The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the federal agency dedicated to predicting and protecting the nation's oceanic and atmospheric environment. Its mission is broad in scope: to be the eyes and ears of science in the atmosphere, in the sky, and under the oceans. The agency accomplishes its mission through several offices, including the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; the National Marine Fisheries Service; the National Ocean Service; the National Weather Service; and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
NOAA's budget for fiscal year 2002 is included in the overall funding bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State. NOAA's budget in FY 2001 was $2.63 billion.
To continue its long-standing tradition of scientific service to the American people, NOAA's overall mission in the 21st century is two-fold: Environmental Assessment and Prediction; and Environmental Stewardship.
Environmental Assessment and Prediction
NOAA observes and assesses the state of the U.S. environment, while protecting public safety and the nation's economic and environmental security through accurate forecasting, by:
Advancing short-term warning and forecast services: NOAA's goal is to significantly improve the accuracy and speed of short-range forecasts. Weather forecasting is more than just telling people to carry an umbrella on a rainy day. Advance warnings of impending storms can mean the difference between life and death. By decreasing the time it takes to get these warnings to the public, hundreds of lives and billions of dollars in property damage can be saved, improving public safety and contributing to the nation's economic productivity.
NOAA's National Weather Service completed a modernization effort in August 2000 and has ushered in a new era for severe weather and flood warning and forecast services. With the addition of the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing Systems at 121 weather forecast offices and 13 river forecast centers, meteorologists and hydrologists have improved their capability to provide more timely and precise forecasts, warnings, and watches for severe weather. In addition, the nine national centers--including the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., and the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.--are equipped with prototype high-speed computer and communication systems that allow forecasters to quickly access and compile weather data gathered by radar, satellites, and automated surface-observing systems.
The coverage provided by the nationwide 24-hour-a-day NOAA Weather Radio network also is being expanded. The network provides, to anyone who owns an inexpensive receiver, the same up-to-the-minute area weather reports and emergency information used by meteorologists and emergency personnel.
Implementing seasonal to interannual climate forecasts, and predicting and assessing climate change: Thanks to significant investments in research and development, NOAA and its national and international partners have made important strides in monitoring, predicting, and researching major climate events that affect weather patterns around the globe. NOAA's scientific advances now make it possible to predict such climate events as El Niņo, an unusual warming of the sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and its opposite, La Niņa, up to a year in advance.
In addition, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is now able to predict the typical weather patterns related to El Niņo and La Niņa more than a year ahead of time with increased accuracy. For example, in June 1997, the Climate Prediction Center correctly predicted that the United States would experience abnormal weather patterns during the fall and winter due to the developing strong 19971998 El Niņo.
Providing this type of accurate weather information six months in advance enabled U.S. communities and businesses to better prepare and protect themselves. Improved El Niņo and La Niņa forecasts can allow people to make decisions that capitalize on the differences from normal climate. Those decisions--about crop choices, for example, or reducing inventories of storable commodities, or using hydropower rather than more expensive thermal power--either result in lower prices, which benefits consumers, or lower costs of production, which benefits producers.
NOAA continues to expand its investment in research, leading to an increase in its capability to predict weather for longer periods of time and with more precise regionality. Improved forecasts of seasonal and interannual climate variations, such as El Niņo and La Niņa, can result in savings amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in the United States and abroad.
Promoting safe navigation: Ensuring the availability of safe and efficient marine and aeronautical navigation systems and information is another important NOAA mission. To meet the growing demand for safe and efficient marine and air navigation that is essential to many U.S. industries is NOAA's goal, and it does this by providing accurate navigation information and products that reduce risks to life, cargo, and property.
NOAA's National Ocean Service, for example, is updating its hydrographic surveys of the nation's busiest and most critical waterways, converting many marine charts from paper to computer--readable digital raster format--and working toward the next generation of electronic navigation and charting systems. NOAA must provide these vital services to an expanding maritime commerce industry that for safety and efficiency requires satellite data to precisely pinpoint specific positions anywhere in the world. Its work in integrating accurate charts, global positioning, and real-time environmental information is just one of many ways NOAA helps boost the nation's maritime and economic strength.
