History of CIMSS
The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) was established in 1980 with a Memorandum of Understanding between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The new institute, one of six funded by NOAA at the time, would find its organizational home within the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) under the leadership of Verner Suomi, founder of both centers.
Suomi’s pioneering interests in satellite meteorology, dating to the late 1950s, made Madison a logical choice for an institute that would advance studies of Earth’s atmosphere and weather using satellite data. Likewise, university environments were noted for producing results that could be applied quickly.
One of the earliest meteorological instrument programs, the Visible-Infrared Spin-Scan Radiometer (VISSR) Atmospheric Sounder (VAS), measured atmospheric soundings from geostationary satellites. The resulting data could be analyzed and converted to usable imagery.
Suomi and his team in Wisconsin were working on the instrument’s design and specifications, while William L. Smith, a scientist with NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Service (NESS) in Washington DC, was working with government researchers to improve data processing techniques. After cooperating for more than a decade on projects of mutual interest, it made sense to combine their teams under one roof to refine the VAS retrievals. Much of their research was in direct support of the government’s operational mandates to serve and protect the public from severe weather and climate events.
In 1976, Suomi, NOAA and UW-Madison administrators, met to forge an agreement so that Smith and eight federal scientists could relocate their laboratory to Madison in order to collaborate with university researchers. This strategic move would serve as the catalyst that formed CIMSS in 1980, with Smith appointed director in 1982. (graphic with director years)
Then, and now, that partnership has repeatedly proven its value in the form of better environmental data and better weather forecasting tools for the nation.
In the 2000s, CIMSS director Steven Ackerman increased connections to the UW Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences in order to attract graduate and undergraduate students interested in working on NOAA-funded research projects. Under Ackerman’s leadership, the institute and its scientists took an active role in the World Meteorological Organization’s expert teams and working groups, and CIMSS emerged as a leader in coordinating international information sharing and cooperative research.
CIMSS has grown from an organization of $1 million in annual expenditures in 1980 to $13.3 million in 2019. Scientists with NOAA’s Advanced Satellite Products Branch, successor to the NESS laboratory, continue their research at CIMSS.
And today, under the leadership of Tristan L’Ecuyer, CIMSS is steadfast in its commitment to collaborations with its federal partners, as well as other universities and private industry. The institute is uniquely positioned to advance cutting-edge, remote sensing research in atmospheric science and educate the next generation of science leaders and policy makers.