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Context of 'October 5, 2002: Study Suggests Global Warming Could Cause Hydrologic Changes'

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Richard Wetherald, a research meteorologist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), writes a press release on a paper he has written on global warming that will soon be published in the prestigious Geophysical Research Letters. But a few days after submitting the press release, NOAA press officer Jana Goldman informs him that the release has been rejected. The reason provided by NOAA is that since the journal will be sending out its own press release, there is no need for NOAA to do one as well. Wetherald doesn’t buy it. According to Wetherald, NOAA would not be duplicating efforts because while the journal’s press release will be written in technical jargon, the NOAA release he drafted is written in language that is more accessible to the public. (MacPherson 10/1/2006)

When USGS hydrologist Christopher Milly submits a draft press release about a recent article on the increased risk of extreme flooding due to global warming, he is warned by a USGS press officer that the release might cause problems at the White House due to the sensitive nature of its topic. The news release would generate “great problems with the department,” Milly is advised. As predicted, the release is rejected by the Department of the Interior on grounds that the journal Nature will probably be publishing its own release about the article. (Eilperin 4/6/2006; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 33 pdf file) However, it has been noted (see, e.g., (April 2001)) that government press releases issued in conjunction with releases published by scientific journals are helpful to the public because government issued releases tend to be written in a language that it more accessible.

In an email exchange between Richard Wetherald, a research meteorologist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), and NOAA public affairs staffer Jana Goldman, Wetherald complains that the Department of Commerce appears to be turning down press releases that have to do with global warming issues. In the following exchange, Wetherald refers to a study he recently co-authored (see October 5, 2002) on the potential impact global warming might have on soil moisture and run-off rates. In his email, he writes, “I have not bothered to write a draft NOAA press release since the last time it was turned down by the Dept. of Commerce (see (April 2001)). Apparently at that time, greenhouse or global warming papers were considered to be the literary equivalent of ‘persona non grata’ by the current administration. I assume that this is still the case? I don’t want to waste both of our times if it is. Anyway, here is the summary for your information. Please let me know if this policy has changed.” Goldman replies: “What I think I may do is pass the abstract along downtown and see what they think. I agree with you, the attitude seems to have changed regarding climate change, but let’s also avoid doing unnecessary work if it’s not going to go anywhere.” Wetherald says in response: “That sounds like a sensible idea. If by some miracle, you can use it as a NOAA press release, this would be fine as long as it contains the basic conclusions in the summary that I sent. I will certainly help out if it comes to that…” Goldman then writes: “I sent the abstract down to see if it would fly—if so, we would have to draft a release, but at least we would know that it would go through and our work would not be in vain.” (Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 31-33 pdf file)

The US Department of Commerce rejects a news release about an article on global warming written by NOAA research meteorologist Richard Wetherald. No reason is provided. This is the second time a news release written on an article by Wetherald has been rejected. The first time was in 2001 (see (April 2001)) (MacPherson 10/1/2006)

The Journal of Geophysical Research publishes a study by research meteorologists Richard Wetherald and Syukuro Manabe on how global warming might impact the hydrology of different regions. According to their computer model, high latitudes would experience higher run-off rates as a result of global warming. Winters would see higher soil moisture levels than winters currently do, while summers would see lower than normal soil moisture levels. Soil moisture in lower latitudes would be lower year-round, potentially leading to the expansion of deserts. (Wetherald and Manabe 2002)

The NOAA announces in a press release that it has awarded “over $3.4 million to Princeton University for Climate…’ as envisioned in the Bush administration’s Climate Change Research Initiative.’” The release was coordinated with Princeton, which also issues a press release. In an email sent before the release, Steve Mayle, administrative officer of the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, wrote, “George [Philander, a Princeton professor and researcher] said the University would probably issue its own press release. If that turns out to be the case, we should put your press people in touch with our press people so that they can coordinate the issuance of the releases.” In other instances where a proposed NOAA press release would have mirrored a release being issued by another organization, the NOAA has rejected the release, citing unnecessary duplication (see, e.g., (April 2001) and 2002). In those cases, the press releases concerned studies that undercut the Bush administration’s position on global warming. (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 30 pdf file)

The US Department of Commerce blocks publication of a news release about an article on global warming written by NOAA research meteorologist Richard Wetherald. No reason is provided. This is the third time the DOC has rejected a news release written about an article by Wetherald. The other two times were in 2001 and 2002 (see (April 2001) and Fall 2002, respectively). (MacPherson 10/1/2006)

When reporter Kitta MacPherson contacts the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a story she is writing about the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Plainsboro, New Jersey, she is told that she will be granted “unprecedented access” to the lab’s scientists. She interviews nine scientists for 30 minutes each. However a request to interview Richard Wetherald, a scientist who has complained about censorship (see September 26, 2002), is rejected, and her interview with scientist Ants Leetmaa is only permitted on the condition that a press official is present. (MacPherson 12/6/2006)

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