National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

views updated May 29 2018

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA’s mandate is concerned with the oceans and the atmosphere. Specifically, the agency focuses on the safety of both environments, such as by research into the development of severe storms and making navigational charts that help avoid danger on marine waterways. In addition, the agency assists in protecting coastal regions of the ocean under U.S. jurisdiction. This includes working to increase public participation in protection and conservation efforts.

According to the organizations’s vision statement, NOAA seeks “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.”

Part of this goal is concerned with the sustainable use of the ocean and atmosphere for economic gain while preserving as much as possible the natural environments. This balance between commercial interests and preservation is especially challenging near coasts, where the influence of land use such as agriculture can adversely alter water quality.

Additionally, research into the causes of global warming and related aspects of climate change is being done; one aim is to help prepare the United States for a world in which climate change will call for adaptation. The agency also focuses on the present, and is active in the forecasting of storms, floods, droughts, and other forms of severe weather, and in providing information that makes daily life safer and more productive.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

NOAA was formed on December 3, 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994). Earlier the same year, the president had formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As with the EPA, NOAA was formed by bringing together the functions of several different agencies. In both cases, the intent was to make the activities of the organizations more efficient and accountable by eliminating the duplication of efforts between different parts of the government.

The agencies that were the basis of the NOAA were some of the oldest in the United States: the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (formed in 1897), the Weather Bureau (formed in 1870), and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (formed in 1871).

In the years following its establishment, NOAA became structured to be capable of performing its marine and atmospheric monitoring, safety, and stewardship roles. There are now six major divisions: National Weather Service, National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, the Research Division, and Program Planning and Integration.

NOAA’s activities involve both civilians and a uniform branch of the federal civil service known as the NOAA Commissioned Corps. The commissioned personnel operate the agencies’s ships and airplanes, as well as having some scientific and administrative roles.

The National Weather Service is comprised of several national centers, others in various regions of the country, and over 120 local offices. The service issues daily weather updates, forecasts, and notifications of adverse weather that have various scales of importance depending on the potential severity and danger of the weather event. Their collective output is huge; nearly 735,000 weather forecasts and over 45,000 severe weather warnings are issued every year. The data are publicly available; the decades of nationwide data that have been complied are proving to be invaluable in tracking, as two examples, the progression of global warming in terms of storm severity and frequency, and the ozone hole in Earth’s atmosphere.

The National Ocean Service is responsible for the protection of the dozen marine sanctuaries—areas set aside from commercial development and large-scale fishing, with the intent of preserving unique and/or threatened marine species—that have been established in waters under U.S. jurisdiction. This branch of NOAA is also responsible for the production and updating of navigation charts (paper and electronically available versions, utilizing geographical positioning system technology) for marine transportation routes, through a division called the National Geodetic Survey (the previous Coast and Geodetic Survey was the oldest scientific agency in the United States).

The National Marine Fisheries Service is concerned with science-based research on fisheries that aims to protect and manage current fisheries to sustain the industry, and to restore fisheries that have been compromised by environmental degradation or overfishing. As well, the service has an enforcement role.

The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service is charged with operating NOAA’s satellite program, which is used to gather information on


GREENHOUSE GAS: A gas whose accumulation in the atmosphere increases heat retention.

OZONE HOLE: A term invented to describe a region of very low ozone concentration above the Antarctic that appears and disappears with each austral (Southern Hemisphere) summer.

SALINITY: Measurement of the amount of sodium chloride in a given volume of water.

SUSTAINABILITY: Practices that preserve the balance between human needs and the environment, as well as between current and future human requirements.

the atmosphere and some surface data, and in helping manage the satellite programs of other federal agencies including the Army, Air Force, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These operational and management functions are carried out at national centers dedicated to either climate, geophysics, oceanography, snow and ice, and coastal waters.

NOAA’s science research is carried out through the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. Rather than being basic in scope, the research is geared toward protecting property and people from ocean- and atmospheric-related hazards, and in helping government efforts to increase the country’s economic prosperity. Examples of research include studies to better understand and predict tornadoes and hurricanes; modeling the formation and wind-aided dispersion of air pollution; the sustainability of fisheries; ocean current patterns and environmental influences on currents; and threats to coastal ecosystems such as runoff of pesticides and sewage.

