Monday, June 24, 2019

Improving NOAA's Science, Service & Stewardship

As outlined in NOAA’s Next Generation Strategic Plan, NOAA provides “research-to-application capabilities that can recognize and apply significant new understanding to questions, develop research products and methods, and apply emerging science and technology to user needs.”  These capabilities are brought to bear on the four strategic goals directing NOAA’s mission: 



  • Climate Adaptation and Mitigation – An informed society anticipating and responding to climate and its impacts
  • Weather Ready Nation – Society is prepared for and responds to weather-related events
  • Healthy Oceans – Marine fisheries, habitats, and biodiversity are sustained within healthy and productive ecosystems
  • Resilient Coastal Communities and Economies – Coastal and Great Lakes communities are environmentally and economically sustainable

Unified by an overarching vision of resilient ecosystems, communities, and economies, these goals are mutually supportive.   For example, just as economic prosperity depends upon a healthy environment, the sustainability of ocean and coastal ecosystems depends on society’s ability to mitigate and adapt to changing climate.  Similarly, sustainable economic growth along the coasts and in arid regions around the world depends upon climate predictions and projections to inform community development and agriculture.  Likewise, the resilience of communities depends on their understanding of, and preparedness for, high-impact weather and water conditions.  

While NOAA’s four goals are complementary, achieving each presents unique challenges for R&D.  Addressing the needs of the individual goals requires examining the common science and technology elements that support all of the goals, such as observations, modeling, and computer technologies.  NOAA also seeks to improve how its R&D is used by its stakeholders, incorporating assessments of how our science is used by society.  

Ultimately, the strength of NOAA’s R&D rests in the integration of the mission goals.  A continuing challenge is to bring together individual components into an integrated and holistic Earth system understanding that then can be broadly applied.  With a holistic Earth system perspective, NOAA can address not only the key questions that fall into a particular goal or objective, but also those questions that are broader than a single goal.

NOAA’s Mission: Science, Service, and Stewardship

  • To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts,
  • To share that knowledge and information with others, and
  • To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

Protecting Lives & Property

Earth’s ecosystems support people, communities, and economies; human health, prosperity, and well-being depend on the health and resilience of the natural environment.  These interconnections also present challenges.  High impact weather events, freshwater availability, coastal urbanization, ocean and coastal resource use, and climate change are among the central challenges NOAA addresses in the interest of public welfare.  These are some of the challenges that we are experiencing or can foresee, but there are many that we cannot, especially in a rapidly changing world.

Sudden events often challenge us.  Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the significant vulnerability of the nation’s coastal areas to storms and inundation.  The same is true of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent protracted oil spill, the earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull that caused global aviation disruptions – each of these events challenged us but also demonstrated our tremendous capability to anticipate, respond, and adapt.  They also underscored the need to further improve our capability to understand and predict Earth systems and to build resilience.  NOAA R&D will continue to be central to creating solutions to the known and unknown challenges before us.

As social and economic systems evolve and become more complex, the tools and information needed to promote growth, to preserve and improve human and environmental health, to develop and maintain a viable national infrastructure, and to provide security for present and future generations must advance as well.  The demands for responsive and forward-thinking science, service, and stewardship are reflected in our daily lives:

  • A nationwide survey indicates that 96% of the U.S. public obtains, either actively or passively, a total of 301 billion weather forecasts each year. Based on the average annual household value placed on weather information of $286, the American public collectively receives $31.5 billion in benefits from weather forecasts each year.

  • There are increasing demands on the nation’s ocean and coastal resources that provide important products and services.  Seafood, tourism, recreation, protection from coastal storms are the source of billions of dollars in economic activity and millions of jobs. For example, in 2009, the U.S. seafood and recreational fishing industry alone supported approximately 1.3 million jobs and generated $166 billion in sales impacts and $32 billion in income impacts.

  • Since 2000, the total United States land area affected by drought of at least moderate intensity has varied from as little as 7% of the contiguous United States (August 3, 2010) to as much as 46% of the U.S. land area (September 10, 2012).

