The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the federal
agency dedicated to predicting and protecting the nation's oceanic and
atmospheric environment. NOAA accomplishes this through seven key offices:
the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; the
National Marine Fisheries Service; the National Ocean Service; the National
Weather Service; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; the Office
of Marine and Aviation Operations; and the Office of Finance and Administration.
NOAA's budget ($3.1 billion for fiscal year 2002) is included in the
appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State.
NOAA's overall mission in the 21st century is two-fold: environmental
assessment and prediction; and environmental stewardship.
Environmental Assessment And Prediction
In order to protect public safety, the nation's economy, and environmental
security, NOAA monitors and assesses the state of the global environment
and how it could affect the United States. One of NOAA's keys to accomplishing
this is through accurate forecasting that includes:
Advancing short-term warning and forecast services: NOAA's goal is to
continuously improve the accuracy of short-range forecasts. Early warnings
of severe weather events can possibly save hundreds of lives and billions
of dollars in property damage and help bring stability to the nation's
NOAA's National Weather Service modernization began a new era for severe
weather and flood warning and forecast services. Meteorologists and hydrologists
at NOAA's National Weather Service field offices and river forecast centers
use New Advanced Weather Interactive Processing Systems to provide more
timely and precise severe weather forecasts, watches, and warnings. Nine
national centers (including the National Hurricane Center and the Storm
Prediction Center) utilize high-speed computer and communication systems
that allow forecasters quick access to weather data from radars, satellites,
and automated surface-observing systems. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts
provide the general public with up-to-the-minute area weather reports
and emergency information.
In addition, NOAA and its research partners are constantly improving
the numerical models used to predict and analyze marine weather events.
NCEP (the National Centers for Environmental Prediction) produces computer-based
daily forecasts of the ocean state that include information on waves,
winds, currents, water levels, and salinity over the global oceans as
well as U.S. coastal areas and the Gulf Stream.
Implementing seasonal to interannual climate forecasts, and predicting
and assessing climate change: NOAA and its national and international
partners have made important strides in monitoring and predicting major
climate events that affect global weather patterns. NOAA's Climate Prediction
Center (CPC) now routinely predicts El Niño and La Niña
events more than a year in advance. CPC also predicts seasonal climate
anomalies over the United States.
El Niño and La Niña forecasts--and assessments of their
impact on the United States--allow the nation's farmers as well as emergency,
government, and business managers to take advantage of this information
and make sound business decisions. Using the CPC forecasts, decision-makers
decide on crop choices, water reservoir management, inventories of storable
commodities, etc., and act accordingly.
NOAA continues to expand its investment in research in an effort to further
increase its capability to predict climate with longer lead times and
with more specific regionality. For example, in California, prior to the
19971998 El Niño, the state's emergency management agencies
and FEMA spent an estimated $165 million preparing for storms and heavy
rain. Actual storm losses in the 19971998 El Niño were $1.1
billion, compared to $2.2 billion in the large 19821983 El Niño.
Improved forecasts of seasonal and interannual climate variations, such
as El Niño and La Niña, can result in huge savings of both
lives and property and a general improvement of the national economy.
Promoting safe navigation: Ensuring the availability of safe and efficient
marine and aeronautical navigation systems and information is another
important NOAA mission, and is accomplished by providing accurate navigation
information and products that reduce risks to life, cargo, and property.
NOAA's National Ocean Service 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's 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), currently in ten major
U.S. ports, to aid in the safe and cost-effective shipping of $500 billion
worth of cargo annually.
NOAA pollution-response Scientific Support Coordinators orchestrate all
science-based activities during and after oil and hazardous materials
spills 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 economic
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 2001 approximately 9.4 billion
pounds of fish and shellfish worth $3.5 billion. In addition, the marine
recreational catch was 262.4 million pounds of fish. (More than twice
that amount of fish is caught and released as part of a nationwide angler
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, for example. In addition, 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. The Fisheries Service also has made significant
progress in restoring many depleted fish stocks--e.g., 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 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) international
cooperation 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
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, and recreation,
for example--depend on healthy coastal areas for their economic prosperity.
Rapid population growth, combined with greater demands on these limited
areas, is creating increased stress that 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.
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. 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
The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, NOAA's primary research
and development unit, uses a closely coordinated network of 12 federal
environmental-research laboratories, 11 joint or cooperative institutes,
30 Sea Grant colleges and universities, six National Undersea Research
Centers, the Office of Ocean Exploration, Arctic Research, and the Office
of Global Programs to develop innovative technologies and observing systems.
Research focuses on enhancing the public's understanding of events such
as severe storms, the ozone hole, climate change, El Niño/La Niña,
fisheries productivity, undersea research, and coastal ecosystem health.
NOAA's scientists not only develop models to predict weather and climate
change, they also create tools needed to sustain fisheries resources and
biodiversity, methods 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 and 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
at the equatorial plane of the Earth. Their speed matches the Earth's
rotation, allowing each of them to hover continuously, about 23,000 miles
above the surface, over one position, and giving all of them full-disc
views of the Earth. Because each of them stays above a fixed spot, they
are able to collectively 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,
monitoring their effects and tracking 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-16, launched in September 2000, and NOAA-17, launched in June 2002.
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.
The use of these satellites in search-and-rescue operations has been
instrumental in saving an estimated 14,000 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., the primary site 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.
An advanced high-spectral-resolution infrared sounder that will fly aboard
satellites of the future, the first of these new satellites 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: The NESDIS national data centers manage 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 on energy distribution, the development
of global food supplies, and the management of natural resources.
