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Definition: NOAA from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

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Summary Article: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
from Encyclopedia of Crisis Management

Established in 1970 by uniting three of the oldest federal agencies in the United States under the auspices of the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to better comprehending the physical environment in order to assist decision makers. During the 1970s, there was a heightened sense of environmental awareness in the United States as citizens realized that the economy and ecology are inextricably linked. The government recognized the need to protect people and property from natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods, as well as from hazards created by humans, such as air pollution and groundwater contamination. This realization led to the passage of numerous environmental laws and the establishment of NOAA, with a primary mission to forecast changes in the environment that can negatively impact the public. Thus, NOAA plays an enormous and essential role in crisis management from the outer reaches of the atmosphere to the deepest depths of the oceans. Fundamental goals espoused by NOAA are critical elements in managing crises at every level of the physical environment. These objectives include providing real-time weather information, conducting climate research, and ensuring the sustainability of coastal and marine resources. To accomplish these aims, NOAA has the support of several scientific agencies under its jurisdiction.

Satellite, Data, and Information Service

The data gathered by NOAA from land- and ocean-based weather stations as well as space-based satellites are the responsibility of the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). The primary purpose of NESDIS is the promotion and protection of the economy and the environment by providing data on a global scale from satellites and other sources. This Earth system monitoring is accomplished through the collection of atmospheric and climatic information as well as oceanographic and geophysical data, which are available for analysis by scientists around the world. Much of this research is focused on climate change, as NOAA's diverse satellite platforms provide tangible evidence of higher land and sea surface temperatures, elevated greenhouse gas concentrations, melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, increased deforestation, and expanding desertification. Each of these negative impacts represents a potential crisis for administrators and political leaders at every level.

Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

NOAA has its own research agency that analyzes data, writes technical reports, and develops environmental products. In addition to investigating climate change, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) is committed to a better understanding of all types of natural and anthropogenic phenomena that could result in a crisis situation. These include holes in the ozone layer, solar flares, air and water pollution, and El Niño/La Niña events. The OAR supports thousands of engineers, technicians, and scientists through research centers, laboratories, and programs, all dedicated to protection and preservation.

National Ocean Service

The responsibility for preserving and enhancing coastal areas and oceans belongs to the National Ocean Service (NOS). The primary purpose of the NOS is to manage environmental, economic, and social pressures along the coasts and in the oceans to ensure that they are healthy, safe, and productive. The NOS monitors dangers to human health such as algal blooms, toxins, hypoxia, and waterborne illnesses and is concerned with every stage of chemical and oil spills, from response and assessment to cleanup operations. The NOS also deals with natural hazards such as tsunamis through the use of its network of tsunami warning systems. Once local officials receive a tsunami watch or warning, they have the option to activate the Emergency Alert System, which sends a broadcast to evacuate beaches and low-lying coastlines to media outlets and NOAA weather radios. These broadcasts are vital to handling a potential tsunami emergency. Without adequate warning, the death toll can be staggering, as was the case in 2004 along the coastline of Indonesia when more than 200,000 people died as a result of a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and the accompanying tsunami. As the planet continues to warm, the NOS is developing products to reduce the ramifications of climate change on coastal communities, including sea level rise, storm surge, and beach erosion.

National Weather Service

Perhaps the most notable of the NOAA agencies is the National Weather Service (NWS), which has 122 weather forecast offices that are constantly gathering and analyzing data from thousands of weather stations and satellites. The charge of the NWS is to protect property, people, and the economy by providing short-term weather forecasts and warnings, long-range climate predictions, and relevant hydrologic information for the United States and its territories. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and wildfires are among the crises that are more manageable through the work of the NWS. Once the forecasts are made, contingency plans can be put into place to mitigate the impending damage. With enough warning prior to hurricane landfall from the National Hurricane Center, which is part of the NWS, much of the population can evacuate, those who cannot leave can be transported to safer facilities or prepare to ride out the storm, and organizations such as the National Guard and the Red Cross can plan for the disaster and prevent the escalation of the crisis in the aftermath of destruction. In the case of tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center, also an arm of the NWS, has the ability to issue high-risk warnings as much as 24 hours in advance and refers to storms as catastrophic and life-threatening in an attempt to become more proactive in communicating the severity of these deadly natural disasters.

See Also

  • Earthquakes
  • Evacuation
  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Global Warming
  • Heat Waves
  • Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones
  • Tornadoes and Severe Thunderstorms
  • Tsunamis
Further Readings
  • Brouwer, G.NOAA Breaks Ground for New Satellite Center.” Civil Engineering, v.73/8 (2003).
  • Jung, J.; Zapotocny, T. H.; Marshall, J. F. Le; Treadon, R. E.. “A Two-Season Impact Study of NOAA Polar-Orbiting Satellites in the NCEP Global Data Assimilation System.” Weather and Forecasting, v.23/5 (2008).
  • Malakoff, D.NOAA to Retool Research Programs.” Science, v.306/5699 (2004).
  • NOAA's Environmental Satellites Provide Early Warning of Drought to Countries Around the World.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v.82/1 (2001).
  • Prendergast, A C.NOAA Ocean Explorer.” Choice, v.48/12 (2011).
  • Wang, L.; Cao, C.; Ciren, P.. “Assessing NOAA-16 HIRS Radiance Accuracy Using Simultaneous Nadir Overpass Observations From AIRS.” Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, v.24/9 (2007).
Richard K. Snow
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Mary Snow
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
© 2013 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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