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Monday, September 30, 2013

Study shows polar-orbiting satellite data was key to pinpointing Sandy’s track and time of landfall

December 11, 2012

Arctic warming.

This image uses the model output from the ECMWF experiment, showing where Sandy was predicted to be located five-days out with the normal satellite data inputs into the model (left) and without any polar-orbiting satellite data (right). Both position and intensity forecasts were affected – Sandy stays out to sea without the polar-orbiting satellite data, and the closer isobar lines encircling the storm also imply a more organized and stronger system.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

According to a new study by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the NOAA forecasts of Hurricane Sandy’s track could have been hundreds of miles off without information from polar-orbiting satellites. Rather than identifying the New Jersey landfall location within 30 miles five-days before landfall, the models would have shown Sandy remaining at sea. 

“This study shows the value of polar-orbiting satellites in developing life-saving forecasts with longer lead times," said Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, and deputy NOAA administrator. “Had we thought the brunt of the storm was going to stay out in the Atlantic, or if residents had only a day to prepare or evacuate, the results would have been even more devastating.”

The ECMWF is an independent, intergovernmental organization supported by 34 European nations, providing global medium-to-extended range forecasts.

Data from polar-orbiting satellites consist of accurate, high-resolution atmospheric temperature and water vapor information, which are critical inputs to forecast models that help predict the intensity and location of severe weather events, such as Sandy — several days in advance.  These spacecraft are called polar-orbiting, because they circle the earth from pole-to-pole, providing full global coverage daily as the Earth rotates beneath them.   

On October 29, Sandy made landfall just south of Atlantic City, N.J. It morphed into a hybrid storm, bringing strong winds, heavy snow, rain and a powerful storm surge to areas along the Eastern seaboard.

“The global observing system based on polar-orbiting satellites, along with other observation resources, numerical models and the experience and skill of our forecasters, gave NOAA an advantage in tracking Sandy - from tropical wave, to hurricane, to post-tropical cyclone,” said Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction in College Park, Md.  

NOAA operates two types of satellites; polar operational environmental satellites (POES), which fly 540 miles above Earth's surface, circling from pole to pole, and geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES), which remain stationary above the equator at an altitude of 22,300 miles. GOES spacecraft orbit at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation, resulting in near continuous observations of a fixed region. As a result, GOES provides constant imaging and POES, the subject of this study, offer full global coverage — with improved spatial resolution and additional instruments to measure atmospheric temperature and water vapor.       

NOAA is working with its partner NASA to develop and launch the next generation of polar-orbiting satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Last year, NASA launched the Suomi NPP satellite, which is the bridge between NOAA’s current polar-orbiting satellites and NASA’s current Earth Observing System satellites and JPSS. The JPSS-1 satellite is set to launch in early 2017.   

“Our top priority is ensuring NOAA’s National Weather Service can maintain accuracy and timeliness of its forecasts and warnings today, and into the future,” Sullivan added. “The only way that can happen is with a robust satellite fleet.”

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Report finds commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated $199 billion in 2011

U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales and supported 1.7 million jobs in the nation’s economy in 2011, according to a new economic report released by NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

The report, Fisheries Economics of the United States 2011, is published annually on a two-year lag to allow data collection, analysis, and peer review. It provides economic statistics on U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries and marine-related businesses for each coastal state and the nation. Key to the report are the economic effects--jobs, sales, income, and value added to Gross National Product--of the commercial and recreational fishing industries. “Economic impact” measures how sales in each sector ripple throughout the state and national economy as each dollar spent generates additional sales by other firms and consumers.

The seafood industry—harvesters, seafood processors and dealers, seafood wholesalers and retailers—generated $129 billion in sales impacts, $37 billion in income impacts and supported 1.2 million jobs in 2011, the most recent year included in the report. Recreational fishing generated $70 billion in sales impacts, $20 billion in income impacts, and supported 455,000 jobs in 2011. Compared to 2010, the numbers are up for all of these impacts except commercial seafood sales.

“Commercial and recreational fishing are integral parts of the nation’s social and economic fabric,” said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “While there’s still work to do, to see landings and value climb in 2011 shows we’re moving in the right direction, even in this time of challenging transition for many fishing communities.”

The annual report also breaks down the sales impacts, income impacts and job figures for each coastal state. The five states that generated the most jobs from fishing in 2011 were California, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, and Alaska. The states with the most growth in the number of commercial fishing jobs compared to 2010 were Alabama (76 percent, net increase of 4,743 jobs), Mississippi (45 percent, net increase of 1,722 jobs), Oregon (32 percent, net increase of 4,483 jobs), Louisiana (29 percent, net increase of 7,272 jobs), and Alaska (17 percent, net increase of 9,288 jobs).

The greatest portion of the nation’s landings revenue generated by the commercial fishing industry was in Alaska ($1.9 billion), followed by Massachusetts ($433 million), and Maine ($381 million).

Saltwater recreational fishing generated its highest economic effect in sales impacts and jobs in West Florida ($4.9 billion sales, 47,000 jobs) East Florida ($3.3 billion sales, 29,000 jobs); Louisiana ($2 billion sales, 18,000 jobs); North Carolina ($2 billion sales, 18,000 jobs); Texas ($1.9 billion sales, 15,000 jobs); and New Jersey (1.7 billion sales, 10,000 jobs).

Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2011 includes descriptive statistics on commercial fish landings, revenue, and price trends; recreational fishing effort, catch, and participation rates; and employer and non-employer establishments, annual payroll, and annual receipt information for fishing-related industries such as seafood retailers and ship and boat building. The report also provides a snapshot of fishery management plans, limited access privilege fishing programs (a type of catch share program), buyback programs, as well as the status of fish stocks and an inventory of protected marine resources.

The report is the sixth volume in an annual series designed to give the public accessible economic information on fishing activities in the U.S., and is a companion to Fisheries of the United States.

Fisheries Economics of the United States 2011 is available online at: http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/economics/publications/feus/fisheries_economics_2011. Hard copies of the report are forthcoming.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

U.S. Power Squadrons renew cooperative charting program

January 18, 2013

U.S. Power Squadron members and others report wrecks and other potential navigation dangers to NOAA, and cartographers update the nautical chart.

