Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Organization and Missions
NOAA’s role is to assess and predict environmental changes, protect
life and property, provide decision makers with reliable scientific information,
manage the nation’s living marine and coastal resources, and foster
global environmental stewardship.
NOAA’s budget ($3.33 billion for fiscal year 2003) is included
in the appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and
State. The key components within NOAA are: the National Environmental
Satellite, Data, and Information Services (NOAA Satellites and Information);
National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries); National Ocean and
Coastal Services (NOAA Oceans and Coasts); National Weather Service (NOAA
Weather Service); Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research);
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations);
NOAA Finance and Administration; and the NOAA Corps. NOAA’s goals
require complete intra-office cooperation and collaboration with local,
state, other federal agency, and international programs for success.
NOAA’s first goal is to protect, restore, and manage the use of
coastal and ocean resources. During the first decade of the 21st century,
the greatest challenge will be to implement an integrated ecosystem management
approach to all of NOAA’s living resources responsibilities by all
Coastal areas are among the most developed regions in the nation. Coastal
counties are growing three times faster than other counties, adding more
than 3,600 people a day to their populations. Every year, 180 million
tourists visit America’s coastal communities. Coastal waters support
more than 28 million jobs and generate more than $54 billion annually
in goods and services. The commercial fishing industry contributes more
than $28 billion a year to our economy while more than 17 million Americans
spend about $25 billion a year on recreational marine fishing activities.
NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the protection and sustainable development
of U.S. territorial waters—more than one-fifth of the world’s
most productive marine waters. To maintain sustainable fisheries, NOAA
studies the life history, stock size, and ecology of economically important
fishes and the effects of climate and ocean processes on fish populations.
An ecosystem approach to management will require better understanding
of the pressures—both natural and human-induced—that change
ecosystems. Increasingly, international cooperation will be required to
protect large marine ecosystems and areas beyond our national jurisdiction.
Monitoring and observing these ecosystems and communities will provide
basic understanding of habitats and human activities that affect them.
For example, tuna and swordfish stocks fished in the waters of the Western
Pacific under U.S. jurisdiction are healthy and yield enormous returns
to the nation. Northern Pacific groundfish stocks remain the most productive
and wealthiest in U.S. waters. Restoration of many depleted fish stocks
such as New England groundfish, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, and Atlantic
bluefin tuna is showing signs of significant progress.
Many federally protected marine animals, including whales, dolphins,
sea turtles, and many stocks of salmon are affected by fisheries and other
human activities as well as by environmental change. The Endangered Species
Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act are essential tools NOAA Fisheries
uses domestically, and in guiding international cooperative programs,
to protect and restore marine species. The California gray whale became
the first marine mammal to be removed from the list of endangered species.
Many endangered and threatened Pacific salmon stocks now are under federal
NOAA Oceans and Coasts provides the nation with reliable and timely information
to promote the sensible and sustainable use of coastal resources. 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 and the
Great Lakes are protected under the sanctuary program, and 440,000 acres
across a wide range of coastal and estuarine habitats are protected as
The ecosystem management concept includes understanding climate variability
and change to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond. Given
the stresses of population growth, drought, increasing demand for fresh
water, and emerging infectious diseases, decision makers need reliable
climate information to guide them in managing resources to maximize benefits
and minimize the impacts of climate variations.
NOAA Research 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.
Environmental, economic, and public safety challenges require high-quality
research underpinning environmental assessment, prediction, and ecosystem
management missions. NOAA researchers explore from the surface of the
sun to the depths of the ocean. Research is in three major areas: atmosphere,
climate, and ocean and coastal resources. NOAA Research provides products
and services that describe and predict changes in the environment.
Research results allow decision makers to make effective judgments to
prevent the loss of human life and conserve and manage natural resources
while maintaining a strong economy. NOAA Research also administers collaborative,
long-term partnerships between NOAA and participating universities and
other nonprofit institutions. These mutually beneficial partnerships include
11 Joint Research Institutes affiliated with the NOAA Research Laboratories,
30 Sea Grant programs coordinated under the National Sea Grant College
Program, and six regional National Undersea Research Centers directed
by the National Undersea Research Program.
The NOAA Corps
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 NOAA Office of Marine
and Aviation Operations (NMAO). NMAO is staffed by civilians and officers
of the NOAA 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 service to society’s need for weather and water information
has the most direct effect on the greatest number of people every day.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, and other severe weather events
cause an average of $22 billion in damage every year to the U.S. economy.
Economic sectors and the public are increasingly using NOAA weather, air
quality, and water information to improve their operational efficiencies
and manage environmental resources.