NOAA's Ocean Service also provides navigators, coastal resource managers, and port and harbor users with tide predictions, tidal current tables, and real-time water levels and currents, and has helped develop comprehensive Physical Oceanographic Real-Time Systems (PORTS) in some major U.S. ports to aid in the safe and cost-effective shipping of $500 billion worth of cargo annually.
NOAA's time-tested expertise in environmental science, forecasting, and ocean and coastal surveys makes it the logical choice for coordinating the scientific information needed during responses to oil and hazardous materials spills. As their name implies, NOAA pollution-response Scientific Support Coordinators orchestrate all science-based activities during and after a spill and provide vital weather, tide, current, and environmental information to spill-response decision-makers. The coordinators also create computer models to predict the path and impact of spills and to help in the development of realistic plans and scenarios for pollution-response drills and training. As a designated natural resource trustee, NOAA also helps determine spill-related damages to natural resources so that restoration can be started and compensation can be sought from the party or parties responsible.
NOAA carries out the second part of its mission--to protect the nation's ocean, coastal, and living marine resources while assisting their eco-nomic development--by, among other things:
Building sustainable fisheries: More than one-fifth of the world's most productive marine waters lie within U.S. territorial waters, from which commercial fishermen brought to port in 2000 approximately 9.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish worth $3.6 billion. In addition, the marine recreational catch was 184.5 million pounds of fish. (More than twice that amount of fish is caught and released as part of a nationwide angler conservation program.)
The vast U.S. fishery resources and the essential habitats of fish can be rapidly destroyed if harvesting is not carefully controlled or if underwater habitats go unprotected. But with proper management healthy stocks can be rebuilt and maintained. Diminished fish populations can be restored, moreover, to bring greater prosperity to the nation's coastal communities. Fisheries that are sustainable over the long term allow U.S. citizens to reap the greatest economic and social benefits, including recreational enjoyment and a continuing supply of high-quality seafood.
Sound scientific research is the prerequisite for maintaining sustainable fisheries. To help ensure productive future harvests, National Marine Fisheries Service scientists study the life history, stock size, and ecology of economically important fishes, and the effects of climate and ocean processes on fish populations. The information developed is used by fishery managers to set annual quotas on the tonnage of fish of various species that can be harvested.
There have been numerous notable recent successes in the management of sustainable fisheries: The striped bass fishery off the Atlantic Coast has recovered; the tuna and swordfish stocks fished in the waters of the Western Pacific under U.S. jurisdiction remain healthy and yield enormous returns to the nation; and the management of North Pacific groundfish stocks has kept that fishery the most productive and wealthiest in U.S. waters. In addition, the Fisheries Service has made significant progress in restoring many depleted fish stocks such as New England groundfish, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, and Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Recovering protected species: Many marine animals protected by federal law--e.g., whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and many stocks of salmon--are affected by fisheries and other human activities as well as by environmental change. The National Marine Fisheries Service seeks to reduce the impact of these activities on protected species while ensuring the viability of valuable fisheries. The agency is a major force in protecting marine species around the globe. The Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act are essential tools used by Fisheries Service managers in their stewardship of marine animals.
Several notable successes have come from effective management: (a) Recent legislation has led to international cooperation that allows "dolphin-safe" tuna to be harvested, while ensuring the health of dolphin stocks; (b) the California gray whale became the first marine mammal to be removed from the list of endangered species; and (c) many endangered and threatened Pacific salmon stocks are now under federal protection.
Sustaining the health of the nation's coastal ecosystems: More than half of the U.S. population lives in the nation's coastal areas. More than one third of all U.S. jobs are in those same areas, and numerous major U.S. industries--tourism, transportation, commercial fishing, recreation--depend on healthy coastal areas for their economic prosperity. The nation's coasts, however, are experiencing greater stress each year. Rapid population growth, combined with increasing demand on these limited areas, can lead to the loss or damage of these fragile and sometimes irreplaceable resources.