 U.S. Power Squadron members and others report wrecks and other potential navigation dangers to NOAA, and cartographers update the nautical chart. These are realtime displays from a January 16 hydrographic survey, as NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II confirmed the location of a reported wreck in the Chesapeake Bay.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

This week, NOAA and the U.S. Power Squadrons, a non-profit organization dedicated to safe boating, will renew a 50-year commitment to a cooperative charting program that helps to update the nation’s thousands of navigational charts.

Under the voluntary program, formalized by a Memorandum of Agreement, members of the U.S. Power Squadrons scan water and land areas, looking for changing conditions that may not be reflected on NOAA nautical charts. Power Squadrons members submit their reports online, and NOAA cartographers review and incorporate changes to their navigation products.

“The partnership between Coast Survey and the Power Squadrons is a long and successful one, speaking to our shared vision of safety on U.S. waters,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The cooperative charting program, originally formalized in 1963, continues an extremely cost-effective method for correcting chart errors that are the result of constantly changing coastlines and seafloors.”

Over the last ten years, Power Squadrons members have submitted more than 28,000 corrections to NOAA’s nautical charts and the United States Coast Pilot, a series of nautical books that cover a variety of information important to coastal and Great Lakes navigators. More than 4,000 members have submitted reports, adding their particular local knowledge to NOAA’s national effort to keep navigation materials accurate.

“I believe that our cooperative efforts with NOAA represent an ideal partnership between a volunteer organization and a federal agency,” says John Alter, chief commander of the U.S. Power Squadrons. “It gives our members a feeling of accomplishment and pride to see their contributions reflected in the latest nautical chart updates and provides a tangible benefit to being a United States Power Squadrons’ member.  This cooperative effort has stood the test of time, and we look forward to our continued commitment to this important civic service.”

Glang will attend the U.S. Power Squadrons’ annual meeting on Saturday. He and John Alter, chief commander of the U.S. Power Squadrons, will sign a new Memorandum of Agreement that updates and improves the cooperative charting program.

In 1963, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, one of NOAA's predecessor agencies, recognized the challenge of maintaining one thousand U.S. nautical charts ? covering 95,000 miles of coastline ? with the sparse resources at hand. Many charts would go uninspected by Coast Survey surveyors for decades, agency leaders acknowledged. To help remedy the situation, Coast Survey established the cooperative charting program so local Power Squadron members could check their local charts for accuracy and report discrepancies.

The U.S. Power Squadrons is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to making boating safer and more enjoyable by teaching classes in seamanship, navigation and related subjects. The organization has nearly 40,000 members, in more than 400 squadrons across the country and in U.S. territories.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, originally formed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, updates the nation’s nautical charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies and searches for underwater obstructions and wreckage that pose a danger to navigation. Join Coast Survey on Twitter @nauticalcharts, and check out the NOAA Coast Survey Blog at http://noaacoastsurvey.wordpress.com for more in-depth coverage of surveying and charting.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Friday, September 27, 2013

Remains of USS Monitor sailors interred at Arlington National Cemetery

March 8, 2013

Honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

Honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA.)

USS Monitor sailor.

The facial reconstruction of two Sailors whose remains were discovered inside the gun turret of the USS Monitor after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002 are revealed during a ceremony sponsored by the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation. The ceremony is part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8 and 9, 1862, when Monitor and CSS Merrimac fought in the first ironclad battle in naval history. Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C. later that year. While much has been learned about the physical characteristics of the two Sailors, their identities remain a mystery.

Download here. (Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gina K. Morrissette/Released)

USS Monitor gun turret is raised.

The USS Monitor gun turret is raised during a 2002 recovery operation by NOAA and the U.S. Navy.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

The remains of two unknown USS Monitor sailors, recovered by NOAA and the U.S. Navy in 2002 from the ship’s gun turret, were buried today, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery. USS Monitor sank in a New Year’s Eve storm just over 150 years ago, carrying 16 crew members to their deaths.

“Just as the crew of the Monitor fought tirelessly to keep their ‘old-time knight in armor’ afloat, so have many worked tirelessly since her loss to keep their commitment to her, and to the 16 sailors who answered the call-to-arms of a young nation in peril, and paid the ultimate price,” said Kathyrn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and acting NOAA administrator, in remarks at the memorial service. “One major step toward that was taken some 40 years ago, when the nation designated the place where Monitor lies as America’s first National Marine Sanctuary, marking it forever as a place of special national significance. We are gathered here today to take another major step, laying two of her sailors to rest in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery. As we do so, let us all reaffirm our own commitment to forever remember the work of the Monitor and insure her story is told to our children’s children.

“As keepers of the USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA is committed to protecting the final resting site of this ‘little boat’ and her valiant crew, and to assuring that the memory and the legacy of the Monitor and her crew are preserved and passed on to future generations,” she added.

Sullivan was joined in making remarks by Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy, and James McPherson, Ph.D., Pulitzer prize-winning Civil War historian, at a service attended by members of Congress, the military and family members descended from the original USS Monitor crew.

RDML Gerd Glang, NOAA director of the Office of Coast Survey, served as the NOAA Corps escort officer for the formal military services and traditional caisson carriage procession to the grave site. The site sits adjacent to the memorial for NASA astronauts killed in the explosions of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles.

Conservators inspect the Dahlgren guns.

Conservators inspect the Dahlgren guns inside the USS Monitor turret.

Download here. (Credit: The Mariners' Museum )

Officers stand on the deck of the USS Monitor.

Officers stand on the deck of the USS Monitor in this image captured on July 9, 1862, by Union photographer, James F. Gibson.

Download here. (Credit: Library of Congress )

Bill Read.

A diver swims above the bow of the USS Monitor.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA and the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii worked for 10 years to try to identify the sailors including trying to match DNA of family descendents with that from the recovered remains.. Last year, NOAA released forensic reconstructions of the sailors’ faces, showing what they may have looked like while aboard the ship. Neither effort has resulted in identification of the remains to date but efforts are ongoing.

For more than a quarter of a century, NOAA has forged and maintained an enduring bond to the legacy of USS Monitor and its crew. In addition to trying to identify the two sailors, NOAA has carried out numerous research expeditions at the site, including working with the Navy and other partners to recover important artifacts.

"This interment honors the sacrifice of a courageous crew and commemorates an important battle fought 151 years ago when, for the first time iron-clad ships clashed in naval warfare, signaling the end of the era for wooden ships," said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. "While Naval tradition holds the site of a shipwreck as hallowed ground and a proper final resting place for sailors who perish at sea, this ceremony pays tribute not only to the two sailors being interred, but to all who died when Monitor sank so many years ago during the Civil War. Little is certain in military service, but we can guarantee the Navy will always remain committed to honoring those who pay the ultimate price defending our nation."

The area around the shipwreck became the first National Marine Sanctuary in 1975, Since then, research at the Monitor site has focused on documenting the wreck in detail and understanding how it has been affected by natural deterioration and human activities. Many of the iconic Monitor artifacts were recovered – including the rotating gun turret – and are being housed and displayed at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va.

Designed by Swedish inventor John Ericsson, USS Monitor is best known for its Civil War battle with the Confederate ironclad, CSS Virginia, in Hampton Roads, Va., on March 9, 1862. The engagement marked the first time iron-armored ships clashed in naval warfare and signaled the end of the era of wooden ships. Less than a year later, while being towed to a new field of battle, USS Monitor capsized and sank 16 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C. in 240 feet of water.

To date, no trace of the other 14 missing members of the crew has been found.

NOAA, in an effort to identify the remains, last year worked with the Navy and Louisiana State University to reconstruct the men's faces. In December, NOAA dedicated a memorial at Hampton National Cemetery to honor all 16 members of the crew who lost their lives when the USS Monitor was lost.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


View the original article here

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Statement from Dr. Kathryn Sullivan on NOAA’s FY 2014 Budget Request

April 10, 2013

While the economy has shown signs of recovery over the past year, continued fiscal uncertainty and tight budgets mean that government agencies, like so many families and businesses across the country, still face tough choices. At NOAA, we’re working to fulfill our core mission of science, service and stewardship and balance investments in current and future programs and services.  

Americans in all 50 states and territories have come to rely on NOAA’s products and services on a daily basis. Across all of NOAA, our employees and partners work day in and day out to foster scientific discovery, support economic vitality, and protect our planet’s resources for future generations.  

NOAA provides the environmental intelligence that helps citizens, businesses, and governments make smart choices. Just as every citizen depends on NOAA for weather information, so, too, do businesses rely on NOAA’s services. The fishing and shipping industries count on NOAA’s nautical charts and information about tides and currents before heading to sea. Farmers depend on our long-range forecasts and information about the drought to inform decisions. The entire country relies on NOAA’s observations and products to keep goods moving safely and efficiently through our ports.

While we still face significant challenges and an uncertain budget environment, the fiscal year 2014 budget request shows that we have listened to our stakeholders, exercised the necessary strong fiscal discipline and worked hard to make the right investments for the whole of NOAA. This year’s budget request of approximately $5.4 billion aims to: 1) ensure the readiness, responsiveness, and resiliency of communities from coast to coast; 2) help protect lives and property; and, 3) support vibrant coastal communities and economies.

Ready, Responsive, and Resilient Communities

Last year’s onslaught of severe weather events caused widespread damage and devastated families and businesses. These losses highlighted the need for communities across the nation to become more ready, more resilient, and more responsive.

One recent example is Hurricane/Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy (Hurricane Sandy).  Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the value NOAA brings to society, as the whole agency mobilized to help the public prepare for, respond to, and initiate recovery from the storm. In the weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy, NOAA satellites and observing platforms provided the vital data needed for our forecast enterprise to predict the path and intensity of the storm and all its impacts. Once Hurricane Sandy passed through the Northeast, NOAA worked side-by-side with Federal, State, and local agencies to aid the area’s recovery. Our ships surveyed ports and harbors so that maritime commerce could resume. Our aircraft re-mapped the coastal zones, speeding the flow of aid to damaged communities and homeowners.  Our environmental response teams responded to oil and hazmat spills and assessed environmental damages and debris.  Our recovery work continues: NOAA’s coastal expertise, technical tools and information - such as coastal inundation products, maps, and storm surge modeling capabilities - are helping communities rebuild in a manner that is smarter and safer.

NOAA is the only federal agency with operational responsibility to provide critical and accurate weather, climate, and ecosystem forecasts that support national safety and commerce, and to protect and preserve ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources.  

This budget allows NOAA to deliver forecasts and warnings that can be trusted, provide services in a cost-effective manner, continue to promote preparedness and resilience to weather-related impacts, and improve the economic value of weather, water, drought, and climate information.  

Environmental Intelligence

Americans rely on satellite observations every day. NOAA’s environmental observations are the backbone of our global earth observing system and provide the information needed to provide a holistic picture of our planet from the depths of the oceans to the surface of the sun. The data supplied by NOAA satellites are critical to the full breadth of NOAA services and drive our ability to increase community and ecological resilience from the local to national level, now and into the future.  

NOAA missions, from issuing accurate weather forecasts to researching climate change, depend on this integrated suite of observing systems. NOAA’s satellites provide critical data for forecasts and warnings that are vital to every citizen and to our economy as a whole. They provide warnings for severe weather, enable safe air, land, and marine transportation, and even contribute directly to life-saving rescue missions. In addition to their key role in weather prediction, NOAA’s satellite observation suite also provides other benefits such as monitoring coastal ecosystem health to tracking migratory movements of endangered species and monitoring solar eruptions.  

Vibrant Coastal Communities and Economies

A healthy marine environment provides significant economic benefits to our nation. NOAA is the primary federal agency responsible for enabling and promoting the sustainable, safe, and efficient use of coastal resources and coastal places. NOAA plays a critical role in fostering the vitality of the growing coastal population and a productive economy by supporting sustainable resources that benefit industries, jobs, and provide services that make businesses more efficient and safe. Our investments in the management of vital marine resources ensure these resources will contribute to thriving communities and their economies well into the future. Whether it’s supporting science-based stewardship of living marine resources or supporting sound decision-making for human, ecological, and economic health, NOAA’s science enhances our understanding of our planet’s marine and coastal ecosystems. This budget provides key investments to support sustainable fisheries, protected resources, habitat conservation and restoration, coastal science, and research and development opportunities to protect and preserve our environment for future generations.

NOAA touches each and every community across the United States. Our employees are your colleagues, neighbors and friends.  NOAA and its employees work each day to maximize U.S. competitiveness, enable economic growth, foster science and technological leadership, and promote environmental stewardship.  This budget makes the right investments for NOAA while maintaining our commitment to delivering the services, stewardship and science America needs.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan
Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
and Acting NOAA Administrator


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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Research investigates where Caribbean fish gather and spawn

February 26, 2013

Female spawning Red Hind Grouper

Female spawning Red Hind Grouper.

