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The U.S. Climate Reference Network—A Decade of Operations

Image of Climate Reference Network Station in Grand Teton National Park, WY

Moose 1 NNE U.S. Climate Reference Network Station in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

NOAA’s U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) is a sophisticated climate-observing network specifically designed and deployed for quantifying climate change on a national scale. After a decade of operations, what has the USCRN achieved and what is in store for its future?

The year 2012 marks a decade of observations taken by the USCRN under the leadership of NCDC and in partnership with NOAA’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD). The network consists of 114 stations across the lower 48 United States, with additional sites in Alaska and Hawaii. Stations are installed in open, pristine, and undisturbed areas that are very likely to have stable land cover and usage conditions for years to come like National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. Each station monitors a suite of meteorological parameters, including primary variables of air temperature, precipitation, soil temperature, soil moisture, and relative humidity as well as secondary variables such as solar radiation and wind. A staff of expert engineers calibrates and maintains the instruments at each site on an annual basis. This attention to detail will ensure the creation of an impeccable record of changes in U.S. climate conditions far into the future.

These quality measurements combined with thorough metadata documentation, excellent data quality control, a triplicate sensor configuration for primary measurements, and active maintenance efforts result in a system that can help provide high-quality data to aid in addressing a wide range of scientific questions related to climate. For example, scientists and community stakeholders are using USCRN observations to independently measure annual temperature changes in the United States and compare those changes with ones observed by the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN). For the base comparison period from 2006–2010, the annual mean air  temperature departures from normal for USCRN stations were nearly identical to those of the USHCN record that was derived from over 1,200 stations, and so the USCRN provides an independent verification of the U.S. adjusted temperature record. USCRN data are also being used for a variety of other climate analyses and applications, and will help answer the question 50 years from now about how the U.S. climate has changed.

In the future, the USCRN will assure that its network continues to run at the same high-quality standards established in its first 10 years of operation. The USCRN will also continue its expansion in Alaska and hopes to promote its governing principles and techniques internationally. NCDC and ATDD scientists authored a paper published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and entitled U.S. Climate Reference Network after One Decade of Operations: Status and Assessment, which further details all of the USCRN’s accomplishments and its planned future endeavors.

You can access the freely available USCRN data at