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
NOAA's budget for fiscal year 2000 is included in the overall funding
bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State. NOAA's budget
in FY 1999 was $2.2 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 its 10-year modernization
effort in June 1999. With the addition of Advanced Weather Interactive
Processing Systems at all 121 forecast offices, meteorologists have improved
their capability to provide more timely and precise forecasts, warnings,
and watches for severe weather. In addition, the five 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. NOAA Weather Radio, a warning network operating 24 hours a day
nationwide, also is being expanded. The network provides, to anyone who
owns an inexpensive special-weather radio, the same up-to-the-minute
area weather reports and emergency information used by meteorologists
and emergency personnel.
Implementing seasonal to interannual climate forecasts; 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 Niño,
an unusual warming of the sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial
Pacific Ocean, and its opposite, La Niña, 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 Niño and La Niña
for a season or 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 Niño.
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 Niño and La Niña 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 that
benefit 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 Niño and La Niña,
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 (NOS), for example, is updating its hydrographic
surveys of the nation's busiest and 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.
NOS 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
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
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 1998 approximately 9.2 billion pounds of fish and shellfish
worth $3.1 billion. In addition, the marine recreational catch was 135.5
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 wealth 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. 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. Over a 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, NOS 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
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. The National Marine Fisheries Service 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 policymakers
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 (OAR) 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
Niño/La Niña, fisheries productivity, undersea research,
and the health of coastal ecosystems. OAR applies this research to develop
innovative technologies and observing systems.
OAR consists of 12 federal environmental-research laboratories, 11 joint
or cooperative institutes, 29 Sea Grant colleges and universities, six
National Undersea Research centers, and the Office of Global Programs.
Through OAR's research efforts, NOAA 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.
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 35,800 km (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 (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 Tracing (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 has 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 and 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, 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.
The 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. In 1998 the Rainier was outfitted
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. The
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, the Whiting is the most advanced hydrographic
vessel sailing the U.S. East Coast.
In July 1996, the 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 the 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 they used their
sonar technology to scan the seafloor for the downed aircraft of John
F. Kennedy Jr. It was the Rude that located the wreckage, enabling Navy
divers to recover the victims.
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 the 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. The 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 the 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 the 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. The Gordon Gunter is the second largest
fisheries research vessel in the United States.
Four oceanographic and coastal research vessels make up the remainder
of the NOAA fleet. The 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.
The 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--the 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 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.
NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center in Tampa, Fla., manages a fleet of
helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that operates throughout the United
States and provides unique specialized platforms for NOAA's missions.
NOAA aircraft: (a) conduct snow surveys that aid in flood prediction
and water-resource management; (b) survey coastal damage in the wake
of destructive hurricanes; (c) locate and track marine mammals such as
endangered right whales in the North Atlantic; and (d) update aeronautical
charts. NOAA's two P-3 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
P-3s are the only U.S. government aircraft with hurricane-surveillance
capabilities that are authorized to fly in Cuban airspace. Last fall,
NOAA researchers contributed their expertise (and the P-3'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
NOAA's newest aircraft is a Gulfstream-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 by up to 20 percent and to further
refine storm-intensity forecasts--saving taxpayers millions of dollars
by limiting unnecessary evacuations. This year, new instrumentation aboard
the G-IV will help forecasters determine how much rain a hurricane will
drop on a given area--and, therefore, how much flooding can be expected.
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.