Download here (Credit:University of Puerto Rico/NOAA)

NOAA-funded research in the Caribbean is using the underwater sounds of reef fish, such as groupers, to identify areas where they gather to spawn — a behavior that makes the fish easier to catch and susceptible to overfishing. The research may lead to more precise measures to protect spawning locations and thereby allow a depleted fish population to rebuild.

Scientists at the University of Puerto Rico, working with Caribbean resource managers, are conducting the current research in an effort to protect populations of commercially and recreationally important grouper, one of the most valuable fisheries in the region. Groupers were once one of the most important species found in the fisheries within Puerto Rico. In 1975 the catch totaled 980,000 pounds, but since then has steadily declined such that in 2005 it was less than 83,000 pounds, a reduction of more than 90 percent.

Tim Rowell.

University of Puerto Rico scientist Tim Rowell deploys boat based hydrophone to capture sound from spawning fishes aggregation.

Download here (Credit:University of Puerto Rico/NOAA)

Groupers and other fishes make characteristic sounds when they gather to spawn. By recording these sounds with an underwater microphone, either lowered from a boat or mounted on the bottom, scientists can tell not only where the fish are, but also when and how many are there. The research may allow the technique to be expanded in the future to other species’ spawning areas. Protecting spawning locations is a critical element in recovery of depleted populations.

This research technique has high potential to aid not only in the protection and restoration of fish species in shallow water coral reef ecosystems, but is also being employed in NOAA-funded research at UPR on largely unexplored deeper water coral reef ecosystems, that includes species such as yellowfin and black grouper.

“This research is of keen interest to the Caribbean Fishery Management Council in its efforts to preserve and restore depleted fish stocks in the Caribbean,” said Richard Appeldoorn, Ph.D., director of the Caribbean Coral Reef Institute (CCRI). “Fish spawning aggregations are critical to the survival of many reef species in the Caribbean Basin. This research, which is focused on the red hind, a type of grouper, has potential to aid in the discovery and monitoring of spawning aggregations of many other fish species that are of high economic and ecological importance in the region.”

A research team, working through CCRI at the University of Puerto Rico, led this research in partnership with the University of South Florida and NOAA Fisheries. The findings were presented in the August 2012 issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series. Research funding to CCRI is provided by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and administered by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science through a cooperative agreement with the University of Puerto Rico.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


View the original article here

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Research, response for future oil spills: Lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon

December 3, 2012

A view of the oil source as seen during an overflight on May 20, 2010.

A view of the oil source as seen during an overflight on May 20, 2010.

High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A special collection of articles about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill provides the first comprehensive analysis and synthesis of the science used in the unprecedented response effort by the government, academia, and industry. Papers present a behind-the-scenes look at the extensive scientific and engineering effort — teams, data, information, and advice from within and outside the government — assembled to respond to the disaster. And, with the benefit of hindsight and additional analyses, these papers evaluate the accuracy of the information that was used in real-time to inform the response team and the public.

For the most part, information presented publically during the spill was accurate. Oil was rapidly consumed by bacteria, seafood was not contaminated by hydrocarbons or dispersants, and the oil budget was by and large accurate. The only part of the oil budget that was later found to be inaccurate was the fraction of oil that was chemically dispersed versus naturally dispersed. That information had no impact on public safety, seafood safety or the response effort, but understanding the amount of oil that was dispersed chemically vs. naturally is important for future such efforts.

One of the most controversial issues concerned the rate at which hydrocarbons were spewing forth from the damaged well. The lengthy time it took for the scientific team to determine the flow rate led to considerable speculation that the government was withholding information. In reality, as described by the papers, the government/academic team charged with determining flow rate took the time they needed to get it right. The accuracy of the flow rates improved with time as more and better in situ data were acquired and more independent methods reported results.

Valuable lessons were learned, with preparation and knowledge being two key elements needed to respond to disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the worst environmental emergencies in the history of the U.S. and one that also took the lives of 11 oil rig workers.

Two overview papers and 13 specialty papers constitute a special section of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Of the 15 papers, three are newly published: two introductory papers and one specialty paper provide an inside look at the scientific and engineering aspects of stopping the flow of oil, guaranteeing the integrity of the well once it was shut in, estimating the amount of oil spilled, capturing and recovering oil, tracking and forecasting surface oil, protecting coastal and oceanic wildlife and habitat, managing fisheries and protecting the safety of seafood. The papers describe the process underway to determine the impact of the spill on the natural resources and ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico, but because those analyses are not completed, no conclusions are presented. The remaining 12 papers have been previously published online.

“While the federal family was well versed in oil response and remediation, and we brought many resources to bear, the scale and complexity of Deepwater Horizon taxed our organizations in unprecedented ways,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “We learned much during this extraordinary disaster and we hope the lessons learned will be implemented before and used during any future events.”

In one of the papers — “Science in support of the Deepwater Horizon response”—lead author Lubchenco and her co-authors suggest future oil spill response preparedness include:

Gather adequate environmental baselines for all regions at risk;Develop new technologies for rapid precise reconnaissance and sampling to support a timely and robust response effort;Fill large information gaps regarding biological effects of oil, changing climate, and other simultaneous drivers of variability in coastal and aquatic ecosystems;Require future oil extraction permits be conditional on having mechanisms in place to rapidly assess flow rate; and Conduct research on the impacts of dispersants and dispersants-plus-oil on a wide range of species and life stages.

Another paper —"Application of science and engineering to quantify and control the Deepwater Horizon oil spill” — describes the unprecedented collaboration among government, academic, and industry scientists and engineers. Lead author Marcia McNutt, Ph.D., director of the USGS, explains how scientific and engineering information was crucial to guide decision-making for questions never before encountered, especially during the tense hours after the well was capped, but might still be leaking underground.

"Although we all hope 'Never again!' will there be an oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon, there will always be some risk as we move into deeper water and more difficult environments in our quest for the planet's remaining fossil fuels," said McNutt. "A significant drawback in addressing many of the issues we confronted in Deepwater Horizon was the lack of peer-reviewed scientific publications from prior marine-well blowouts to help guide our actions; we will not make that mistake again by neglecting to publish for posterity the scientific lessons from this tragedy."

The event also showed the value of federal partnerships with academic institutions.

“The coordination within and across agencies was impressive, but so too was the engagement of academic scientists in a joint effort to respond to the disaster” said Steve Murawski, a co-author on both introductory papers, chief scientist at NOAA Fisheries during the response effort and now a professor at the University of South Florida. “Through these partnerships, new scientific discoveries were made such as estimating flow rate from atmospheric measurements, testing for dispersant in seafood, understanding the behavior of the loop current, and discovering novel microbial communities in the Gulf.”

A final paper — “Scientific basis for safely shutting in the Macondo well after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout” — further points to the unprecedented level of coordination among scientists, engineers, and emergency response officials in the public and private sectors.  In this paper, scientists describe the geological hazards of shutting in the well and the conditions under which this could safely and successfully be done.

“Without this level of cooperation and round-the-clock engagement by people from many disciplines, it would not have been possible to carry out the continual scientific analyses needed to ensure the well was not leaking below the sea floor once the capping stack was closed,” explained lead author Steve Hickman, USGS research geologist. “For the government scientists onsite at BP headquarters, rapid acquisition and analysis of critical data sets and open exchange of ideas and possible outcomes was essential to ensuring the well had enough integrity to remain safely shut in until it was killed and sealed with cement.”

USGS provides science for a changing world. Visit USGS.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USGS and our other social media channels.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at www.noaa.gov and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Monday, September 23, 2013

Tortugas marine reserve yields more, larger fish

February 4, 2013

Red grouper.

Populations of commercially important species like the red grouper increased in the Tortugas region following the closure of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Tortugas Ecological Reserve. 

Download here (Credit:NOAA)

A new NOAA research report finds that both fish populations and commercial and recreational anglers have benefited from “no-take” protections in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The report, “An Integrated Biogeographic Assessment of Reef Fish Populations and Fisheries in Dry Tortugas: Effects of No-take Reserves,” is the first to evaluate how the 151-square nautical mile Tortugas Ecological Reserve affects the living marine resources of the region and the people whose livelihoods are connected to them.

The report’s analysis of long-term socioeconomic and scientific information found that after the ecological reserve was designated in 2001:

Overfished species such as black and red grouper, yellowtail and mutton snapper increased in presence, abundance and size inside the reserve and throughout the region;Annual gatherings of spawning mutton snapper, once thought to be wiped out from overfishing, began to reform inside the Reserve; Commercial catches of reef fish in the region increased, and continue to do so; andNo financial losses were experienced by regional commercial or recreational fishers;
“The findings in this report are good news for NOAA management efforts to enhance fisheries and other natural resources in the Florida Keys,” said Holly Bamford, Ph. D., NOAA assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service. “The results are equally important in other areas where NOAA science provides support to management decisions that are made to best utilize and protect our natural resources.”

To assess economic effects of the area closure, social scientists from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and University of Massachusetts analyzed catch landings and revenues from commercial fishers (reef fish, shrimp, spiny lobster and king mackerel) and surveyed recreational fishing guides operating within the Tortugas region before and for five years after reserve protection.

“This research shows that marine reserves and economically viable fishing industries can coexist,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “The health of our economy is tied to the health of our oceans. They are not mutually exclusive.”

Key West commercial fishery landings had an estimated value of $56 million in 2011, up from $40 million in 2001, according to NOAA’s Fisheries of the United States reports. Ocean recreation and tourism support approximately 33,000 jobs in the Florida Keys.

Contributors to the report also included researchers from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, and University of Miami.

The 151-square nautical mile Tortugas Ecological Reserve was designated by the Florida Keys sanctuary in 2001, and its design involved extensive collaboration between commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, scientists, conservationists, citizens-at-large and resource managers. The reserve is closed to all consumptive use, including fishing and anchoring, and a portion of it is open to permitted marine researchers only.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats, as well as shipwrecks and maritime heritage resources. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science is the lead science office for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Visit us online or follow us via the NOAA Ocean Science Blog.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Atlantic hurricane season on track to be above-normal

August 8, 2013

 Image of Tropical Storm Dorian on July 24, 2013 from NOAA's GOES East satellite.

Image of Tropical Storm Dorian on July 24, 2013, from NOAA's GOES East satellite.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA issued its updated Atlantic hurricane season outlook today saying the season is shaping up to be above normal with the possibility that it could be very active. The season has already produced four named storms, with the peak of the season – mid-August through October – yet to come.
“Our confidence for an above-normal season is still high because the predicted atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are favorable for storm development have materialized,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. “Also, two of the four named storms to-date formed in the deep tropical Atlantic, which historically is an indicator of an active season.”
The conditions in place now are similar to those that have produced many active Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995, and include above-average Atlantic sea surface temperatures and a stronger rainy season in West Africa, which produces wind patterns that help turn storm systems there into tropical storms and hurricanes.
The updated outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of an above-normal season. Across the Atlantic Basin for the entire season – June 1 to November 30 – NOAA’s updated seasonal outlook (which includes the activity to date of tropical storms Andrea, Barry, Chantal, and Dorian) projects a 70 percent chance for each of the following ranges:

13 to 19 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including 6 to 9 hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which3 to 5 could be major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)

These ranges are above the 30-year seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The updated outlook is similar to the pre-season outlook issued in May, but with a reduced expectation for extreme levels of activity. Motivating this change is a decreased likelihood that La Niña will develop and bring its reduced wind shear that further strengthens the hurricane season. Other factors are the lack of hurricanes through July, more variability in the wind patterns across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and slightly lower hurricane season model predictions. In May, the outlook called for 13-20 named storms, 7-11 hurricanes and 3-6 major hurricanes.

“The peak of the hurricane season is almost upon us and it’s important to remain prepared for hurricanes through November," said Joe Nimmich, FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery. "Make sure to review your family emergency plan, check that your emergency kit is stocked and consider insurance options. Learn more about how you can prepare for hurricanes at www.ready.gov/hurricanes.”

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Saturday, September 21, 2013

2012 was one of the 10 warmest years on record globally

August 6, 2013

State of the Climate in 2012 - report cover.

The 2012 State of the Climate report is available online.

(Credit: NOAA)

Worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record according to the 2012 State of the Climate report released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). The peer-reviewed report, with scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., serving as lead editors, was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries (highlights, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, sea, ice, and sky. 

“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate — carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place," said Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. “This annual report is well-researched, well-respected, and well-used; it is a superb example of the timely, actionable climate information that people need from NOAA to help prepare for extremes in our ever-changing environment."

