Friday, February 24, 2017


2010 Temperature anomaliesNOAA operations and R&D heavily rely on environmental data derived from observations. Data from NOAA’s and partner satellites, radars, manned and unmanned aircraft, ground stations, sea-going vessels, buoys, and submersibles are a critical foundational pillar for NOAA’s R&D. NOAA’s varied and growing requirements greatly exceed current capabilities, coverage, and/or resolution. In particular, biological observations are among the most challenging to collect, yet they represent a critical need. Much of the data used in NOAA R&D are collected by systems dedicated to NOAA’s regular operations (for example, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite constellation and the TAO Array). Other data needs, however, are unique to R&D. NOAA’s observing system portfolio needs to balance growing demands for data with concerns about maintaining existing systems and implementing emerging technologies. Escalating costs to support existing and emerging observations require rigorous analysis and determination of the most effective observing portfolio.  

Ensuring that environmental information is accessible and usable is as important as generating it to begin with. Standardized data management practices are required to organize data so that they can be effectively retrieved, preserved, analyzed, integrated into new data sets, and shared across communities and with the public. This includes practices for metadata and curation to make data accessible. The users of the data need to be able to understand the information, to compare and combine data from multiple observing systems, and to cite datasets for usage tracking and reproducible results.


GFDL Computer Model CM-2Models represent how systems in the real world behave, employing integrated cause-and-effect relationships as characterized by principals, statistics, or empirical parameterization. Models provide the foundation for predictions of how the state of a system will evolve. Observational data provide the initial conditions for the modeled evolution and subsequently assimilated data constrain that evolution. In addition to producing operational forecasts, NOAA’s suite of models enable R&D to improve NOAA’s predictions of environmental conditions. Models improve and are improved by greater understanding of Earth system processes. Often, improving model performance requires including factors already captured by another model; thus, one of NOAA’s objectives is to more fully integrate Earth system models with each other, working with federal partners to establish standards for doing so. Through modeling, NOAA can better understand changes and their implications, such as for the coastal and estuarine waters of the Great Lakes, the effects of global climate change on hurricanes, the impacts of water use, and land-based pollution on marine ecosystems and human health.


NOAA's newest Zeus super computer

Information Technology (IT) is critical to NOAA R&D. Managing data, conducting analyses, and modeling environmental systems cannot occur without computing platforms, networks, data storage and information analytics. Modeling, in particular, relies on centralized, high-performance computing, but other approaches include cloud computing and virtualization. New high-performance computing hardware architectures require scientific applications to run across multiple processors to achieve desired performance. Improvements in modeling techniques have led to environmental models that can use many thousands of computer processors, which promises to dramatically increase both the accuracy and speed of producing environmental predictions.

As consumer and professional use of social media sites becomes increasingly (and inextricably) intertwined, NOAA must have secure and flexible environments that stimulate participation by harnessing the power of collaboration tools and portals to promote innovation across NOAA Line Offices and with partners. With the scale, scope, and geographic dispersal of NOAA’s various offices, NOAA’s IT supports unified communications by efficiently and reliably switching this traffic amongst formats, media and channels.

Test Beds and Proving Grounds

NOAA scientists working in a testbed facility

NOAA currently operates 11 test beds or proving grounds to accelerate the translation of R&D findings into better operations, services, and decision-making. NOAA's test beds provide forums aimed at enhancing operational outputs and engaging researchers, operational scientists/experts, and partners in developing and testing in a quasi-operational framework. Test bed outputs include demonstrated capabilities that advance NOAA's mission needs and enhanced partnerships. Outcomes from a testbed are capabilities that have been shown to work with operational systems and could include more effective observing systems, better use of data in forecasts, improved forecast models, and applications for improved services and information with demonstrated economic/public safety benefits.

Facilities and Research Platforms

NOAA ship cruising at sea

NOAA’s research infrastructure is comprised of a system of federal laboratories and science centers, as well as ships, aircraft, and other observing systems and platforms. This infrastructure is augmented through external partner assets. NOAA owns or leases hundreds of facilities across the U.S. and the world. Without these buildings, the equipment housed within them, the people who run them, not to mention everyday utilities such as electricity and water, little of the work outlined in this plan could take place. The construction, operations, and management activities required to maintain NOAA R&D are critical elements of the enterprise.

Also critical are NOAA’s mobile research platforms: the wide variety of specialized aircraft and ships needed to complete NOAA’s environmental and scientific missions. NOAA’s ship fleet provides vessels for conducting NOAA’s hydrographic survey, oceanographic, atmospheric, and fisheries research activities. NOAA also operates a fleet of fixed-wing aircraft that collect environmental and geographic data essential to, for example, hurricane and other weather and atmospheric research. To complement its research fleet, NOAA meets its ship and aircraft support needs through contracts with private sector and university partners.