Jane Lubchenco, the newly confirmed head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, decided to dedicate her life to the sea 40 years ago when she became fascinated with a tiny species of mud-burrowing clam.
Lubchenco, then an undergraduate at Colorado College, was taking a summer course on invertebrates at Marine Biological Laboratories with a group of graduate students. She was given a chance to study why the Yoldia had a small, mysterious structure attached to the edge of its body.
“I was blown away by this world I didn’t know existed,” she said of studying invertebrates, adding that she was amazed “by the incredible diversity” of forms and functions among mollusks, arthropods and other small creatures.
Now, after devoting her career to academia, the former Oregon State University professor will become the first woman to lead the agency of roughly 12,500 employees that provides weather and climate forecasting, monitors atmospheric data, manages marine fisheries and mammals, and maps and charts all U.S. waters.
Lubchenco (pronounced LOOB-chin-ko) takes the helm of NOAA at a time when the agency is poised to play a more prominent role as the Obama administration tackles the issue of climate change. The agency’s fiscal 2009 budget stands at nearly $4.4 billion, but under this month’s stimulus allocation, NOAA will receive a nearly 20 percent boost — an additional $830 million. The legislation includes $170 million for climate change research as well as $230 million for habitat restoration, navigation projects and vessel maintenance, along with another $430 million for the construction and repair of NOAA facilities, ships and equipment, improvements in weather forecasting and satellite development.