Conditions in the Arctic were a major story of 2012, with the region experiencing unprecedented change and breaking several records. Sea ice shrank to its smallest “summer minimum” extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. In addition, more than 97 percent of the Greenland ice sheet showed some form of melt during the summer, four times greater than the 1981–2010 average melt extent.

Temperature in 2012 compared to the 1981-2010 average.

Temperature in 2012 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Credit: NOAA Climate.gov, based on NCDC data. See more.

The report used dozens of climate indicators to track and identify changes and overall trends to the global climate system. These indicators include greenhouse gas concentrations, temperature of the lower and upper atmosphere, cloud cover, sea surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean salinity, sea ice extent and snow cover. Each indicator includes thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets.

Highlights:

Warm temperature trends continue near Earth’s surface: Four major independent datasets show 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record, ranking either 8th or 9th, depending upon the dataset used. The United States and Argentina had their warmest year on record. La Niña dissipates into neutral conditions:  A weak La Niña dissipated during spring 2012 and, for the first time in several years, neither El Niño nor La Niña, which can dominate regional weather and climate conditions around the globe, prevailed for the majority of the year.  The Arctic continues to warm; sea ice extent reaches record low: The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate compared with lower latitudes. Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September and Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in June each reached new record lows. Arctic sea ice minimum extent (1.32 million square miles, September 16) was the lowest of the satellite era. This is 18 percent lower than the previous record low extent of 1.61 million square miles that occurred in 2007 and 54 percent lower than the record high minimum ice extent of 2.90 million square miles that occurred in 1980. The temperature of permafrost, or permanently frozen land, reached record-high values in northernmost Alaska. A new melt extent record occurred July 11–12 on the Greenland ice sheet when 97 percent of the ice sheet showed some form of melt, four times greater than the average melt this time of year. Antarctica sea ice extent reaches record high: The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.51 million square miles on September 26. This is 0.5 percent higher than the previous record high extent of 7.47 million square miles that occurred in 2006 and seven percent higher than the record low maximum sea ice extent of 6.96 million square miles that occurred in 1986. Sea surface temperatures increase: Four independent datasets indicate that the globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2012 was among the 11 warmest on record.  After a 30-year period from 1970 to 1999 of rising global sea surface temperatures, the period 2000–2012 exhibited little trend. Part of this difference is linked to the prevalence of La Niña-like conditions during the 21st century, which typically lead to lower global sea surface temperatures. Ocean heat content remains near record levels: Heat content in the upper 2,300 feet, or a little less than one-half mile, of the ocean remained near record high levels in 2012. Overall increases from 2011 to 2012 occurred between depths of 2,300 to 6,600 feet and even in the deep ocean. Sea level reaches record high: Following sharp decreases in global sea level in the first half of 2011 that were linked to the effects of La Niña, sea levels rebounded to reach record highs in 2012. Globally, sea level has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades. Sea ice concentration reached a new record low in mid-September 2012.

Sea ice concentration reached a new record low in mid-September 2012. Credit: NOAA Climate.gov, based on NSIDC data. See more. 

Ocean salinity trends continue: Continuing a trend that began in 2004, oceans were saltier than average in areas of high evaporation, including the central tropical North Pacific, and fresher than average in areas of high precipitation, including the north central Indian Ocean, suggesting that precipitation is increasing in already rainy areas and evaporation is intensifying in drier locations. Tropical cyclones near average: Global tropical cyclone activity during 2012 was near average, with a total of 84 storms, compared with the 1981–2010 average of 89. Similar to 2010 and 2011, the North Atlantic was the only hurricane basin that experienced above-normal activity. Greenhouse gases climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2012. Following a slight decline in manmade emissions associated with the global economic downturn, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production reached a record high in 2011 of 9.5 ± 0.5 petagrams (1,000,000,000,000,000 grams) of carbon , and a new record of 9.7 ± 0.5 petagrams of carbon  is estimated for 2012. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 2.1 ppm in 2012, reaching a global average of 392.6 ppm for the year. In spring 2012, for the first time, the atmospheric CO2concentration exceeded 400 ppm at several Arctic observational sites. Cool temperature trends continue in Earth’s lower stratosphere: The average lower stratospheric temperature, about six to ten miles above the Earth’s surface, for 2012 was record to near-record cold, depending on the dataset. Increasing greenhouse gases and decline of stratospheric ozone tend to cool the stratosphere while warming the planet near-surface layers.

The 2012 State of the Climate report is peer-reviewed and published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. This year marks the 23rd edition of the report, which is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, the business sector, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making. The full report can be viewed online.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Friday, September 20, 2013

Explorers discover northernmost Atlantic seeps, deep-sea canyon diversity, off U.S. Northeast

August 2, 2013

Octopus hatching.

Alongside the diverse coral community in Hydrographer Canyon, ROV Deep Discoverer observed a glass sponge containing cephalopod eggs. If you look closely you can see what looks to be a recent hatchling! (Cephalopods include squids, cuttlefishes and octopuses.)

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)

Ocean explorers in July on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer discovered a wide diversity of seafloor features and communities of life in the largely unexplored deep-sea canyons off the northeast U.S. coast. Now through August 16, as the expedition continues, the public can join the mission as “citizen scientists,” at oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos, to see live seafloor video and listen as scientists discuss their observations in real time. During the expedition’s July leg, there were nearly 60,000 visits to the live streaming video.

Canyons represent some of the most striking features of the continental slope off the U.S. East Coast and may also be among the most productive areas in the deep sea. Organic matter and nutrient-rich sediments are often concentrated in these areas and strong currents flow through the steep and rugged terrain of the canyons, exposing hard substrates. With an increase in food availability and a variety of different habitat types across varying depths, submarine canyons may contain higher biodiversity and biomass than the adjacent continental slope, and are likely places to observe deep-sea corals, sponges, and other deep-sea marine organisms.

Methane hydrate.

Close-up of methane hydrate observed at a depth of 1,055 meters, near where bubble plumes were detected in previous sonar data. Pressure and cold temperatures create methane hydrate where molecules of natural gas are trapped in an ice-like cage of water molecules. Methane hydrates, a hydrate patch and chemosynthetic communities were seen during this dive, but no active seepage was observed. Seeps were investigated at other locations.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)

During the July leg of the expedition, the ship’s multibeam sonar detected bubbles rising from the seafloor in several locations about 90 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket, Mass. These water-column plumes were traced to seafloor seeps where explorers observed chemosynthetic communities of life supported by chemicals rather than by sunlight. These are the northernmost seeps detected to date on the U.S. Atlantic margin.

