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The FY 2003 Budget Request for the Atmospheric Sciences Subactivity is $218.92 million, an increase of $16.90 million, or 8.4 percent, above the FY 2002 Current Plan of $202.02 million.

(Millions of Dollars)


FY 2001

FY 2002
Current Plan

FY 2003




Atmospheric Sciences Research Support






National Center for Atmospheric Research






Total, ATM






Totals may not add due to rounding.

Research in the Atmospheric Sciences Subactivity (ATM) furthers our understanding of weather, climate, and the solar-terrestrial system by expanding the fundamental knowledge of the composition and dynamics of Earth's atmosphere and geospace environment. Almost 40 percent of the funds for ATM support the operation and maintenance of large, complex facilities required for research in the atmospheric and solar-terrestrial sciences. These facilities are shared by the atmospheric science community for fundamental research by individuals and groups of investigators participating in national and international scientific field programs and experiments. Included in ATM support are those funds provided for programs transferred from other agencies, as previously described: $5.0 million for the Sea Grant program and $3.56 million for the Environmental Education program.

Recent research supported by NSF indicates that during the last deglaciation, fluctuations at the southern margin of the North American Laurentide Ice Sheet flushed large amounts of freshwater from the continent into the North Atlantic Ocean. The discharge was not via the Mississippi River basin, but rather through the Hudson and St. Lawrence River drainage basins. The research further suggests that this rerouting of freshwater discharge altered thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic Ocean, and hence global climate, in a manner characteristic of periods of intermediate global ice volume. These findings provide evidence for a previously unknown mechanism for abrupt climate change in the North Atlantic region and provide insights into possible future climate scenarios.

Space Weather research at NSF has helped our understanding of electrical current redistribution during common space storms. It is known that the distorted magnetic field, the so-called "magnetic tail," that forms on the nightside of the Earth can carry an electric current of over 100 million amps. When a space storm begins, a substantial portion of that electric current is often diverted, in an explosive manner, into the Earth's upper atmosphere. NSF research has shown that the sources of this current have far more structure than previously thought and that a key process in the growth of the current is two oppositely directed magnetic field lines coming together in mutual annihilation. Eventually the system becomes unstable and the electric current is explosively diverted into the upper atmosphere.

The FY 2003 Budget Request includes $145.32 million for Atmospheric Sciences Research Support, which provides funding for individual and group research projects in physical meteorology, large-scale dynamic meteorology, experimental meteorology, climate dynamics, atmospheric chemistry, aeronomy, magnetospheric physics and solar-terrestrial relations. Research studies develop the scientific basis for understanding the dynamic and physical behavior of climate and weather on all scales, the natural global chemical cycles of gases and particles in Earth's atmosphere, the composition, energetics, and particularly the dynamics of the coupled upper atmospheric system, and the sun as it relates to Earth's upper atmosphere and space environment. Support is also provided for lower atmospheric facilities at several universities and for upper atmospheric observatories in Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Greenland and Peru that are operated by U.S. universities and research institutions. Also included is support for Unidata, a national program to help universities use computing technology and atmospheric data for teaching and research. Highlights for FY 2003 include:

  • Continued examination of important biogeochemical cycles including emphasis on understanding the sources, sinks and processes which control the atmospheric abundance and distribution of carbon, water and other nutrient elements;

  • Development of improved computer systems and numerical models, smart instrumentation, and collaboratories which will allow new discoveries, greater access to atmospheric data, and improved understanding of the atmospheric environment which will be supported as part of the ITR priority area;

  • Support for new environmental modeling that employ data assimilation and innovative mathematic and statistical techniques to improve predictions of fundamental atmospheric and Earth system processes;

  • Continued support of the U.S. Weather Research Program, the National Space Weather Program, disciplinary research and cooperative international science programs; and

  • Continued development and application of a next-generation upper atmospheric radar system. This system will eventually provide key data to further our understanding of space weather and, thereby, to mitigate society's vulnerability to space storms.

FY 2003 support for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) totals $73.60 million. During FY 2003 NCAR will focus on:

  • Research in the atmospheric and related sciences, including climate system modeling and the operation of the computation facilities for the Climate Simulation Laboratory;

  • The U.S. Weather Research Program and the National Space Weather Program, which aim to achieve a better understanding and improved predictive capability of costly and disruptive storms on Earth and in space; and

  • Continued support and development of new and improved observational and computational capabilities.
  Last Modified: Sep 17, 2004


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National Science Foundation Summary of FY 2003 Budget Request to Congress NSF Logo