National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency of the United States Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. NOAA warns of dangerous weather, charts seas and skies, guides the use and protection of ocean and coastal resources, and conducts research to improve understanding and stewardship of the environment.


Vision, Mission, and Goals

National Weather Service meteorologists preparing a forecast, early 20th century
National Weather Service meteorologists preparing a forecast, early 20th century

NOAA's strategic vision is “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.”

In support of its vision and mission, has four goals to guide its suite of operations. Each goal corresponds phenomenologically to activities focusing on ecosystems, climate, weather and water, and commerce and transportation. Specifically, NOAA operates to:

  • Ensure the sustainable use of resources and balance competing uses of coastal and marine ecosystems, recognizing both their human and natural components.
  • Understand changes in climate, including global climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, to ensure that we can plan and respond properly.
  • Provide data and forecasts for weather and water cycle events, including storms, droughts, and floods.
  • Provide weather, climate, and ecosystem information to make sure individual and commercial transportation is safe, efficient, and environmentally sound.

Purpose and Function

NOAA plays several specific roles in society, the benefits of which extend beyond the US economy and into the larger global community:

  • A Supplier of Environmental Information Products. NOAA supplies information to its customers and partners pertaining to the state of the oceans and the atmosphere. This is clearly manifest in the production of weather warnings and forecasts through the National Weather Service, but NOAA’s information products extend to climate, ecosystems, and commerce as well.
  • A Provider of Environmental Stewardship Services. NOAA is also the steward of US coastal and marine environments. In coordination with federal, state, local, tribal, and international authorities, NOAA manages the use of these environments, regulating fisheries and marine sanctuaries as well as protecting threatened and endangered marine species.
  • A Leader in Applied Scientific Research. NOAA is intended to be a source of accurate and objective scientific information in the four particular areas of national and global importance identified above: ecosystems, climate, weather and water, and commerce and transportation.

Recognizing that it is essential that we understand the challenges that we face as part of the Earth system in order to create appropriate solutions, NOAA conducts an end-to-end sequence of activities, beginning with scientific discovery and resulting in a number of critical environmental services and products. The five "fundamental activities" are:

  • Monitoring and observing Earth systems with instruments and data collection networks.
  • Understanding and describing Earth systems through research and analysis of that data.
  • Assessing and predicting the changes of these systems over time.
  • Engaging, advising, and informing the public and partner organizations with important information.
  • Managing resources for the betterment of society, economy and environment.

History and organizational structure

NOAA formed on October 3, 1970 after 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 formed a conglomeration of three existing agencies that were among the oldest in the Federal Government. They were: The United States Coast and Geodetic Survey formed in 1807, the Weather Bureau formed in 1870, and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries formed in 1871. NOAA was established under the Department of Commerce via the Reorganization Plan No. 4 of 1970.

NOAA works toward its mission through these six major organizations in addition to several special program units:

  • The National Weather Service
  • The National Ocean Service
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service
  • The National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service
  • NOAA Research
  • Program Planning and Integration

In addition, NOAA research and operational activities are supported by the Nation's seventh uniformed service, the NOAA Corps. They are a commissioned officer corps of men and women who operate NOAA ships and aircraft, and serve in scientific and administrative posts.

National Weather Service (NWS)

The National Weather Service (NWS) is tasked with providing "weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy." This is done through a collection of national and regional centers, and more than 120 local weather forecast offices (WFOs). They are charged with issuing weather forecasts, advisories, watches, and warnings on a daily basis. They issue more than 734,000 weather and 850,000 river forecasts, and more than 45,000 severe weather warnings annually. NOAA data is also relevant to the issues of global warming and ozone depletion. The NWS operates NEXRAD, a nationwide network of doppler radars which can detect precipitation and atmospheric movement. Many of their products are broadcast on NOAA Weatheradio, a network of radio transmitters that broadcasts weather forecasts, severe weather statements, watches and warnings 24 hours a day.

External NWS links

National Ocean Service (NOS) and National Geodetic Survey (NGS)

National Ocean Service (NOS) was formed from the old Coast and Geodetic Survey, and in turn created a new division called the National Geodetic Survey (NGS). The NOS protects 12 National Marine Sanctuaries and is an advocate for coastal and ocean stewardship. It also introduced electronic nautical charts which they combine with GPS to enhance the safety and efficiency of navigation of U.S. waterways. The NGS specifies latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity, and orientation throughout the United States. Aviation safety, in particular the orientation of runways, depends on this system. An example of the work the NGS does is the work they did taking measurements of the Washington Monument. When it was covered in scaffolding for renovations in 1999, NGS surveyors confirmed the height and stability of the structure.

External NOS and NGS links

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)

NOAA engineer at work
NOAA engineer at work

The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) was created by the NOAA to operate and manage the United States environmental satellite programs, and manage the data gathered by the NWS and other government agencies and departments. Data collected by 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. NESDIS also operates the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) in Boulder, Colorado, the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and the National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC) which are used internationally by environmental scientists.

NESDIS also runs the:

  1. Office of Systems Development
  2. Office of Satellite Operations
  3. Office of Satellite Data Processing & Distribution
  4. Office of Research & Applications
  5. NPOESS Integrated Program Office
  6. International & Interagency Affairs Office

The service operates and manages many geosynchronous satellites. In 1975 Tiros-1 (also known as GEOS-1), NOAA's first owned and operated geostationary satellite was launched. In 1983 NOAA assumed operational responsibility for LANDSAT satellite system. In 1984 the Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere program (TOGA) program began.

In 1977 the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) deployed the first successful moored equatorial current meter - the beginning of the Tropical Atmosphere/Ocean (TAO) array. In 1979 NOAA's first polar-orbiting environmental satellite was launched.

External NESDIS Links

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)

The National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries, is the direct descendant of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries, which was initiated in 1871 to protect, study, manage and restore fish. The NMFS has a marine fisheries research lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and is home to one of NOAA's five fisheries science centers.

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR)

NOAA's research, conducted through the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), is the driving force behind NOAA environmental products and services that protect life and property and promote sustainable economic growth. Research, conducted in OAR laboratories and by extramural programs, focuses on enhancing our understanding of environmental phenomena such as tornadoes, hurricanes, climate variability, solar flares, changes in the ozone, El Niño/La Niña events, fisheries productivity, ocean currents, deep sea thermal vents, and coastal ecosystem health. NOAA research also develops innovative technologies and observing systems.

The NOAA Research network consists of 12 internal research laboratories, extramural research at 30 Sea Grant university and research programs, six undersea research centers, a research grants program through the Office of Global Programs, and 13 cooperative institutes with academia. Through NOAA and its academic partners, thousands of scientists, engineers, technicians, and graduate students participate in furthering our knowledge of natural phenomena that affect the lives of us all.

External OAR Links

Program Planning and Integration (PPI)

The Office of Program Planning and Integration was established in June 2002 as the focus for a new corporate management culture at NOAA. PPI was created to address the needs to...

- Foster strategic management among NOAA Line and Staff Offices, Goal Teams, Programs, and Councils,

- Support planning activities through greater opportunities for active participation of employees, stakeholders, and partners,

- Build decision support systems based on the goals and outcomes set in NOAA’s strategic plan, and

- Guide managers and employees on program and performance management, the National Environmental Policy Act, and socioeconomic analysis.

External PPI Links

External links

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