The discoveries are expected to help fisheries and other ocean resource managers make better-informed decisions about how to manage, use and protect the ocean and its resources. Scientists believe the need to learn more about these relatively undisturbed canyon ecosystems is becoming more urgent, particularly as the potential for fishing, marine mining, and hydrocarbon exploration extends into the deep sea.

“We found these little-explored canyons are highly dynamic,” said Tim Shank, a deep-sea biologist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who participated from ashore. “With each dive of the ROVs (remotely operated vehicles that are undersea robots with cameras), we documented vertical walls with jagged rock failures, collapsed features, and extensive debris fields. Each canyon also appeared to host different biological communities — even different depths within the same canyon would reveal different types of coral and sponge ecosystems.

“As we explored different sides and depth zones of these canyons, we discovered a broad physical and biological diversity,” said Shank. “One canyon would host great animal diversity but low animal abundance and the next canyon would reveal just the opposite. As with any new deep-sea region we explore, we observed many suspected new species and remarkable range extensions of known species. All these observations will be highly informative to design and implement ocean conservation and management strategies in the near future.”

ROV Deep Discoverer.

ROV Deep Discoverer investigates the geomorphology of Block Canyon.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)

Explorers also observed several instances of new coral life establishing itself, hundreds of skate and cat shark eggs on the seafloor and attached to deep-sea corals, and numerous octopus and squid guarding clutches of eggs. Initial impressions revealed these canyons are hot spots for biodiversity, hosting more than 25 species of corals, and hundreds of associated animals.

Andrea Quattrini, a Ph.D. student from Temple University in Philadelphia, said the expedition provided an immense opportunity for the ocean science and management communities to educate and train the next generation of explorers and deep-sea scientists.

“Their ability to interact with thirty to forty scientists with different areas of expertise, and the free exchange of ideas and discussion, further advanced the exploration and findings by defining new questions and outlining exciting avenues for future research,” she said.

Teachers may take advantage of an Expedition Educational Module at http://go.usa.gov/jn2h. The site provides products tied to the expedition including standards-based lesson plans and ocean-career connections.

Brendan Roark, a geographer from Texas A&M University who participated in the expedition from the ship, believes corals in the area may live as long as 4,000 years. “Deep-sea corals provide a new archive that can help us reconstruct past ocean and climate conditions,” he said. “They grow in a shrub-like fashion and most importantly, they deposit annual growth rings much like trees do. Because of their extremely long life spans, they may develop high resolution records of oceanographic and climate variability.”

An international team of more than 40 scientists and students – partners from multiple federal agencies and academic institutions – located mostly on shore, participated in the expedition’s first leg, receiving data and live video from the ship via telepresence-technology, using satellite and Internet pathways. The science team included several scientists at sea and others in Washington D.C., 12 U.S. states and two nations.

Scientists on the expedition’s July leg mapped 7,209 square kilometers of seafloor as they explored areas between 560 meters (1,837 feet) and 2,135 meters (7,005 feet) deep, in and between Block, Alvin, Atlantis, Veatch and Hydrographer canyons. The second leg is exploring Welker, Oceanographer, Lydonia, Nygren and Heezen canyons as well as Mytilus Seamount, one of the easternmost seamounts along the submerged northeast New England Seamount Chain within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Very little information exists for these areas. Scientists on both expedition legs are obtaining valuable data using the latest technologies including state-of-the-art multibeam sonar and NOAA’s new 6,000-meter ROV, Deep Discoverer, coupled with the Seirios camera sled and lighting platform.

NOAA Fisheries’ Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program and the Northeast Regional planning team contributed scientific and financial support to this expedition. The program provides scientific information needed by NOAA and regional management councils to conserve and manage the nation’s deep-sea coral ecosystems.

NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Program is the only federal program dedicated to systematic exploration of the planet’s largely unknown ocean. NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is operated, managed and maintained by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps and civilian wage mariners. NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research operates, manages and maintains the cutting-edge ocean exploration systems on the vessel and ashore.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

Close up view of a stalked crinoid’s (sea lily) mouth and arms.

Close up view of a stalked crinoid’s (sea lily) mouth and arms. At least two species of crinoids were noted during a dive at Block Canyon, including stalked crinoids.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)

Corals.

Corals, including cup corals and bubblegum corals reside on the hard substrate near the edge of a mussel bed.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration,” is the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. Telepresence, using real-time broadband satellite communications, connects the ship and its discoveries live with audiences ashore.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)

Deep Discoverer.

During NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer’s mid-expedition port visit to New York City, Dave Lovalvo answers questions for visiting Sea Cadets, about NOAA’s new ROV (remotely operated vehicle) Deep Discoverer, behind Lovalvo. The ROV weighs 9,200 pounds in air, and can dive as deep as 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet). Sea Cadets are with the youth program of the Navy League of the United States.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition)


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Thursday, September 19, 2013

NOAA confirms wreck is lost 19th century U.S. Coast Survey steamer

August 27, 2013

In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. The painting, now at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia, is scheduled for restoration.

In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. The painting, now at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Va., is scheduled for restoration.

High resolution (Credit: The Mariners' Museum)

More than 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea, government and university maritime archaeologists have identified the wreck of the ship Robert J. Walker, a steamer that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA.

The Walker, while now largely forgotten, served a vital role as a survey ship, charting the Gulf Coast ? including Mobile Bay and the Florida Keys ? in the decade before the Civil War. It also conducted early work plotting the movement of the Gulf Stream along the Atlantic Coast.

Twenty sailors died when the Walker sank in rough seas in the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, ten miles off Absecon Inlet on the New Jersey coast. The crew had finished its latest surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and was sailing to New York when the Walker was hit by a commercial schooner off New Jersey. The side-wheel steamer, carrying 66 crewmembers, sank within 30 minutes. The sinking was the largest single loss of life in the history of the Coast Survey and its successor agency, NOAA.

Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck.

Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

“Before this identification was made, the wreck was just an anonymous symbol on navigation charts,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Now, we can truly honor the 20 members of the crew and their final resting place. It will mark a profound sacrifice by the men who served during a remarkable time in our history.”

