University of Montana Regents Professor of Ecology Steve Running was recently named to the NASA Advisory Council Science Committee, and to be the chair of the Earth Science subcommittee within that organization.

"What this means in lay-language is that I have an opportunity to influence the priorities of NASA for a decade into the future, such as the kind of satellite mission they launch, and the science projects they undertake," Running said.

Running proposed some of the areas he would direct his committee to study.

"The arid west of the United States is of great concern right now," Running said. "We're in the middle of our dry season and our wildfire season, and there are things we're trying to understand. Is it part of a continuing trend for a drier western climate, or is this just natural variability? We really need to understand that, because we make a lot of decisions prioritizing our own local and statewide resources as a result of that."

Running said NASA's annual budget has not been affected by the ending of manned space flights.

"The annual NASA budget is around $18 billion dollars," Running said. "It's certainly up to NASA to justify their budget by doing things that are priorities for the nation. So, with the shuttle fleet retired, NASA will have to illustrate that they have some newer, better ideas that deserve to have funding continued, and I think that will be a part of what this advisory committee will spend a good bit of time on."

In 2007, Running was part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change.

University of Montana Regents Professor Steve Running: