Flowing with the AMS Annual Meeting Theme

The 96th AMS Annual Meeting is just around the corner, and there are many reasons to be excited about spending a week devoted to making connections across the weather, water, and climate enterprise. The meeting promises to be an intensive focus on the incredible work you’re doing, but before we get there, now’s is a good moment to take a closer look at this year’s theme, Earth System Science in Service to Society.
AMS President Alexander E. “Sandy” MacDonald’s provides an inspiring explanation of how he came up with that theme to “bring the many parts of AMS” together. Here’s what he says about the first three words, “Earth System Science:”

The “Earth System Science” theme emphasizes that the growing knowledge of the academic and research communities about our Earth system is a strength of AMS.  AMS brings together the physical, chemical, and biological study of the Earth, allowing important decisions to be made by policy makers and the public.  An example of the physical domain was the forecast of Hurricane Sandy, which was predominantly atmospheric and ocean model driven. An air quality forecast would exemplify the chemical and physical domains.  The fate of global carbon illustrates the overarching importance that includes physics, chemistry, and biology.  All of Earth’s biology participates in the carbon cycle, in which the chemistry of the ocean and atmosphere is of crucial importance, and which are controlled by the physical ocean and atmosphere. The Earth system also includes the human-centered “domains of action”: (1) Observing, (2) Analysis and research leading to understanding, (3) Modeling and prediction, and (4) Social sciences – how people deal with Earth. The AMS integrates these different disciplines in a common intellectual and operational framework with an Earth system emphasis – I believe that the AMS is the scientific society where the whole Earth System fits most comfortably.

The theme indeed captures the wide spectrum of sciences in the weather, water, and climate enterprise. The AMS Annual Meeting serves a growing need to share the incredible work you do, across many fields of science, in order for the whole community to advance its understanding of how the entire earth system works, functions, and evolves.
Yet rarely do we take time to see that broader picture. Search “Earth System Science” in our journals database, and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands of references to job and academic department titles, but a scant handful of actual article titles or abstracts overtly address that encompassing mandate. Instead, science papers generally are a tightly focused within specific disciplines. We all know that a single discrepancy between a dataset and a theory can consume an entire career, let alone a solitary paper.
That’s one reason the AMS Annual Meeting is so special. Normally, we are engrossed in furthering our specific tasks, even at conferences. This meeting, however, is also a rare period of time set aside to look around us and explore our broader scientific context—to get into the flow of our times. Watch for that word “flow” as Sandy explains the rest of the theme, “In Service to Society”:

The second half of the theme title connects research to the benefits that society writ large gains from our science.  “Service to Society” includes information services, such as operational weather prediction, provision of timely and accurate weather literally at our fingertips, and scientific assessments such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that help guide society’s actions.  It also includes the growing climate services from programs like NIDIS and the efforts to help society mitigate and adapt to climate variability and change. “Service to Society” explicitly evokes the integrated and complementary government and commercial enterprise that the AMS has done so much to foster over the last decade.  The strong AMS contingent of media professionals – the people who stand before TV cameras and explain what the coming storm will do – are surely at the forefront of serving society, as are the critical efforts of the National Weather Service and military weather services.  “Service to Society” also effectively uses social science to make the benefits and dissemination of our information most beneficial to the public. This meeting will address the effort to improve communications of geophysical threats to the public.
Finally – this theme conveys the flow inherent in the nearly 100-year history of the AMS.  Some people call it research to operations (R2O), but I like to call it “Science to Service.”   AMS has a proud history of making a positive difference in the lives of our citizens by continually making the advances of science available to the public and policy makers.  The 2016 meeting will bring these two great endeavors together.

Over the years, there have been many meaningful solutions to writing the Annual Meeting theme. The thing that really raises “Earth System Science in the Service of Society” above the routine is that “flow inherent in the nearly 100-year history of the AMS.” We are indeed a scientific society immersed in the research-to-applications flow. AMS keeps that river of ideas and technologies moving, at every stage. Embracing “Earth System Science in Service to Society” in New Orleans is a part of the primary directive of the AMS to “advancing the atmospheric and related sciences, applications, technologies, and services for the benefit of society.”
There is yet another flow embedded in the eddies of Annual Meeting week that is only implied in Sandy’s theme. When we emerge at the far end of Thursday, the theme itself will be transformed in our eyes. It will be rewritten by our observations and experiences in the conferences, conversations, and special events. Every year at the Annual Meeting, without fail, all of us travel further downstream in science and in service.