The National Ocean Service provides the nation with reliable and timely information to promote the sensible and sustainable use of coastal resources. Under the Coastal Zone Management Act, NOAA's Ocean Service builds partnerships with states and communities to balance competing demands for coastal resources so that they may be wisely used for business, commerce, recreation, and residential purposes today, while being protected for future generations.
Through the National Marine Sanctuary and National Estuarine Research Reserve programs, NOAA ensures the long-term enjoyment, preservation, and study of these unique natural and cultural areas. Today, 18,000 square miles of ocean and coastal waters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are protected under the sanctuary program, and 440,000 acres across a wide range of coastal and estuarine habitats are protected as research reserves.
In April 1998, NOAA announced a partnership with the National Geographic Society and the Richard & Rhonda Goldman Fund to launch a five-year project of deep-water exploration and public education in NOAA's national marine sanctuaries. In 1999, Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Society explorer in residence, began leading expeditions to each of the 12 sanctuaries, using the newly designed DeepWorker, a one-person submersible capable of exploring to depths of 2,000 feet. The Sustainable Seas Expeditions have the potential to produce stunning new scientific discoveries and extraordinary educational experiences. The data gathered from the expeditions, moreover, will provide stronger foundations for marine research and more appropriate marine-conservation policies. The ultimate success will be in: (a) the project's overall impact on dispelling ignorance about the sea; and (b) producing a national ocean ethic that will secure a sustainable future for the seas.
Coastal habitats, such as estuaries and reefs, also provide food and shelter for marine and anadromous fish and shellfish during important stages of their life cycles. NOAA Fisheries is a major force in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems by leading research programs designed to restore and create fish habitats, reviewing coastal development and water projects that may alter or destroy habitats, and recommending measures to offset the impact of development.
NOAA's mission is to restore and maintain coastal ecosystems critical to the current and future state of the nation. This mission will be achieved by making the most advanced scientific data available to policy makers so they can make better and more informed decisions. By continually assessing the coasts, monitoring their health, and predicting the effects human and natural forces have on these ecosystems, NOAA ensures that all Americans benefit from the long-term management of the nation's shorelines.
At the Forefront of Research
Research drives improvements in NOAA's environmental products and services, which protect life and property and promote sustainable economic growth. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research is NOAA's primary research and development unit. Work is conducted in a network of federal laboratories, colleges and universities, and other scientific institutions. Research focuses on enhancing the public's understanding of a variety of events such as severe storms, the ozone hole, climate change, El Niņo/La Niņa, fisheries productivity, undersea research, and the health of coastal ecosystems. NOAA Research uses its research to develop innovative technologies and observing systems.
NOAA Research consists of 12 federal environmental-research laboratories, 11 joint or cooperative institutes, 30 Sea Grant colleges and universities, six National Undersea Research Centers, and the Office of Global Programs.
Through NOAA's research efforts, the agency remains at the forefront of modeling, environmental observations, and outreach efforts. Scientists are developing models to predict weather and climate change, the tools needed to sustain fisheries resources and biodiversity, methods used to monitor air quality, systems to reduce coastal hazards, and techniques for discovering marine life that could have biomedical or industrial applications.
Observing the Environment
Describing the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the Earth's environment is a fundamental activity for NOAA. NOAA's vision for the future requires a modern, integrated, and comprehensive system that uses U.S. environmental satellites and a highly specialized fleet of aircraft and oceangoing ships.
Environmental Satellites: The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) operates the nation's geostationary and polar-orbiting environmental satellites and manages the processing and distribution of the millions of bits of data and images these satellites produce daily. The prime customer is NOAA's National Weather Service, which uses the data to create daily forecasts and, when necessary, special advisories for the public and the media.
NOAA's operational environmental satellite system is composed of two types of satellites: (a) geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) for national, regional, short-range warning, and "now-casting"; and (b) polar-orbiting environmental satellites (POES) for long-term global forecasting. Both types of satellites are needed to provide a complete global weather-monitoring system.
