NTB: Given the budget cuts, do you ever get impatient with getting these projects off the ground?
Dr. Wielicki: Yeah, we get frustrated all the time. It was a year ago when we did our mission concept review, and we just got rave reviews. The engineers said they’d never seen a mission with the engineering and science melded together that rigorously before, and we were all just glowing until we knocked on the door: “There’s not any money to do this right now.” But this is not new. This happens to satellite missions all the time. The cost is high. You can’t get to space cheap. Inevitable glitches in funding profiles will delay you. The global precipitation mission has been going through this for years. They’re finally getting their mission together. You can’t get too depressed by it. If you do, you’re not going to last in this business. You have to be a master of delayed gratification.
NTB: In an ideal world, with all the funding necessary, what would be accomplishing with CLARREO?
Dr. Wielicki: We would’ve launched about 2017 or 2018, serving as that anchor of much of the climate observing system and taking it to a new accuracy.
Another way to explain what we do: If you have observation and climate change over decades, you have error sources in those observations, and those error sources have to be compared to natural variability. So you can actually ask yourself: If I had a perfect observing system, how quickly could I have seen climate change and understood what it was over natural variability? CLARREO is designed to be so accurate that those observations would flow down that perfect system by only about 10 or 15 percent. So let’s say you needed 10 or 20 years to see that trend above natural variability. If it was 20, with CLARREO, you could see that in 22. With a normal observing system, it might take you easily 30 years to see the same trend. As we advance toward trying to control climate change, we’re going to want to see as soon as possible the response of the climate system to those changes, and CLARREO is one of the steps we can take to get that information, not 30 years out but 20 years out, or not 20 years out, but 10 years out.
NTB: What would you say is your favorite part of the job?
Dr. Wielicki:I guess it’s just working with such a talented team: the scientists and engineers. We really have had an almost magical group on CLARREO. It’s not that it has been easy, but the dedication and talent on that team has just been extraordinary. The biggest charge for me is to watch us, over the last three years, evolve a very solid understanding of what this mission ought to be – and even what it shouldn’t be.