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New Director of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research Rose Through the Ranks

Meet the new boss. James Hurrell will take the lead at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in September.


At the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) perched above Boulder, Colorado, a researcher doesn’t start any lower than visiting scientist with a brand-new degree and can rise no higher than director.

That’s the climb that atmospheric scientist James Hurrell, a 23-year NCAR veteran, just completed. Yesterday, Hurrell was named the new director of NCAR, one of the world’s leading atmospheric science centers. It has a staff of about 1000 and receives almost all of its roughly $200 million annual funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Hurrell, 51, follows Roger Wakimoto, who left NCAR earlier this year to become assistant director for geosciences at NSF.

On his arrival at the top, Hurrell will be facing the usual manager’s dilemma: flat or declining funding for research. “It’s not unique to NCAR,” he says, but “the budgets have been very difficult. NCAR’s budget has been declining; we’ve had to descope. This creates considerable anxiety among staff.”

And staff is where he has been since completing his Ph.D. at Purdue University in 1990 on Southern Hemisphere meteorology. His science at NCAR continued a focus on large-scale climate processes, including how models can forecast climate a decade ahead. Concurrently, he rose through a series of management positions, including chief scientist for NCAR’s world-class climate model as staff members prepared to crank out simulations for the climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due out in September.

Hurrell plans to continue the science-management balancing act as director, albeit with a different balance. “I look forward to staying engaged,” he says. “I have to stay in touch with the science.” That will be handy, he says, as the U.S. university community—which NCAR serves—continues to boost its modeling capabilities. Hurrell moves up to the director’s office on 2 September.