GOES satellites provide the kind of continuous monitoring necessary for intensive data analysis. They circle the Earth in geosynchronous orbit, which means they orbit the equatorial plane of the Earth at a speed matching the Earth's rotation. This allows them to hover continuously over one position above the surface of the Earth. The geosynchronous plane is about 22,300 miles above the Earth, high enough to allow the satellites a full-disc view of the Earth. Because they stay above a fixed spot on the surface, they provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" preceding and/or related to severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, violent thunderstorms, and hurricanes. When these conditions develop, the GOES satellites monitor their effects and track their movements.
GOES-8 overlooks North and South America and most of the Atlantic Ocean; GOES-10 monitors North America and the Pacific Ocean basin. The two operate together to send a full-face picture of the Earth, day and night.
Complementing the geostationary satellites are two polar-orbiting satellites: NOAA-14, launched in December 1994, and NOAA-15, launched in May 1998. Constantly circling the Earth in sun-synchronous orbit (at a 450-nautical-mile altitude), these satellites support large-scale long-range forecasts and are assigned numerous secondary missions. They circle the Earth in an almost north-south orbit, passing close to both poles. One crosses the equator at 7:30 a.m. local time, the other at 1:40 p.m. local time. Operating in tandem, the two satellites ensure that data for any region of the Earth are no more than six hours old.
The polar orbiters monitor the entire Earth, tracking atmospheric variables and providing atmospheric data and cloud images. They track weather patterns affecting the weather and climate of the United States. They provide visible and infrared radiometer data for imaging purposes, radiation measurements, and temperature and moisture profiles. Their ultraviolet sensors also measure ozone levels in the atmosphere and are able to detect the "ozone hole" over Antarctica from mid-September to mid-November.
The use of these satellites in search-and-rescue operations has been instrumental in saving an estimated 10,000 lives since the inception of the Search and Rescue Satellite Tracking (SARSAT) system.
In addition to GOES and POES, NOAA now operates satellites in the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program from its Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Md. This center is the primary site responsible for controlling various functions associated with command and control of all U.S. weather satellites. The transfer of operations from the Air Force to NOAA represents an interim step toward development of a single integrated satellite system designed to meet civilian as well as military needs.
In 1999, contracts were awarded for an Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite and a Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), an advanced high-spectral-resolution infrared sounder that will fly aboard satellites of the future. The first satellite in the new system will be available for launch in 2008, after NOAA and the Defense Department have completed the operations projected for the satellites currently in the pipeline.
National Data Centers:
In addition to observing the environment, NESDIS manages, through its national data centers, the largest collection of atmospheric, geophysical, and oceanographic data in the world. From these sources it develops and provides environmental data for forecasts, national security purposes, and weather warnings to protect life and property. It also contributes to the national economy by providing environmental data useful for decisions about energy distribution, the development of global food supplies, and the management of natural resources.
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations Since NOAA's creation, a large percentage of its oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, fisheries, and coastal data have been collected by NOAA ships and aircraft. This fleet of platforms is managed and operated by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, an office made up of civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service of the United States.
In addition to carrying out research and monitoring activities critical to NOAA's mission, NOAA ships and aircraft provide immediate-response and damage-assessment capabilities for dealing with natural disasters such as hurricanes and unpredictable events such as oil spills.
NOAA Corps officers--all of whom are scientists or engineers--provide NOAA with an important blend of operational, management, and technical skills that support the agency's science and surveying programs both ashore and at sea. Corps officers serve in NOAA's research laboratories and program offices throughout the United States and in remote locations elsewhere around the world; a NOAA Corps officer serves as station chief at the South Pole in Antarctica, for example.