This research takes place at NOAA-funded and operated labs, and by funding a variety of research programs at U.S. universities and at oceanographic and atmospheric centers around the world.

Impacts and Issues

From its formation, NOAA has been a science-based agency. This science foundation supports NOAA’s mandate of predicting changes in the ocean and atmosphere that will affect the safety and economic prosperity of Americans.

These long-term efforts are becoming more important in an era when global changes due to atmospheric warming are becoming increasingly evident. For example, the increasing severity and frequency of storms in the Gulf Coast of the United States has been docu-

mented since the 1990s. In particular, the 2005 hurricane season, which spawned Hurricane Katrina, was the worst on record in terms of hurricane strength and damage-related costs.

Another aspect of NOAA that is becoming more important is fishery research. As the collapse of the cod fishery on the Grand Banks off of the East Coast of North America exemplifies, the loss of a fishery can be economically disastrous for a region, and a burden for government employment support programs. More reliable estimates of present and future fish stocks help ensure the use of fisheries at a level that achieves the maximum profit in both the present and the future.

The importance of the agencies research and other activities were reflected in the latest U.S. budget. In fiscal year 2009, NOAA’s funding of $4.1 billion is a nearly 8% increase over the previous year, and the most money ever allocated to the agency. This comes at a time when budgets at other agencies such as National Institutes of Health have not changed or are decreasing.

The latest funding includes increases for the launch of geostationary satellites, which remain in orbit over a designated portion of Earth’s surface, to provide better prediction of climate and monitoring of weather, and for ocean protection and restoration programs.

See Also Climate Change; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Greenhouse Effect; Greenhouse Gases; Ozone Hole; Ozone Layer; Weather and Climate; Weather Extremes



Committee on the Future of Rainfall Measuring Missions. NOAA’s Role in Space-Based Global Precipitation Estimation and Application. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007.

Goodwin, Lei. Discover Your World with NOAA. Washington: NOAA, 2007.

Sverdrup, Keith A. An Introduction to the World’s Oceans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

views updated May 14 2018

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a multi-faceted agency of the United States government that concerns itself with a variety of challenges, from making five-day weather forecasts to protecting sea turtles . Under the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA is unusual because it functions not only as a service agency, providing weather reports, for example, but also as a regulatory and research agency. Many of its regulatory functions appear to overlap with those of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and much of its research parallels that of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NOAA's National Ocean Service, for example, assessed the damage to the Alaskan coast and wildlife from the disastrous oil spill of the Exxon Valdez ; NOAA also monitors the rate and speed of the earth's rotation.

Created in 1807 by President Thomas Jefferson as the National Ocean Service, its first duty was to survey the coasts to set up shipping lanes for trade routes in the United States. Later, its function as an air and sea chart-making agency, when known as the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, was in high demand, especially during World Wars I and II.

In 1970, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was instituted, it settled into five major service branches and a NOAA Corps. The Corps, called "the seventh and smallest uniformed service," consists of about 400 men and women trained to perform diverse duties, such as fly into the eye of a hurricane and make descents in ocean submersibles to do deep ocean research.

NOAA's five branches are as follows:

  • National Weather Service (NWS): For a long time, NOAA was the U.S. Weather Bureau. NWS has provided daily weather forecasts for several decades by gathering data from manned weather forecast offices around the country. To perfect its capability, to increase accuracy , and to lengthen predictions for severe weather, NOAA is implementing a long-term program to modernize the National Weather Service by installing 1,000 automatic sensors in all the states. Already the Hydrometeorological Information Center can issue spring flood warnings from river forecast centers well in advance of their occurrence. Nexrad ("Next generation radar"), a new Doppler radar that can pick up severe weather 125 mi (201 km) away, predicts tornadoes with a 19-minute lead time, giving residents more time to find shelter.
  • The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research collects data from polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites. These not only provide televised weather pictures, but also monitor elements of climate change (such as greenhouse gases in the stratosphere ). At NOAA's Environmental Research Labs, studies of the ozone layer are additionally being conducted jointly with NASA; NOAA and Japan have also joined forces to study the thermal vents 20,000 ft (6096 m) down in the Marianna Trench under the Pacific Ocean. NOAA funds university research through the National Sea Grant College Program and the National Undersea Research Program.
  • The National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), one of the world's largest banks of information on earth geophysics, solar activity, geomagnetic variations, and paleoclimates, stores data collected from NOAA's satellites and environmental research labs.
  • The National Ocean Service still makes coastal charts for trade ships as well as for weekend sailors. But now it also assesses ocean and coastal pollution , protects wetlands , and is charged with creating and maintaining sanctuaries for various sea creatures including whales and living coral reefs.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) manages fisheries by overseeing coastal fish-breeding habitats, restoring endangered species , collecting abandoned drift nets, and trying to save turtles, dolphins , and whales that swallow sunken plastic balloons or get caught in plastic six-pack circles. The NMFS instituted the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on shrimp nets to keep turtles from being strangled.

