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August 26, 2014

Who pays for all this weather research?

A combination of private and public funding pays for most weather research, but some students are being creative in finding financing.

New studies are released all the time about some aspect or another of atmospheric science. Some focus on rainfall in small areas, others focus on how to better the computer models used in forecasting, and still others concentrate on space weather. The potential topics for research when it comes to weather, climate, the atmosphere, and the effects of these subjects on the world around us is nearly unlimited because there is so much we still don't know. Our knowledge is constantly expanding because students, professionals, and hobbyists are using the scientific method to ask questions and search for answers.

So, where does the money for all of this research come from? A large portion of it actually comes from the tax payers through the National Science Foundation, an independent U. S. government agency that funds 24% of all federally supported basic research in colleges and universities. Of course the NSF spreads that money among all branches of science.

Private donations from wealthy individuals and corporations account for a large percentage - one estimate was 62%. Some may do this for their love of science in general and the hope to be a small part of a large advancement of knowledge. Corporations are more likely to support research with the expectation of using its gains in their own enterprise.

Some research teams have even formed partnerships with companies by selling them advertising in a fund raising effort. A recent example I noted on Spaceweather.com's homepage is a group of students of Earth to Sky Calculus who have been selling logo space on their Space Weather Buoys for $500 a pop. According to the story, so far, the team has launched 58 buoys tethered to suborbital helium balloons into the stratosphere to measure cosmic rays, temperature and other data. The results will be released soon and will be of interest to aviation, space tourism, and ozone research.

As long as we continue to advance scientific research, funding will be needed. With more and more competition for grants, donations, and sponsorships, it is interesting to see the ways in which the more entrepreneurial-minded teams raise the money needed to pay for their studies.

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