NOAA's Ship and Aircraft Fleet
The 15 research and survey ships in the NOAA fleet are highly specialized platforms ranging in size from the 274-foot oceanographic research vessel Ronald H. Brown, capable of exploring the deepest ocean, to smaller ships such as the 90-foot hydrographic survey ship Rude, which is responsible for charting shallow bays, inlets, and coastal waters. The nine fisheries-research vessels, three hydrographic-survey vessels, and one coastal and two deep-water oceanographic-research vessels in the NOAA fleet operate primarily within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States; however, the deep-water oceanographic vessels operate worldwide.
NOAA also has begun to charter commercial research vessels and to use university vessels to meet the needs for the vast amount of data NOAA scientists require to fulfill the agency's mission.
Rainier and Whiting are highly capable platforms used for conducting coastal hydrographic survey operations both in remote areas (e.g., Alaska) and along well-traveled waterways. Rainier was outfitted in 1998 with shallow-water multibeam systems and an accompanying Silicon Graphic Origin 2000 computer system. These systems and a high-speed network are being used to create high-resolution three-dimensional terrain models of the ocean floor. The picture-like images generated from the bottom allow hydrographers to carry out a complete analysis of the area and to detect all navigational dangers. Using the hydrographers' data, chartmakers can create and update nautical charts with far greater precision.
Rainier, one of the most productive hydrographic survey platforms in the world, carries six aluminum survey launches and three small boats to support tide gauge shore stations and dive operations. With its state-of-the-art side-scan survey equipment, Whiting is the most advanced hydrographic vessel sailing the U.S. East Coast.
NOAA's hydrographic survey vessels have come to the aid of the nation following several air disasters over water. In July 1996, Rude, using side-scan sonar, located--within 48 hours--95 percent of the TWA Flight 800 wreckage later recovered by the U.S. Navy. At the time of the tragedy Rude was conducting hydrographic surveys in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound.
In July 1999, Rude once again was in the national spotlight, along with Whiting, when the vessels' sonar technology was used to scan the seafloor for the downed aircraft of John F. Kennedy Jr. It was Rude that located the wreckage, enabling Navy divers to recover the victims. In November 1999, Whiting was again called into national service following an air tragedy. It located the primary wreckage of EgyptAir 990 off the coast of Rhode Island.
NOAA's fisheries-research ships provide a level of data-collection capability not found anywhere else in the U.S. domestic fleet. All NOAA fisheries ships can simultaneously operate oceanographic/environmental equipment and fisheries stock-assessment sampling gear. A prime example of this dual capability is Miller Freeman, a stern trawler capable of: (a) towing various bottom and mid-water trawls; (b) deploying a host of oceanographic instruments; (c) collecting fisheries data through use of hydro-acoustic techniques; and (d) providing laboratory space and berthing for visiting scientists. Miller Freeman's primary mission is to provide a working platform for the study of the ocean's living resources.
In 1999, NOAA completed conversion of Gordon Gunter, the former USNS Relentless. Conversion to her present configuration--with modern navigation electronics and oceanographic winches, sensors, and sampling equipment--began in 1998. A custom-designed marine mammal observation and survey station also was installed, making Gordon Gunter the best-equipped acoustically quieted vessel engaged in this work. The final stages of the ship's conversion to a stern trawler (with 1,490 square feet of dedicated laboratory space) were completed in August 1999. Gordon Gunter is the second largest fisheries research vessel in the United States. (Miller Freeman is the largest.)
Four oceanographic and coastal research vessels make up the remainder of the NOAA fleet. Ronald H. Brown--named after the late secretary of commerce--was commissioned in 1997 and is the nation's most technologically advanced seagoing research platform. The ship's meteorological and ocean-data-collecting capabilities allow it to sample continuously from 25 kilometers into the atmosphere to the bottom of the deepest ocean.
Ronald H. Brown is the only U.S. oceanographic research ship equipped with a Doppler radar for studying storm dynamics at sea. A new and improved Doppler radar, acquired in late 1998 to provide even greater capabilities, was used extensively on a 10-month world cruise in 1999 to conduct research on global climate variability.
