What is NOAA, and what is its mission?

Many of us turn to the National Weather Service for weather warnings and forecasts, but did you know that the National Weather Service is only one part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA? Our tax dollars help to fund this agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, so let’s look deeper at the mission of this very important organization and its offices.

NOAA’s mission is threefold:

  1. to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts;
  2. to share that knowledge and information with others; and
  3. to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

The agency’s history dates back to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson founded the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The Weather Bureau, which became the National Weather Service, was founded in 1870, and the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was founded in 1871. NOAA exists to provide emergency mangers, planners, and other decision makers with reliable information in support of economic vitality and marine commerce (http://www.noaa.gov). Let’s look closer at the individual offices which comprise NOAA.

National Marine Fisheries Service

This office is “responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat” (http://www.noaa.gov). Made up of 4200 employees, this group monitors events and conducts research in the nation’s oceans. Most recently, an uptick in ice seal mortality in Alaska made news, but the Fisheries Service maintains an extensive website full of information about an enormous variety of fish species. Here you can find information about population levels, fishing status, and endagered species status.

Atlantic salmon. Courtesy NOAA/Fisheries Service.

Additionally, the Fisheries Service provides information about the health of the many coastal and marine ecosystems in our country, as well as best practices to maintain the health and resiliency of these natural resources.

National Ocean Service

The National Ocean Service provides data and services which support coastal economies. These data and services include maps and charts, coastal tide and water level sensors (which also support weather forecasts), and management of a network of underwater parks and marine sanctuaries. A recent article describes which areas of coastline may experience higher than normal tides this fall, which can help enhance preparedness in vulnerable areas should a weather event bring heavy rainfall and/or storm surge which could be exacerbated by higher than normal tides.

Tide forecast for mid-Atlantic region, Fall 2019. Courtesy NOAA/National Ocean Service.

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS)

The mission of NESDIS is to provide environmental data from satellites in an effort to protect the national economy, security, and quality of life. In addition to the numerous tasks that are involved with keeping the nation’s fleet of environmental satellites operational, the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) is also a part of NESDIS. This office archives all types of weather and environmental data, and we as forensic meteorologists rely on this important data source to conduct our research. Having a centralized source for all types of historic weather records is an invaluable service to many of us in the private sector, and we could not do our jobs were this not available. Much of the data is available online, free of charge (unless certification is needed), along with some software packages for viewing the data.

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

As the name implies, the OAR “provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet”. Their key mission is to conduct research in support of the NOAA mission. Additionally, OAR has developed many visualization and educational tools, such as NOAA’s Science on a Sphere (discussed here), and a mobile-friendly app which provides stunning visualization of environmental data on tablets and phones.

Tsunami forecast model animation. Courtesy NOAA/OAR.

National Weather Service

As we have discussed in many posts in the past, the mission of the National Weather Service is to provide “forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy”. The NWS vision is that of a Weather-Ready Nation which is prepared for all manner of weather hazards. The National Weather Service include the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), of which the Weather Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, and Storm Prediction Center are a part. Additionally, 122 local field offices provide detailed regional forecasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The forecasters who man these offices and the national centers are truly public servants who are passionate about their jobs and their mission to inform and protect the public by providing timely weather forecasts and warnings. In a future blog post, we will discuss the forecast roles that each of these very important divisions play, and how collaboration between these offices is essential to providing cohesive information from coast to coast.

Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, NOAA Corps

The NOAA Corps (NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps) is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States. These 321 officers provide services which include operations of NOAA ships and aircraft (including the Hurricane Hunter aircraft which take essential observations of hurricanes), diving operations, and staff positions throughout NOAA. These officers hold positions of leadership within NOAA and the Department of Commerce, as well as in the Armed Forces during wartime or national emergencies.

Inside the NOAA Hangar, Lakeland, Florida. Courtesy NOAA Corps.

Visit http://www.noaa.gov for more information on any of these offices and learn more about the passionate scientists and public servants that comprise NOAA.

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