“It is through research that society gains the understanding to make informed decisions in this increasingly complex world.”

Over the next five years, NOAA R&D activities will address those societal challenges and trends that are of great importance to decision makers. There are increasing demands for services to help people make the best possible decisions in light of issues such as National and global population growth, migration towards coastal regions, impacts of climate change, changing water supply and water quality. 

Growing the Economy

NOAA science and technology impact our personal lives and the global economy.  For example, the quality of weather forecasts depends on R&D.  According to a 2005 study, U.S. electricity producers annually save $166 million by using 24-hour temperature forecasts to improve the mix of generating units that are available to meet electricity demand.   These savings could be increased even further if forecast accuracy were increased, lead time were extended, uncertainty were reduced, or communication to the public were improved.

To ensure that the United States benefits from and fully exploits its scientific research and technology, NOAA encourages its productive use of intellectual property through the patent process.  NOAA can transfer its intellectual property through patent licenses and Cooperative R&D Agreements (CRADAs).   These efforts allow U.S. companies to make strategic use of public investments in R&D, with the goal of providing them an overall competitive advantage.





NOAA also reserves a specific percentage of federal extramural R&D funds for small business through the Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program.  The SBIR program provides valuable funds and support for innovative small businesses and enables them to compete with larger businesses. SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and it encourages the commercialization of the developed technology, product, or service, which, in turn, stimulates the U.S. economy.

Over the last 20 years, the Physical Science Division of the Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) in Boulder, CO, has teamed with three industrial partners in Cooperative R&D Agreements, or CRADAs, to design, develop, and commercialize a wind profiler technology in the United States.The wind profilers measure wind direction, speed, and air turbulence through phased-array radar systems and are very useful in determining the best locations for land-based wind turbines, improved weather forecasting, and air quality forecasts.

Throughout the developmental lifetime of this suite of profilers, NOAA technical staff provided critical expertise for the electronic signal processing in data acquisition and interpretation.Industry partners provided real-time customer requirements to NOAA engineers such that design improvements could be incorporated seamlessly in the manufacturing process.The creation of both an engineering and management oversight boards played an important role by allocating new resources at important project moments as technical and market conditions changed.

This successful collaboration and technology transfer from the federal lab to industry has resulted in over $2 million in royalties, as well as an estimated $25 million in global sales of the product.

Desert Star Systems, LLC, manufactures electronic satellite tags and other underwater sensory systems for tracking sub-surface devices/animals. Desert Star has been successfully working with the SBIR program since 1995. During this time, the additional sales revenue generated through Phase 3 commercialization projects has resulted in approximately $6.2 million, or just above half of Desert Star’s average sales revenue.

Desert Star recently developed the first stored solar power line of electronic animal tags, called Sea Tag, used to capture simultaneous migration and oceanographic data.SeaTag expands on current tagging technologies by offering a different array of sensors and capabilities.All SeaTag devices are powered through the use of stored solar power with the exception of -CAM and -RC which also use batteries. The tag is equipped with a solar cell and a capacitor which powers the tag for approximately two weeks of total darkness on tens of minutes of sunlight.

According to company representatives, this new product line is expected to double or triple annual revenues within the next 2-4 years.

Legislative Drivers for NOAA R&D

As an agency of the Executive Branch of the United States government, NOAA complies with federal statutes and Executive orders.  R&D is explicitly mandated by some of these drivers; for others, R&D provides the scientific and technical foundation to effectively execute them. These drivers are diverse:  ranging from the Ocean Exploration Program Act, which focuses on unexplored regions of the deep oceans that encompass 95% of the ocean; to the Weather Service Organic act, which provides NOAA with the authority to forecast, record, report, monitor, and distribute meteorological, hydrologic and climate data; to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which requires rebuilding and maintaining the Nation’s fishery stocks.  Each of these mandates focuses on a specific need, topic, or challenge for the Nation; however, the strength of the NOAA R&D enterprise rests on not only fulfilling those requirements but examining the areas of synergy and integrating the required research into a holistic perspective.