Strategically positioned to conduct sound science and provide integrated
observations, predictions, and advice to decision makers, NOAA bridges
weather and climate time scales, collecting environmental data, and issues
forecasts and warnings that protect life and property, and enhance the
U.S. economy. Weather and climate industries account for about one-third
of the nation’s gross domestic product—$30 trillion.
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 Tropical Prediction
Center/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.
The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NOAA
Satellites and Information) 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, geostationary operational environmental satellites
(GOES) for national, regional, short-range warning, and “now-casting,”
and 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 circle the Earth in geosynchronous orbit at the equatorial
plane of the Earth, their speed matching its rotation, allowing them to
hover about 23,000 miles above the surface, over one position, and giving
all of them full-disc views of the Earth. Collectively, 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, monitoring their effects and tracking
GOES-12 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.
NOAA, internationally as well as domestically, is working to cost-effectively
increase the number, breadth, accuracy, and availability of observation
systems. To improve accuracy and timeliness of prediction capabilities
and services will require NOAA to invest in new technologies, techniques,
and weather and water forecast modeling. Improving the performance of
the suite of weather, water, air quality, and space weather predictions
will reduce uncertainty and increase the economic benefits to the nation.
All will enhance the nation’s preparedness for responding to hazardous
weather and water-related conditions. In the U.S. agricultural sector
alone, better forecasts can be worth $300 million annually.
NOAA’s GOES and POES satellites will be augmented by satellites
in the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, which transferred to
NOAA from the Air Force in 2002. NOAA’s Satellite Operations Control
Center in Suitland, Md., now is the primary site for controlling all U.S.
weather satellites. The transfer to joint operations represents development
of a single, integrated satellite system.
An advanced, high-spectral-resolution infrared sounder will fly aboard
satellites of the future; the first of these would be available for launch
NOAA Satellites and Information also operates national data centers that
manage the largest collection of atmospheric, geophysical, and oceanographic
data in the world. These sources develop environmental data provided for
forecasts, national-security purposes, and weather warnings to protect
life and property. These forecasts also contribute 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
This network will enhance our ability to protect lives and property,
expand economic opportunities, understand climate variability and change,
and promote healthy ecosystems.
Transportation systems are the United States’ economic lifelines.
As U.S. dependence on surface and air transportation grows over the next
20 years, and as maritime trade doubles, better navigation and weather
information will be critical to protect lives, cargo, and the environment.
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.
NOAA provides accurate navigation information and products that reduce
risks to life, cargo, and property. NOAA Oceans and Coasts is updating
its hydrographic surveys of the nation’s busiest and most critical
waterways, converting marine charts from paper to computer-readable digital
raster format—and working toward the next generation of electronic
navigation and charting systems.
NOAA Oceans and Coasts 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 10 major
U.S. ports, to aid in the safe and cost-effective shipping of $500 billion
worth of cargo annually.
In addition, NOAA satellites provide search-and-rescue operations that
have been instrumental in saving an estimated 14,000 lives since the inception
of the Search and Rescue Satellite Tracking (SARSAT) system. Ships and
boats, aircraft, and since July 2003, individual hikers, bikers, and campers
can carry Personal Locator Beacons that will give emergency rescue officials
their precise location anywhere on Earth.
NOAA pollution-response Scientific Support Coordinators orchestrate all
science-based activities during and after oil and hazardous materials
spills. They 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 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.
Looking to the future, NOAA Oceans and Coasts will expand advanced technology
monitoring and observation systems to provide accurate weather and oceanographic
observations, marine, aviation, and surface transportation-related observations,
hydrographic surveys, and precise positioning coordinates.
NOAA will establish an environmental literacy program to educate present
and future generations about the changing Earth and its processes, to
inspire our nation’s youth to pursue scientific careers, and to
improve the public’s understanding and appreciation of NOAA’s
missions. Building from NOAA’s Education Web sites which provides
lesson plans for teachers and study materials for students, the goal is
to improve everyone’s understanding of the natural environment and
human response to natural hazards. NOAA wants to provide state and local
natural resource managers with the access and knowledge to use information
needed to reduce significant human impacts on the environment and (b)
respond to storm warnings and environmental change.
Contributing to Homeland Defense
Additionally, NOAA possesses more than 80 capabilities that support America’s
efforts to prepare for and, if necessary, respond to terrorist attacks.
Best known are NOAA’s hazardous materials spill response capabilities,
atmospheric waterborne dispersion forecasting, vessel monitoring systems,
and support for communities and first responders.
NOAA also provides rapid on-site weather forecasts to support emergency
operations from floods to forest fires and civil emergency alert relay
through NOAA Weather Radio. When the need arises, NOAA is also ready to
provide ships, aircraft, global observation systems, and professional
law enforcement officers.