Find below the thoughts our co-chairs expressed in Newsletter 52, January 2019:
Co-chairs’ note on the future of SPARC (PDF, 0.1 MB)
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4 thoughts on “The future of SPARC”
When thinking about the future of SPARC it is difficult to ignore one of the main points raised in the WCRP review that applies to all four of the core projects – that the direction the science is taking us increasingly cuts across the boundaries that were implicit in the design of the four WCRP core projects. While SPARC was the project assigned the atmosphere, SPARC research clearly extends well outside of this box. For example, chemistry-climate modelling is increasingly coupled to ocean models making it possible to explore links between the Antarctic ozone hole, through the circulation of the Southern Ocean, to effects on the carbon cycle. While recent SPARC research exploring the stratospheric influence on climate variability clearly falls within the area assigned to CLIVAR. So it’s easy to see the motivation behind the proposed reorganization of WCRP but the risk, as acknowledged in the review, is that the community of researchers that has developed within the core projects will be dispersed. And as much as I agree with the motivation for the WCRP re-organization, it does seem to ignore the fact that science is done by people. It takes time to develop networks of researchers even within similar subject areas, and I can attest to the fact these networks are strong within SPARC and the SPARC-supported activities. If you also add in the view that individual researchers are experts in a relatively limited number of subject areas, I strongly believe that you arrive at the conclusion that subject-area focused groups such as SPARC are, and should continue to be, the basic building blocks for international science. The challenge for the future then, is two-fold. One, to see that SPARC continues to evolve as the science evolves. And two, that there are structures in place to actively push for coordination of research and cooperation between groups of researchers in more distant subject areas, both within and outside of WCRP.
So my wish for SPARC is that it continues to be a welcoming, vibrant community of researchers linked together by an interest in Stratosphere-troposphere Processes. And that we as a group operate in an environment where it is possible to work across disciplines and make the connections with other scientific communities that the science and society require of us.
SPARC has been a vital part of developing my career, and its strength has been fostering international communities of common research with specific goals. Additionally, in my opinion, what makes SPARC different than other organizations studying atmospheric dynamics or chemistry is the “whole atmosphere”, coupled approach. What other organization is better suited for integrating measurements and modeling, chemistry and dynamics, stratosphere and troposphere, across multiple time scales? SPARC has all these components, and particularly if collaboration across activities can be fostered, is equipped to be the international leading organization for coupled processes in the atmosphere. Finally, I think SPARC should continue prioritizing the involvement of early career scientists and underserved communities.
SPARC has been an extremely important point of continuity throughout my scientific career and I have personally benefited significantly from the opportunities it has provided. I think I agree very strongly with the sentiments of the co-chairs, that a complete route and branch review of WCRP that doesn’t build on the strong foundations offered by SPARC and the other projects seems a risky and complex strategy.
SPARC is strong where it has provided a framework for strong communities to grow organically. I have always enjoyed the opportunities to interact with and learn from the composition community (for example) that SPARC is well known for. The SPARC GA (although I couldn’t attend last time) is always a great event that helps bring these communities together. Similarly, I would say that SPARC has always had a very strong link to large-scale atmospheric dynamics (not just of the Stratosphere). My personal view is that SPARC has a very important role to play in the future of climate science in understanding the role of large-scale dynamics in climate variability and predictability on all timescales. I strongly support the efforts of the current and past co-chairs to open up SPARC to underserved communities.
In future, I think it would be helpful for SPARC to be clear that it is looking for the community to propose new and exciting projects (rather like the Grand Challenges) and to encourage scientists at all career stages to take advantage of the infrastructure and expertise available to get these projects off the ground.
SPARC is unique and valuable as a focus point of the stratospheric research community. For those of us who have worked on stratospheric topics for many years we realize there is still much to learn about it, it never ceases to surprise us, and it is an integral component of the atmosphere in many ways. You could argue, as I heard in Kyoto, that the various SPARC subgroups could be split off into more process oriented groups inevitably focused more on the troposphere. I think this would be a mistake. The persistent interest in SPARC over the years, the adaptation to form new subgroups around emerging topics and the collaboration with relevant research communities shows the vitality of SPARC. To change SPARC for the purpose of organizational efficiency would have important side effects, namely the loss of a key gathering place of the stratospheric science community. SPARC members will continue to address the big questions in their unique and creative way. There doesn’t need to be one big question to validate the existence of SPARC. There are always many questions that interconnect and build on each other and are unexpected that lead to new and valuable research results. The SPARC community has consistently done valuable research over the years, so why change it?