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In Loving Memory of Dr. Ken Mooney


Our dear friend and distinguished colleague Dr. Kenneth (Ken) A. Mooney passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on August 17, 2020. While we, his NOAA Climate Program Office (CPO) family, are deeply saddened by his passing and miss him sorely, we are also celebrating his life, leadership, and remarkable legacy of scientific achievements. 

Ken served in the Federal government for nearly 50 years. In 1983, he joined NOAA’s Office of Climate and Atmospheric Research (OCAR), which later became the Office of Global Programs (OGP), the forerunner to the Climate Program Office (CPO). He was hired by our founding Office Director Dr. Mike Hall as the Director of the U.S. Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere (TOGA) Project Office1, which was housed at NOAA for the 10-year duration of the TOGA Program. He also managed NOAA’s Climate & Global Change Postdoctoral Program, the Climate Dynamics and Experimental Prediction Program, and the initiation of the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction. He received the NOAA Administrator Award in the 1990s for excellence in climate science program management.

Ken went on to become the Physical Science Division director and then OGP’s deputy director and acting director.  In recent years, he served as co-manager of CPO’s Atmospheric Chemistry, Carbon Cycle, and Climate (AC4) Program, together with Monika Kopacz.  Prior to working at NOAA, Ken was an ocean modeler for the U.S. Coast Guard. He received a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Masters in Atmospheric Science from the University of Maryland, and a PhD from the Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island.

Ken had a deep love and passion for big science challenges. He especially enjoyed working with scientists to plan and mount large-scale process studies to advance scientific understanding of the ocean, atmosphere, and climate system — the biggest one being TOGA-COARE, with some 1,200 scientists from 20 nations participating. Throughout his long career, Ken continued to lead and support successful field campaigns. As recently as May 2020, Ken was recognized for his leadership with a group NOAA Bronze Medal for outstanding execution of the Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment – Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) mission, a collaborative effort with NASA to improve understanding of air quality and climate impacts of fires.

Ken loved sharing his passion for great ocean and atmospheric science with others. He enjoyed telling his office mates stories of the field campaigns he led at CPO — the more research planes and ships and international partners that were involved the better!  Ken was a strong advocate for best practices in applying the scientific method, and a fierce defender of the quality of the research by scientists supported by NOAA climate programs. His work ethic and dedication was unparalleled. One could always count on Ken to get the work done and not shy away from whatever was required to get the job done. Rolling up his sleeves and working hard to advance NOAA science is what motivated Ken every day. 

Over the years, Ken was also an outstanding mentor to many early career scientists and student interns who aspired to be and, with his help and guidance, ultimately went on to become excellent climate scientists and/or program managers. Ken was instrumental in providing guidance to and empowering the administrative staff in CPO, helping them achieve excellence in grants and financial management, which are essential to the success of the research program. In the office, he was a constant and friendly presence; always there when someone needed him, and taking interest in his colleagues.  He was truly a team player. 

We will remember Ken as someone who was never afraid to speak truth to leadership, and he always encouraged and supported others in their work. We are grateful for the many contributions he made to climate science over the years and the huge positive influence he had here in CPO and across the science community. We will miss his infectious laughter and wry sense of humor.

  1.  National Research Council, 1996. Learning to Predict Climate Variations Associated with El Niño and the Southern Oscillation: Accomplishments and Legacies of the TOGA Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. ↩︎

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