Deep Dive Into NOAA’s Core Priorities

2019-08-23T10:29:54+00:00 April 30, 2018|

What It Was

Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet (Acting Undersecretary of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)), after delivering the keynote address for the American Meteorological Society’s Washington Forum, hosted a conversation with science writers from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and the American Institute of Physics. The following contain the highlights of that discussion.

Why It Matters

Each year, through the appropriations process, Congress considers tax payers’ return on investment when allocating money to agencies. Just as consumer-based brand recognition is important for industry profit, agency-awareness by citizens is significant for federal budgeting. Many Americans utilize public services without realizing which federal agency is delivering the resources and information. NOAA has a broad portfolio, including weather, marine sanctuaries, fisheries, coastal mapping, and ecosystem restoration, which means Americans rely on the agency every day.

Key Points

Streamlining is a theme for the current administration, and NOAA is no different. Gallaudet categorized the agency’s priorities into “the blue economy” and “weather and water.” This simplified structure allows the agency to focus their efforts and to measure success.

The blue economy describes the resources and services the ocean provides that drive our economy, such as fisheries, aquaculture, transportation, and tourism. Gallaudet noted that NOAA’s products and services affect more than one third of U.S. gross domestic product and that marine sanctuaries alone generate $8 billion from diverse activities (e.g., fishing, research, recreation).

When it comes to seafood, the U.S. imports 90 percent from other countries and almost half is from aquaculture. Gallaudet hopes to reduce this statistic by expanding U.S. aquaculture and embracing science needed to grow seafood domestically. NOAA is doing this in three ways:

  • Policy – addressing permitting challenges and regulation confusion to make aquaculture business startup easier
  • Science – investing in the research and development needed to grow fish
  • Tools – supporting data portals (spatial planning resources designed specifically for aquaculture like the Gulf’s AquaMapper) that share data and information from a variety of users that can aid in site selection and operations.

Additionally, he spoke on the use of unmanned technology to study fisheries populations, emphasizing the high-quality information that could be gathered and the time savings over traditional methodology.

Gallaudet pointed out, “we have mapped Mars to a better resolution than we have the seafloor” and stressed the importance of ocean mapping for commerce, defense, and tourism. He compared deep sea exploration to deep space discovery, noting both the nation and administration’s passion for space, and stressed how the ocean can feed that same curiosity while also benefiting communities and the economy.

The second category, weather and water, encompasses Earth and ocean observations (e.g., satellites, buoys, drones), natural disaster predictions and warnings, climate models and ice melt, and daily forecasting. Gallaudet promoted NOAA’s ability to save lives through data collection, improved modeling, and ocean science but stressed the importance of the U.S. becoming the world leader in forecasting. He outlined aspects of the Global Forecasting System (GFS), celebrated its ability to provide advanced warning during the 2017 hurricane season, and revealed NOAA’s ongoing efforts to expand prediction length and improve accuracy by coupling ocean data (e.g., subsurface temperature, current) with air and land measurements in a new model called the Finite­Volume Cubed-Sphere dynamical core (FV3).

With all of these goals it seems reasonable to question the agency’s ability to deliver given the threat of funding cuts based on the president’s FY 2019 budget request. While “more money is always better,” Gallaudet remained positive and confirmed his stance that the budget recommendation would be sufficient.


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Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership