Mark Svoboda, climatologist and internationally known expert on drought monitoring and early warning, is the new director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska officials announced Oct. 4. Svoboda was one of the center’s original employees at its founding in 1995.
“The deans of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are very pleased to welcome Dr. Svoboda to this director role for NDMC,” said Archie Clutter, dean of the Agricultural Research Division at the University of Nebraska. “Mark is recognized locally, nationally and internationally for his expertise in climate science and drought mitigation, has contributed significantly to the science and operations of the center for more than two decades, and now will provide important leadership as the team plans the trajectory and integrated impacts of NDMC into the future.”
Svoboda, who has led the drought center’s monitoring program area since 2006, says monitoring drought is the relatively easy part. “The U.S. Drought Monitor map gets people’s attention, and that leads to the question, ‘What should we do about it?’” he said. “Our mission is to help people reduce the risk of drought.” In addition to conducting research on drought monitoring for different scales and purposes, the center works with drought planners at all levels, from individual ranches to countries, to take action that reduces vulnerability to the next drought. The drought center works closely with the National Integrated Drought Information System, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and many other federal, state and international agencies.
As co-founder of the U.S. Drought Monitor in 1999, Svoboda was part of the team of scientists in federal agencies and universities around the country that created the process that uses a combination of data and expert judgment to map the location and intensity of drought each week. Having become the country’s state-of-the-art drought assessment product, the Drought Monitor has helped focus attention on drought as a hazard and also has become the mechanism for triggering certain federal agricultural relief funds.
Svoboda also serves on drought monitoring, assessment and prediction committees at state, regional and national levels, and has worked with drought, water and climate researchers in more than 50 countries and international organizations. A native Nebraskan, Svoboda earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and rarely misses a home football game.
Donald A. Wilhite founded the NDMC in 1995 and served as director until 2006, when Michael J. Hayes, an agricultural meteorologist and an original NDMC employee, became the director. Hayes helped build the center through major grant and contract awards, and led it through a large-scale drought in 2012 that brought a new degree of focus to the issue. Hayes announced that he would relinquish his leadership of the center to focus more on research and teaching as a faculty member in the Applied Climate Science program of the School of Natural Resources.
Svoboda expressed appreciation for the efforts of administrators at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the School of Natural Resources who have been involved in the center’s leadership transition. “I am grateful and excited about the opportunity to lead and grow such an outstanding center and staff into the future,” Svoboda said. “Having been with the center from the beginning, it is a real honor and privilege.”
-- Kelly Helm Smith, NDMC communication and planning specialist