THE NATioNAL oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which studies the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. NOAA issues warnings of dangerous weather, charts seas and skies, guides the use and protection of ocean and coastal resources, and conducts research to improve understanding and preservation of the environment. NOAA is particularly active in the fields of climate change and global warming. In addition to its civilian employees, the NOAA Corps, staffed by 300 uniformed service members, support NOAA research and operations. The Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce, retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, serves as the director for NOAA.
NOAA's main aim is to contribute to the creation of "an informed society that uses a comprehensive understanding of the role of the oceans, coasts, and atmosphere in the global ecosystem to make the best social and economic decisions." The agency's mission is "to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet our nation's economic, social, and environmental needs." NOAA supports its mission through the pursuit of four targets that form the
guiding principles of its operations. Each of them corresponds to activities focusing on ecosystems, climate, weather and water, and commerce and transportation. NOAA encourages the sustainable use of resources and the balance among competing uses of coastal and marine ecosystems, which recognize both their human and natural components. NOAA works to understand changes in climate, including global climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, to ensure that societies can respond and adapt properly to climate change. It provides data and forecasts for weather and water-cycle events, including storms, droughts, and floods. Finally, NOAA gives weather, climate, and ecosystem information to make sure individual and commercial transportation is safe, efficient, and environmentally sound.
NOAA was created in February 1970, within the Department of Commerce, combining the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Weather Bureau, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Environmental Data Service, National Oceanographic Data Center, National Satellite Center, Research Libraries, and other components. Although NOAA was officially created in 1970, the different bureaus that merged into it were among the oldest in the Federal Government: the Coast and Geodetic Survey was formed in 1807, the Weather Bureau in 1870, and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1871. President Richard Nixon proposed creating a new department to serve a national need "for better protection of life and property from natural hazards ... for a better understanding of the total environment ... [and] for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.."
NOAA's offices and divisions play an important part in various aspects of American national life. The National Ocean Service (NOS) has been a leading institution in the introduction of electronic nautical charts that, together with GPS, have enhanced the safety and efficiency of navigation. NOS has also played a leading role in advocating coastal and ocean stewardship. As the trustee for 12 marine protected areas, NOAA protects National Marine Sanctuaries, which are akin to national underwater parks. Each sanctuary has a unique goal, from protecting the breeding ground of humpback whales, to preserving the remains of historical shipwrecks, or coral reef colonies. Through the sanctuary program, a growing number of partners and volunteers embrace NOAA's ocean mission to preserve, protect, and respect our nation's marine environment.
Thanks to NOAA's cooperative weather observers, including a network of more than 10,000 National Weather Service (NWS) volunteers across the country, the agency can continue to take daily weather measurements that become part of U.S. climate records. This is a tradition that goes back to Thomas Jefferson and the times before the American revolution. These records, along with other records from the NWS, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration, and meteorological services around the world, are housed at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The center is the largest active archive of climate data in the world, and is part of NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). In addition to the climate center, NESDIS also manages the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, and the National Oceanographic Data Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. National and international users access these data to study how climate and environment are changing.
NOAA's satellite operations grew out of the space program and the desire to study our earth from a vantage point. NOAA's satellites have evolved from weather satellites to environmental satellites. Data are used for applications related to the oceans, coastal regions, agriculture, detection of forest fires, detection of volcanic ash, monitoring the ozone hole over the South Pole, and the space environment.
The NWS uses complex technologies such as Dop-pler radar, automated surface-observing systems, sophisticated computer models, high-speed communications systems, flying meteorological platforms, and a highly-trained and skilled workforce to issue more than 734,000 weather, and 850,000 river and flood forecasts, and between 45,000 and 50,000 potentially life-saving severe weather warnings annually. The Weather Service has also developed the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, the final piece of technology in a $4.5 billion modernization program to improve climate, water, and weather products and services that help protect life and property, and increase economic growth. It was estimated that the NWS's accurate, long-range predictions for the 1997-98 El Niño episode, helped California prevent about $1 billion in losses.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service takes a rational, scientific approach to the difficult, contentious issues of living marine resource management. NOAA
Fisheries Service advocates the sustainable use of living marine resources, seeking to balance competing public needs and interests in the use of those resources, while protecting their biological integrity. Two recent examples are represented by international and domestic actions to rebuild swordfish stocks, working with both industry and conservationists; and developing an innovative, long-term strategy for restoring threatened and endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) establishes cooperative projects between its scientists and their university partners to better understand the Earth. OAR is the theoretical base that allows better weather forecasts, longer warning lead-times for natural disasters, new products from the sea, and a greater understanding of our climate, atmosphere, and oceans. NOAA research is done both in traditional laboratories, and also aboard ships, on planes, and beneath the sea. NOAA research tools can be as high-tech as supercomputers or as basic as rain gauges. Officers of the NOAA Corps, the smallest of the seven uniformed services of the United States, operate NOAA's fleet of research vessels and aircraft.
