Since 2009, NCICS’s primary activity has been the operation of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Cooperative Institute, beginning with the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites–North Carolina (CICS-NC) and continuing with the Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth System Studies (CISESS), which was formed in 2019.

NOAA Cooperative Institutes (CIs) are academic and non-profit research institutions that demonstrate the highest level of performance and conduct research that supports NOAA’s Mission Goals and Strategic Plan. Many of the CIs are colocated with NOAA research laboratories or other NOAA facilities, creating a strong, long-term collaboration between NOAA and university scientists. CI research is supported by NOAA through its line offices: the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the National Ocean Service, and the National Weather Service.

NOAA CIs are established competitively at institutions with outstanding national and international expertise in NOAA‐relevant disciplines. The CIs provide a long‐term institutional relationship between NOAA and external academic partners to support research directly linked to NOAA’s mission, particularly where NOAA does not have sufficient internal capabilities or capacity. Initial CI awards are for five years, with a potential one-time renewal period of up to five additional years upon successful completion of a scientific and administrative review normally held in year four of the initial five-year award period. NOAA issues a new competitive solicitation for a replacement CI in the final year of the renewal period.

From 2009 to 2020, the University of Maryland College Park (UMD) and North Carolina State University (NCSU) successfully led a national consortium of academic, non-profit, and community organizations in the operation of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS), with two principal locations in College Park, Maryland (CICS-MD), and in Asheville, North Carolina (CICS-NC).

Building on the strong CICS collaborative partnership, UMD and NCSU put together an expanded consortium and successfully competed for the new Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth System Studies (CISESS), which was established in 2019 with the same lead institution locations in College Park and Asheville.

CISESS is administered as part of the Cooperative Research Program at the NOAA NESDIS Center for Satellite Applications and Research. Both NCICS and the North Carolina location of CISESS are colocated with the headquarters of NCICS’s primary NOAA CI sponsor, the NESDIS National Centers for Environmental Information, at the Veach-Baley Federal Complex in downtown Asheville.