Dr. Richard W. Spinrad named NOAA’s chief scientist

Yesterday, the Obama Administration named Dr. Richard W. Spinrad as NOAA’s Chief Scientist.  An internationally recognized scientist and executive with more than 30 years of experience, Dr. Spinrad will be the senior scientist for the agency, driving policy and program direction for science and technology priorities. Until this appointment, Dr. Spinrad served as vice president for research at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, Oregon, and from 2005 until 2010, was the head of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the head of the National Ocean Service.

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Welcome to noaa.gov (Image credit: NOAA)

“I’m pleased to welcome Rick back to NOAA,” said Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator.  “His decades-long service in the earth sciences as well as management expertise will be a great addition to our senior leadership team. As we continue to strive to provide environmental intelligence to communities across the country, Rick will oversee a tremendously diverse science and research portfolio ranging from fisheries biology to climate change to satellite instrumentation and marine biodiversity.”

Dr. Richard W. Spinrad, NOAA’s Chief Scientist. (Credit: Oregon State University)

Dr. Spinrad has extensive experience in environmental research, management, and teaching. He was a leader in the development of the nation’s first-ever ocean research priorities and established the U.S. Navy’s environmental research strategy. He has directed federal research programs and served on the faculty of three major universities. He has been published in pre-eminent peer-reviewed journals and awarded highest honors from three international professional societies.

“I am deeply honored by this appointment, and I am excited about returning to an agency where I spent so many good years,” said Dr. Spinrad. “The research conducted by NOAA is of the utmost importance to our country as we tackle critical issues ranging from increasing frequency of severe weather events to the effects of climate change on our communities and shifts in marine ecosystems that may be under stress. NOAA is a key science-based service agency in the federal government, and I look forward to working with the great team within NOAA on our science and technology priorities.”

Dr. Spinrad began his career as a research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. From there, he went on to manage a small R&D firm, Sea Tech, Inc. in Corvallis, Oregon (1986-1987) and then joined the Office of Naval Research as a program manager (1987-1988). 

From 1988 to 1993, Dr. Spinrad served as the director of the ocean biology, optics, and chemistry division (1988-1993) and the director of the ocean, atmosphere and space modeling and prediction division (1993-1994), both within the Office of Naval Research. During this time he also served as an adjunct professor in oceanography at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia (1994-1997).

Dr. Spinrad also has experience in the non-profit sector having served as executive director for research and education at the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, Inc. (CORE) in Washington, D.C. (1994-1999). While at CORE, Dr. Spinrad supervised research studies of midshipmen as an adjunct associate professor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. (1996-1999).

As technical director for the Oceanographer of the United States Navy (1999-2003), Dr. Spinrad served as the senior civilian advisor to the U.S. Navy on operational oceanographic and meteorological research and operations. He also established the priorities for the U.S. Navy investment in application of oceanographic products to fleet operations.

During his first tenure at NOAA, Dr. Spinrad served as the head of NOAA’s National Ocean Service (2003-2005) and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (2005-2010). During this time he successfully negotiated the United States’ position in establishing a global tsunami warning system, wrote key components of the Administration’s Ocean Action Plan, and established agency-wide policies for scientific integrity and independence, among other accomplishments.

While serving as vice president for research at OSU, Dr. Spinrad oversaw a nearly $300-million-sponsored research program in the full spectrum of life, natural, physical, and social sciences for 12 colleges and 18 center and institutes. He developed the infrastructure for engaging industry, which resulted in a 42-percent increase in commercially-sponsored research over two years.

Dr. Spinrad received his B.A. in earth and planetary sciences from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. both in oceanography from Oregon State University. He received a Chartered Marine Scientist certificate from the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology in London, England.

He is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including: the Presidential Meritorious Rank Award (2003), the Distinguished Civilian Service Award from the U.S. Navy (2003), the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award (2009), and the Alumni Fellow Award from Oregon State University (2010).

He is affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, The Oceanography Society, the Marine Technology Society, and others. His research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals.

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Ciaran Clayton