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations: Much of NOAA's oceanographic,
atmospheric, hydrographic, fisheries, and coastal data is collected by
NOAA ships and aircraft. NOAA's fleet of platforms is managed and operated
by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO). OMAO is staffed
by civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps, the smallest
of the nation's seven uniformed services. 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 or unpredictable disasters such as hurricanes
and oil spills. NOAA Corps officers--all of whom are scientists or engineers--operate
and manage the ships and aircraft and also support NOAA programs ashore
with an important blend of operational, management, and technical skills.
NOAA's Ship and Aircraft Fleet: NOAA has 15 research and survey ships
in its fleet, and is in the process of building or converting several
more to replace or add to the currently active vessels. NOAA ships 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 eight fisheries-research vessels, three hydrographic-survey vessels,
and two coastal vessels in the NOAA fleet operate primarily within the
U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone; the two deep-water oceanographic vessels
operate worldwide. NOAA also charters commercial and university research
vessels to help provide the vast amount of data NOAA scientists require
to fulfill the agency's mission.
Thanks to $6.2 million in additional funding provided by Congress in
the FY 2002 budget, NOAA was able to upgrade its hydrographic survey vessels
with high-speed, high-resolution, side-scan sonars and high-resolution
multibeam echosounders, with the ancillary systems needed to help NOAA
quickly transfer the data to nautical charts. In determining equipment
needs, NOAA placed primary focus, in collaboration with the Naval Oceanographic
Office, on meeting homeland-security requirements. This fleet-wide upgrade
of charting systems, NOAA's first since 1992, brings the agency into state-of-the-art
technology. The inactive hydrographic survey ship Fairweather, expected
to be reactivated in late 2003, is being refurbished to join Rainier in
conducting surveys in Alaskan waters. In addition, the design work for
a small-waterplane-area twin-hull (SWATH) ship, which will collect hydrographic
data out of Portsmouth, N.H., is underway.
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 95 percent of the TWA Flight 800 wreckage later
recovered by the U.S. Navy. In July 1999, Rude and the 163-foot hydrographic
survey ship Whiting used their sonar technology to scan the seafloor for
the downed aircraft of John F. Kennedy Jr. Rude located the wreckage,
enabling Navy divers to recover the victims. In November 1999, Whiting
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 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, the largest fisheries research vessel in
the United States. The ship is 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.
Construction began in 2002 on Oscar Dyson, the first of four new fisheries
survey vessels (FSVs) planned to replace or supplement NOAA's aging fisheries
ships. Oscar Dyson, which is an addition to the fleet (rather than a replacement
ship), will become operational in 2004 and be homeported in Kodiak, Alaska.
NOAA received funding in FY 2002 to begin construction of the second ship
(to replace Albatross IV); the president's FY 2003 budget requests the
remainder of the funding needed to complete it in 2005. The new FSVs offer
acoustically quiet state-of-the-art technology, and meet the exacting
standards set by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas.
They are expected to be the most capable fisheries survey ships in the
Townsend Cromwell, decommissioned in October 2002, has been replaced
with a converted Navy T-AGOS ship (Adventurous--renamed Oscar Elton Sette).
Gordon Gunter, another converted Navy T-AGOS ship, is scheduled for an
additional upgrade in 2003. Albatross IV will undergo major repairs in
2003 to extend its service life until it is replaced.
Four oceanographic and coastal research vessels make up the remainder
of the current NOAA fleet. Ronald H. Brown, commissioned in 1997, 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.
The ship's primary mission is to conduct studies of global climate variability.
Ka'imimoana, a converted Navy T-AGOS ship, works primarily in the Pacific
Ocean to deploy and service the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) buoy array
that provides the ocean and atmospheric measurements used to predict and
forecast global climate variability.
The coastal research ship Ferrel, decommissioned in November 2002, has
been replaced by the converted Navy YTT12 vessel Nancy Foster (formerly
Agate Pass). A former Navy T-AGOS ship (Vindicator) was acquired from
the U.S. Coast Guard in 2002 and will be converted to a coastal research
NOAA's efforts to modernize its fleet, although still far from complete,
have already enhanced scientific data collection, facilitating sound environmental
assessment, prediction, and stewardship. NOAA also seeks to optimize the
effective use of the agency's existing ships while developing outsourcing
arrangements, converting other suitable ships, and/or acquiring new platforms
through charter, lease, or purchase.
To summarize, since modernization began, eight older and less efficient
NOAA ships have been taken out of service and replaced by five new or
converted ships--Ka'imimoana, Gordon Gunter, Ronald H. Brown, Oscar Elton
Sette, and Nancy Foster.
Service-life-extension upgrades were completed on the fisheries research
vessels Delaware II in 1997 and Miller Freeman in 1999. Work is underway
or planned on Fairweather, Vindicator, Oscar Dyson, a new SWATH vessel,
and three additional new fisheries survey vessels.
The condition and efficiency of the remaining ships in the fleet have
improved significantly since the modernization began. The funding provided
in the president's FY 2003 budget supports the operation of a fleet capable
of meeting NOAA's diverse program needs for nautical charting, fisheries
management, marine mammal protection, and environmental prediction and
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) conduct surveys of changing coastlines
and airport approaches; and (c) locate and track marine mammals such as
endangered right whales in the North Atlantic. 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 an accurate
geographic network in support of recovery and cleanup efforts.
NOAA's heavy aircraft include two WP-3D Orion environmental research
aircraft and a Gulfstream-IV jet. The WP-3Ds 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. These aircraft also conduct Pacific winter storms
research, atmospheric chemistry studies, and other environmental research.
NOAA's Gulfstream-IV jet, a high-technology meteorological platform,
is 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. The G-IV also conducts other
types of atmospheric research, including research on Pacific winter storms.
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.