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Contact: Jana Goldman
Leetmaa, who has been the director of the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center and the lead climate forecaster in the U.S. for more than three years, will assume his new duties in February 2001.
"Dr. Leetmaa's understanding of the workings of the climate system and pioneering and innovative efforts in climate forecasting will enhance the laboratory's standing as a world-class climate modeling facility," said Dr. D. James Baker, NOAA administrator.
Under his leadership the CPC increased its seasonal forecasting successes. The most notable of these was the forecast for the 1997/98 El Niño and its U.S. impacts. This was the first time that regional impacts had been forecast six months in advance, allowing emergency managers and others to prepare for its effects. His efforts resulted in the CPC producing more skillful seasonal forecasts, developing the framework in the NWS for linking weather and climate variability, and making the CPC an internationally known source of knowledge about climate variability.
Working with interagency and external researchers the CPC introduced new, non-traditional climate forecast products designed to help the public cope with real problems for which there had been no forecast products, such as drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor and Drought Outlook were developed under Leetmaa's guidance, designed to be useful to the general public, the media, and emergency managers. He also guided the creation of a forecast of excessive heat and a seasonal hurricane forecast.
"As we understand more about climate and its effect on our daily lives, it is essential that we enhance our capability to take advantage of new scientific information to provide improved climate services to the public and to policy makers," said Dr. David L. Evans, NOAA Assistant Administrator. "Dr. Leetmaa will lead GFDL, known for its climate models and innovative research, in playing a central role in improving these services."
Leetmaa is also known for building partnerships among other agencies and organizations both in the U.S. and internationally.
He becomes the third director in GFDL's history: Joseph Smagorinsky was the first, followed by Jerry Mahlman, who retired from federal service in October.
"We are especially pleased that Dr. Leetmaa will carry on the tradition of scientific excellence started by his predecessors, Drs. Smagorinsky and Mahlman," said Dr. Evans.
The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory is engaged in comprehensive long lead-time research to expand the scientific understanding of the physical processes that govern the behavior of the atmosphere and the oceans as complex fluid systems. A variety of disciplines encompass the scientific work at GFDL including meteorology, oceanography, hydrology, classical physics, fluid dynamics, chemistry, applied mathematics, and numerical analysis.
Events such as the Sahel drought, the dust bowl in the Midwest, the Little Ice Age, stratospheric ozone depletion, and global warming may define eras in history. Events such as these have lifetimes of decades to centuries and their causes can be either natural or anthropogenic. Research efforts at GFDL are geared toward assessing the causes and predicting these changes through the development of numerical models.
Dr. Leetmaa holds a B.S. degree in Physics from the University of Chicago (1965), and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1969). He conducted postdoctoral studies at MIT (1969-1972), seagoing oceanographic work at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla. (1972-1986), and other positions ranging from oceanographer to chief, Coupled Model Project, to senior scientist at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (1986 and 1997).
Dr. Leetmaa also is or has been a member or chairman of many national and international organizations and committee dealing with ocean observing systems, climate studies and forecasting, and development of NOAA's climate-related products.
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