NOAA also operates a rescue satellite, known as COSPAS-SARSAT (Satellite-Aided Search and Rescue). Stranded fishermen and sailors, whose boats are equipped with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), send a signal to the satellite that relays it to a ground station which responds by sending a rescue vessel within hours of the initial signal.

Because NOAA is unusual in its functions as a regulatory, research, and service agency, it is often an easy target for budget-cutting. Underfunded during most of the 1980s and always dependent on Congressional funding, NOAA is currently struggling to streamline its duties in the face of rapid climate change and increased marine pollution .

[Stephanie Ocko ]



Kerr, R. A. "NOAA Revived for the Green Decade." Science 248 (June 8, 1990): 117779.


National Implementation Plan for the Modernization and Restructuring of the National Weather Service. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Commerce, 1992.

Toward a New National Weather Service. Second Report. Washington, DC: National Research Council, 1992.


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 14th Street & Constitution Avenue, NW, Room 6013, Washington, D.C. USA 20230 (202) 482-6090, Fax: (202) 482-3154,

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

views updated May 23 2018

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was officially established under the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1970. It arose from the same reorganization plan that formed the Environmental Protection Agency. During this time, a new approach to environmental regulation was beginning in which separate agencies were being consolidated in recognition of the interrelations existing in the environment .

NOAA is charged with the mission of collecting scientific information, predicting changes in the environment, and protecting life and property. In the years since its formation, NOAA's efforts have provided a better understanding of the behavior of natural systems, and how to effectively manage resources to allow for economic development while protecting environmental quality.

Major Divisions

NOAA gathers information and conducts research primarily through its five major organizational units. Together, these organizational units work to achieve the agency's goal of ensuring effective management and stewardship of natural resources. NOAA collects much of the data on water in the oceans and atmosphere. These data are used by an array of decisionmakers, scientists, special interest groups, and the general public, ranging from applications as diverse as ocean-related policy-making, to investigations of climate change, to the planning of daily personal activities.

National Weather Service.

Perhaps the most well-known organization within NOAA is the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS collects weather data and provides forecasts and warnings to protect the nation's residents and to provide communities with the information needed to plan and prepare for weather events. Commercial weather organizations also use information provided by the NWS to provide the public with weather forecasts.

National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) operates the nation's environmental satellites, providing valuable information about weather and climate used by the NWS for short-term forecasting and long-term monitoring and prediction of climate variation. The organization also maintains large databases for meteorology , oceanography, geophysics, and solar-terrestrial sciences used by scientists working to better understand Earth systems.

National Ocean Service.

The National Ocean Service (NOS) provides information to coastal communities and those navigating ocean waters to allow for the safe use of ocean resources while also preserving and protecting those resources for future use. The NOS also administers the National Marine Sanctuary Program, which, like the U.S. Department of Interior's National Parks Program, protects areas identified for their biodiversity , ecological integrity, and cultural legacy. The sanctuary program was created in 1972 by the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act.

National Marine Fisheries Service.

NOAA Fisheries, or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), studies and manages marine fisheries, conserves fishery habitats , and enforces federal statutes, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1994, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1996. This organization's research and management efforts support the exploitation of living marine resources while working to achieve sustainability of resource use.

Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) is NOAA's primary research arm. OAR maintains several research laboratories, including oceangoing vessels and undersea research centers. It also works with academic institutions, providing research grants to generate new knowledge about the oceans.

NOAA's plan for the future includes the strong promotion of sustainable development. As a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA collects information and conducts research to allow for economic growth and the wise use of natural resources while maintaining the quality of the environment.

see also Climate and the Ocean; El NiÑo and La NiÑa; Endangered Species Act; Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.; Fisheries, Marine: Management and Policy; Geospatial Technologies; National Park Service; Weather and the Ocean.