As the ultimate goal of all NOAA's activities is to predict environmental changes on a wide range of time and space-scales, to protect life and property, and provide industry and government decision-makers with a reliable base of scientific information, most of the agency's researches and programs are increasingly focusing on global warming and climate change. NES-DIS data centers are extremely important in answering some of the most pressing global change questions that remain unresolved. The National Climatic Data Center contains the instrumental records that can measures the nature of climatic fluctuations at times-cales of a up to a century. The National Oceanographic Data Center provides the subsurface data, which portray the ways heat is distributed and redistributed over the planet. Knowing how these systems are changing, and how they have changed in the past, is crucial to allow predictions of how they will change in the future. And, for climate information that extends from hundreds to thousands of years, the paleoclimatology program, also at the National Climatic Data Center, helps to provide longer-term perspectives.
The most significant effort in the research on global warming and climate change is NOAA's international Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere
(TOGA) program, which officially began in 1984. This program aims to understand the role that the tropical Pacific Ocean plays in producing climate changes over North America. The principal focus of the program is the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, two phenomena that when coupled can cause dramatic changes in climate pattern amd result in major damage. NOAA has established a monitoring network and computer-modeling capability, which will allow scientists to recognize the early signals of the phenomenon so they can be predicted. This predictive capability is a priority for the agency as it will avert economic damages and will also be one of the most significant contemporary scientific achievements.
NOAA's research, since the 1980s, has also played a key role in the area of longer-term climate changes and air quality. Building on a strong tradition of research in atmospheric chemistry, in 1985, NOAA started the Radiatively Important Trace Species (RITS) research program. NOAA had already been researching the causes and potential effects of carbon dioxide on the Earth's climate, the so-called "greenhouse warming. In the early 1980s, however, NOAA provided the scientific community with a fuller picture by identifying other so-called "greenhouse gases," such as methane and the chlorofluo-rocarbons which are becoming increasingly central in debates over stratospheric ozone depletion. NOAA scientists have calculated that the global greenhouse warming from these gases could be as great as that expected from carbon dioxide. NOAA was among the first institutions to investigate the reasons for the increasing levels of these gases and predict the potential climatic and chemical consequences of such changes. The RITS program remains the principal coordinated agency response to this scientific challenge and environmental problem.
In 1986, NOAA led an Antarctic Ozone Expedition to McMurdo Base to investigate the Antarctic ozone hole. The results showed highly-elevated abundances of reactive chlorine compounds, reduced levels of nitrogen oxides, and 40 percent depletion of ozone at 7-12 mi. (12-20 km.) altitude. Because the cause of the ozone hole had not been defined with certainty, NOAA also led a second expedition in 1987, and a NOAA scientist was also selected as mission scientist for an inter-agency aircraft observation program to fly through the ozone hole in 1987. More recently, the Paleoclimatol-ogy Program has provided the paleoclimate data and information needed to contruct interannual to centen-
nial-scale environmental change. This research proved the importance of understanding past climates to understand global warming, and, through paleoclimate data, provided a long baseline of past change. This long baseline revealed the natural variability of Earth climate, and illustrated how climate and greenhouse gases have changed in the past. The Paleoclimatology Program also began to shed some light on several disputed global warming issues, such as the extent of anthropogenic responsibility for greenhouse gases emissions, the future levels of warming, and the other changes that will occur with future warming. The Program's estimate is that about 50 percent of the observed global warming is due to greenhouse gas increases. The paleoclimatic record shows how much temperature change occurred in the past when carbon dioxide levels were different. Studies explain that the 100 parts per million (ppm) reduction in carbon dioxide during the last glacial era was followed by a 5.4 degree F (3 degrees C) cooling in the western tropical oceans. This amount of temperature change is consistent with the change predicted by numerical climate model simulations. Changes at higher latitudes were much larger, and included the formation of large ice sheets. Studies of the glacial world demonstrate that many aspects of climate were different when carbon dioxide was reduced, including lower sea level, lower snowlines, and altered patterns of circulation. Starting from these studies, NOAA scientists predict that other aspects of the climate, in addition to temperature, will change with future warming.
NOAA plays a crucial role as the Federal Government's principal operational climate observing, prediction and information management center. These activities characterize NOAA's unique role and contribution to an evolving national and international scientific program to understand and predict natural and anthropogenic changes in the global environment. Together with the other principal U.S. participants in these efforts, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Scientific Foundation, NOAA has recognized the importance of focusing on the global climate system, because changing climate has far-reaching economic, health and safety, and national security consequences. NOAA programs in oceanic and atmospheric observations, monitoring, data processing, research, predictive modeling, and information management contribute to advancing our understanding of phenomena related to global warming and climate change.
SEE ALSO: Climatic Data, Atmospheric Observations; Climatic Data, Oceanic Observations.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. National Academies Press, NOAA's Role in Space-Based Global Precipitation Estimation and Application (National Academies Press, 2007); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, www.noaa.gov (cited November 2007).
Luca Prono University of Nottingham
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