklahoma along with two others.  The Center increases to six the number of federally-funded centers on the Norman campus.

“Selecting the locations for the final three of our eight Climate Science Centers is a major milestone in our efforts to implement our department-wide climate change strategy,” Secretary Salazar said.  “The nationwide network of Climate Science Centers will provide the scientific talent and commitment necessary for understanding how climate change and other landscape stressors will change the face of the United States, and how the Department of the Interior, as our nation’s chief steward of natural and cultural resources, can prepare and respond.”

OU will lead a consortium that provides the expertise and strengths of four regional universities, two tribal nations and a national laboratory to address the topics of climate variability and change from the basic science to operational decisions made by land managers.  Consortium members are: Texas Tech University, Oklahoma State University, The Chickasaw Nation, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Louisiana State University and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

“The Department of Interior’s selection of OU as site of the South-Central Climate Science Center underlines the University’s weather expertise and reaffirms the strength of the consortium team we have assembled to address the region’s distinct challenges, said OU President David L. Boren.  “The collaborative nature of this team led by Berrien Moore III, vice president of OU Weather and Climate Programs, is an enormous asset to the Center and to other regional DOI Centers,” Boren said.

Based on DOI’s selection of OU as the host for the Center, 90 to 100 new jobs will be added on the Norman campus over the next three years, plus spin-off jobs in the private sector related to better management practices using enhanced projections of weather and climate extremes and the impacts on businesses.

With the OU Research Campus in Norman as home base for the Center and for USGS employees, the CSC consortium members and a group of 23 affiliates will provide extensive facilities, long-standing association and outstanding science capabilities to natural resource managers.  Consortium members and affiliates have broad expertise in the physical, biological, natural and social sciences to address impacts of climate variability and change on land, water, fish and wildlife, ocean, coastal and cultural resources.

Natural resource managers across the south-central United States struggle to ensure that the region’s people have adequate and quality water supplies, opportunities for hunting and other recreational activities and protection of fish and wildlife habitats, including scenic beauty for aesthetic, spiritual and cultural needs.  The region’s significant climate variability, ranging from flood to drought—sometimes in the same year—creates challenges for managing natural resources.  The new Center will provide managers with information, tools and education to enhance their short-term and long-term management strategies.

“We are honored to be selected to serve the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Interior.  All of our consortium members have extensive experience working with other federal, tribal, regional, state and local natural resource management agencies in support of their specific science needs,” said Moore, who serves as Principal Investigator.  “We fully understand their desires for science-based, practical advice to help inform their policy and management decisions,” he said.

OU, which is recognized as a national leader in monitoring, analysis and prediction of weather and, especially, of severe storms, will combine its expertise with the global climate modeling expertise of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory to improve the utility of long-term climate change models.  These weather and climate models will feed into applications models and practices at OSU, Texas Tech and LSU.

Texas Tech brings to the consortium its leadership in the study of climate impacts in arid and semi-arid environments worldwide; resulting in critical understanding of the influence that climate has on ecosystem dynamics and services across this important landscape.  Texas Tech is also developing a climate projection database for the USGS and a guide of best practices for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to apply climate projects in ecosystem impact analysis.

OSU brings its expertise integrating weather information with a range of ecological and agricultural impacts, particularly through application of the Oklahoma Mesonet in collaboration with OU.  OSU’s research expertise includes the study of ecological impacts of biofuels, carbon capture in prairies and forests, invasive species of plants and animals and biodiversity.  Scientists at LSU bring experience in climate and environmental impacts related to wetlands, coastal processes, fisheries, pollution, toxicology and environmental policy and management to address the risks in Gulf of Mexico coastal habitats.

Adding to the breadth and depth of the consortium is the inclusion of Oklahoma’s Native American tribes as members.  The Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will bring important cultural perspectives to the science of climate.  Solving problems such as protection of water resources and assuring a vibrant and healthy environment cannot be solved without considering these perspectives.  Their input will assure that potential solutions are both scientifically sound and practical.  The tribal consortium members will also serve as a liaison to other tribes, both within the region and across the nation. 

“We’ve assembled a powerful team to address the region’s needs to cope with and adapt to our highly variable climate, such as the devastating drought that the southern United States is currently experiencing,” said Renee McPherson, state climatologist of Oklahoma.  “As the coordinated research carried out through this new Center progresses, it will advance our understanding of the relationships between weather, climate and our landscape.  This promises to help us to be better prepared for not only the future, but for managing the extremes we already experience.  This is not science for the ivory tower.  This is science to solve real problems faced by real decision-makers year in and year out.”