Vincent G. McGowan


U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA Strategic Plan: A Vision for 2005Executive Summary. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1998.

Internet Resources

National Marine Sanctuaries. <>.

NOAA History. U.S. Department of Commerce. <>.

NOAA Home Page. U.S. Department of Commerce. <>.

NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)

views updated May 29 2018

NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitors environmental, climatic, and weather conditions in the United States and around the world. The administration manages an extensive network of satellites, sensory aircraft, and specialized monitoring equipment to provide information on meteorological events and their impact. The mission of NOAA is to protect persons, property, national security, and United States economic interests. NOAA also works with foreign meteorological services, international search and rescue units, and independent research scientists.

The administration has several operating divisions responsible for various agency responsibilities and research programs. The National Weather Service (NWS) is perhaps the most well known NOAA operational division. The NWS maintains the most extensive satellite network and meteorological research equipment, providing national, regional, and local weather through a variety of media. NOAA Weather Radio, the voice of the National Weather Service, broadcasts constant weather updates and is linked to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Broadcast System. Though developed for government use, the radio broadcasts are available to private citizens.

In conjunction with the Department of Defense, NOAA also oversees the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). A key component of aerospace development, the space program, and weapons development, the DMSP organizes the construction, launch, and maintenance of satellites that monitor atmospheric, oceanographic, and solar-terrestrial environments. The DMSP maintains a large network of satellites 1330 miles (about 850 km) above the earth's surface. Data from the satellites is sent to the Air Force Weather Agency, the National Geophysical Data Center, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Another NOAA division, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NEDIS) provides information on significant environmental events recovered from satellite imagery and other means of remote sensing. The NEDIS also licenses commercial remote sensing satellites, including global positioning systems (GPS). In conjunction with Russia's Cospas satellite system, the NOAA Cospas-Sarsat system can locate lost or endangered individuals through emergency transmissions. NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) detect signals from Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons on boats, airplanes, and other individual vessels, and send information to search and rescue teams. In 2002, nearly 1,500 people were rescued worldwide, most of them at sea.

NOAA's charting and marine safety programs provide information, products, and services that aid marine traffic, commerce, and private use of domestic and international waterways. NOAA creates and distributes tidal and current tables, conducts hydrographic surveys, works closely with several other government agencies to constantly update marine and terrestrial charts and maps. Recently, NOAA began testing International Electronic Navigational Charts, or "smart charts" for private civilian use. Smart Charts work in conjunction with global positioning systems and weather satellites to aid safe navigation. NOAA also develops aeronautical charts used by government and commercial airplanes.

Aside from its role in security, NOAA also funds and conducts research on the global environment and ocean systems. Via satellite and other sensor mechanisms, the administration monitors conditions such as widespread deforestation, ozone depletion, volcanoes, fires, and water pollution. Special attention is paid to the long-term effects of these processes on atmospheric and marine systems and their potential impact on global environments, flora and fauna, climate, and economic systems.



United States National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. <> (15 January 2003).


Coast Guard (USCG), United States
FEMA (United States Federal Emergency Management Agency)
Remote Sensing

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

views updated May 18 2018

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Established in 1970 under the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) guides the United States' use and protection of its air and water resources. With respect to air resources, the agency conducts research and gathers data about the earth's air, and engages in subsequent technical analyses. Specific agency concerns are air pollution, acid rain, and global warming, all greatly influenced by human activity. With respect to water resources, the agency conducts research and gathers data about marine environments, and provides technical analyses of the human activities affecting such environments. Specific agency concerns are ocean dredging and dumping, which can have an adverse effect on marine environments.

For both air and water issues, the agency has adopted policies to address the adverse effects of human activities and provide recommendations to limit or eliminate them. For example, the agency's policy of requiring trawl fishermen to use turtle excluder devices has served to protect sea turtles. Aside from its policy initiatives, the agency enforces a number of laws and treaties (e.g., Coastal Zone Management Act, Endangered Species Act, Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Ocean Dumping Act), all of which promote the environmental protection of both the atmosphere and the earth's marine environments.

see also Acid Rain; Air Pollution; Global Warming; Ocean Dumping; Water Pollution.


Natural Research Council, Committee on Global Change Research. (1999). Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

internet resource

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Website. Available from http:

Robert F. Gruenig


views updated May 29 2018

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