NOAA's fleet modernization program, which started in 1992 and is still far from complete, already has enhanced scientific data collection, facilitating sound environmental assessment, prediction, and stewardship. The program also seeks to optimize the effective use of NOAA's existing ships while developing outsourcing arrangements, converting suitable ships, or acquiring new platforms through charter, lease, or purchase. Since the program began, six older and less efficient NOAA ships have been taken out of service, and three new ships have been put into service--Ka'imimoana and Gordon Gunter (converted Navy T-AGOS ships) and Ronald H. Brown. Service-life-extension upgrades were completed on the fisheries research vessels Delaware II in 1997 and Miller Freeman in 1999.
The condition and efficiency of the remaining ships in the fleet also have improved significantly since the modernization program started. Congress appropriated FY 2000 funds to acquire the first of several new fisheries-research ships built to an acoustically quiet design to enhance the agency's stock-assessment and data-collection capabilities along all U.S. coasts. Detailed design of this ship began in FY 2001; the ship is expected to become operational in 2004. In 2001, efforts began to convert another former Navy T-AGOS vessel (Adventurous) to replace the Townsend Cromwell and a Navy torpedo trials craft to replace the Ferrel. The decommissioned NOAA ship Fairweather is being refurbished and reactivated to conduct nautical charting surveys in Alaskan waters.
NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center in Tampa, Fla., manages a fleet of aircraft that operates throughout the United States and provides unique specialized platforms for NOAA's missions. NOAA light aircraft: (a) conduct snow surveys that aid in flood prediction and water-resource management; (b) survey coastal damage in the wake of destructive hurricanes; and (c) locate and track marine mammals such as endangered right whales in the North Atlantic.
NOAA's two WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter aircraft, although aging, continue to be the workhorses of hurricane research. Their hurricane penetrations provide critical data for NOAA's prediction models. NOAA WP-3Ds are the only U.S. government aircraft with hurricane-surveillance capabilities that are authorized to fly in Cuban airspace. In 1999, NOAA researchers contributed their expertise (and the WP-3D's unique capabilities) to a massive weather research project in Europe to study the effects of precipitation and wind over the Alps. The knowledge gained will help U.S. forecasters better predict deadly flooding and clear-air turbulence in mountainous areas, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and American Rockies.
In 2001, a WP-3D flew into severe winter storms off the U.S. West Coast to gather the data needed to improve weather prediction computer models for the region. These destructive storms can cause massive flooding and landslides.
NOAA's newest aircraft is a Gulfstream G-IV jet that has been transformed into a high-technology meteorological platform, the first of its kind in the world. Its combination of range, payload, ceiling, sensors, and onboard data-collection capabilities provides information on hurricane steering currents in the upper atmosphere at a vertical resolution previously impossible. This has enabled NOAA's National Hurricane Center to improve hurricane landfall and track forecasts and to further refine storm-intensity forecasts--saving taxpayers millions of dollars by limiting unnecessary coastal evacuations. New instrumentation aboard the G-IV helps forecasters determine how much rain a hurricane will drop on a given area and, therefore, how much flooding can be expected. In 2001, the G-IV flew missions far out over the Pacific Ocean to conduct research on weather systems in the upper atmosphere surrounding developing winter storms.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the NOAA Citation jet, normally used for remote sensing and coastal mapping, was tasked by the Army Joint Precision Strike Demonstration to map the wreckage sites of the World Trade Center and Pentagon using an Optech Inc. (Toronto, Canada) Lidar system in addition to high- resolution photography. The data were used to provide a very accurate geographic network in support of recovery and cleanup efforts.
NOAA's Vision for the Future
NOAA envisions a 21st century in which its environmental stewardship, assessment, and prediction capabilities continue to serve as keystones to enhancing U.S. economic prosperity and quality of life, and the sustainable use of natural resources.
No other federal agency working in the natural environment possesses NOAA's capabilities for the measurement, monitoring, and understanding of the nation's atmospheric and marine systems.
NOAA also possesses America's largest storehouse of scientific data. The American people will benefit greatly as more and more of that data is made more accessible, ensuring that the United States retains the capability to solve problems and respond to constant changes in the environment.