WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Monday proposed a new agency to study and report on the changing climate, which has drawn concern among many scientists in recent years.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced NOAA will set up the new Climate Service to operate in tandem with NOAA's National Weather Service and National Ocean Service.
"Whether we like it or not, climate change represents a real threat," Locke said Monday at a news conference.
Lubchenco added, "Climate change is real, it's happening now." She said climate information is vital to the wind power industry, coastal community planning, fishermen and fishery managers, farmers and public health officials.
NOAA recently reported that the decade of 2000-2009 was the warmest on record worldwide; the previous warmest decade was the 1990s. Many atmospheric scientists believe that global warming is largely due to human actions, adding gases to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
Researchers and leaders from around the world met last month in Denmark to discuss ways to reduce climate-warming emissions, and a follow-up session is planned for later this year in Mexico. But a U.N. report that preceded the conference in Copenhagen has been widely disputed after much of the data in it was found to have been gathered unscientifically.
"More and more people are asking for more and more information about climate and how it's going to affect them," Lubchenco explained. So officials decided to combine climate operations into a single unit.
Portions of the Weather Service that have been studying climate, as well as offices from some other NOAA agencies, will be transferred to the new NOAA Climate Service.
The new agency will initially be led by Thomas Karl, director of the current National Climatic Data Center. The Climate Service will be headquartered in Washington and will have six regional directors across the country.
Lubchenco also announced a new NOAA climate portal on the Internet to collect a vast array of climatic data from NOAA and other sources. It will be "one-stop shopping into a world of climate information," she said.
Creation of the Climate Service requires a series of steps, including congressional committee approval. But if all goes well, it should be finished by the end of the year, officials said.
In recent years, a widespread private weather forecasting industry has grown up around the National Weather Service, and Lubchenco said she anticipates growth of private climate-related business around the new agency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.