Built in 1847, the Walker was one of the U.S. government’s first iron-hulled steamers, and was intended for the U.S. Revenue Service, the predecessor of the United States Coast Guard. Instead, the Walker and some of its sister steamers were sent to the U.S. Coast Survey.
Admiral Robert J. Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard, said that Walker represented the transition from sail to steam for government vessels, “reflecting the enduring need of the United States to harness the power of new technology to promote its maritime interests.”

“Coast Guardsmen are always saddened by the loss of life at sea and especially so when those lost were working to make the lives of other mariners safer by charting the waters of the United States,” Papp said.

Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck.

Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The U.S. Coast Survey is NOAA’s oldest predecessor organization, established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 to survey the coast and produce the nation’s nautical charts. In 1860, as the Civil War approached, the Coast Survey redoubled efforts to produce surveys of harbors strategically important to the war effort along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The New York Herald, in reporting the Walker’s loss on June 23, 1860, noted that a “heavy sea was running, and many of the men were doubtless washed off the spars and drowned from the mere exhaustion of holding on, while others were killed or stunned on rising to the surface by concussion with spars and other parts of the wreck.”

NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges.

NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The Walker wreck site initially was discovered in the 1970s by a commercial fisherman. The wreck's identity has been a mystery despite being regularly explored by divers. Resting 85 feet underwater, the vessel’s identity was confirmed in June as part of a private-public collaboration that included research provided by New Jersey wreck divers; Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archaeology student at East Carolina University; and retired NOAA Corps Capt. Albert Theberge, chief of reference for the NOAA Central Library.

While in the area to conduct hydrographic surveys after Hurricane Sandy for navigation safety, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson sailed to the wreck site and deployed its multibeam and sidescan sonar systems. Hydrographers searched likely locations based on analysis of historical research by Vitad Pradith, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

A NOAA Maritime Heritage diving team, on a separate Hurricane Sandy-related mission in the area, was able to positively identify the Walker. Key clues were the size and layout of the iron-hulled wreck, and its unique engines, rectangular portholes, and the location of the ship, which was found still pointing toward the Absecon lighthouse, the final destination of a desperate crew on a sinking vessel.

“The identification of Walker is a result of excellent collaboration with the local community,” said James P. Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “We look forward to working with our local partners to share Walker’s story with the public in a manner that both promotes educational dive tourism and protects this nationally significant wreck and gravesite.”

NOAA’s intent is not to make the wreck a sanctuary or limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand the wreck and the stories it can tell.

After a ceremony last month onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank.

After a ceremony last month onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

“We want to enhance the dive experience and support the dive industry with enhanced access to this wreck,” Delgado said. “New Jersey is home to some of the most accomplished wreck divers who not only understand history and wrecks, but who have also been in the forefront of wreck exploration. We look forward to working with them on the Walker.”

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s nautical chartmaker. Coast Survey updates charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies, and searches for underwater obstructions that pose a danger to navigation. Follow Coast Survey on Twitter @nauticalcharts and check out the NOAA Coast Survey blog at for more in-depth coverage of surveying and charting.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as trustee for a system of 14 marine protected areas, encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes waters. Through active research, management, and public engagement, national marine sanctuaries sustain healthy environments that are the foundation for thriving communities and stable economies. Follow Sanctuaries on Facebook and on Twitter @sanctuaries.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New analyses find evidence of human-caused climate change in half of the 12 extreme weather and climate events analyzed from 2012

September 5, 2013

Breezy Point, New York, November 14, 2012, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass communication Specialist Ryan J. Courtade/Released

The "Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective" report was published today by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. (Full report).

High resolution (Credit: U.S. Navy)

Human influences are having an impact on some extreme weather and climate events, according to the report “Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective” released today by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Overall, 18 different research teams from around the world contributed to the peer-reviewed report that examined the causes of 12 extreme events that occurred on five continents and in the Arctic during 2012. Scientists from NOAA served as three of the four lead editors on the report.
The report shows that the effects of natural weather and climate fluctuations played a key role in the intensity and evolution of the 2012 extreme events. However, in some events, the analyses revealed compelling evidence that human-caused climate change, through the emission of heat-trapping gases, also contributed to the extreme event.

“This report adds to a growing ability of climate science to untangle the complexities of understanding natural and human-induced factors contributing to specific extreme weather and climate events,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). “Nonetheless, determining the causes of extreme events remains challenging.”

In addition to investigating the causes of these extreme events, the multiple analyses of four of the events — the warm temperatures in the United States, the record-low levels of Arctic sea ice, and the heavy rain in both northern Europe and eastern Australia — allowed the scientists to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of their various methods of analysis. Despite their different strategies, there was considerable agreement between the assessments of the same events.

Thomas Peterson, Ph.D., principal scientist at NOAA’s NCDC and one of the lead editors on the report, said, “Scientists around the world assessed a wide variety of potential contributing factors to these major extreme events that, in many cases, had large impacts on society. Understanding the range of influences on extreme events helps us to better understand how and why extremes are changing."

Key findings include:

Location and type of events analyzed in the Paper.

Location and type of events analyzed in the Paper.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Heat Wave and Drought in United States:

Human-induced climate change had little impact on the lack of precipitation in the central United States in 2012.The 2012 spring and summer heat waves in the U.S. can be mainly explained by natural atmospheric dynamics, however, human-induced climate change was found to be a factor in the magnitude of warmth and was found to have affected the likelihood of such heat waves.  For example: High temperatures, such as those experienced in the U.S. in 2012 are now likely to occur four times as frequently due to human-induced climate change.Approximately 35 percent of the extreme warmth experienced in the eastern U.S. between March and May 2012 can be attributed to human-induced climate change.  

Hurricane Sandy Inundation Probability:

The record-setting impacts of Sandy were largely attributable to the massive storm surge and resulting inundation from the onshore-directed storm path coincident with high tide. However, climate-change related increases in sea level have nearly doubled today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood recurrence as compared to 1950. Ongoing natural and human-induced forcing of sea level ensures that Sandy-level inundation events will occur more frequently in the future from storms with less intensity and lower storm surge than Sandy. 

Arctic Sea Ice:

The extremely low Arctic sea ice extent in summer 2012 resulted primarily from the melting of younger, thin ice from a warmed atmosphere and ocean. This event cannot be explained by natural variability alone. Summer Arctic sea ice extent will continue to decrease in the future, and is expected to be largely absent by mid-century.  

Global Rainfall Events:

The unusually high amount of summer rainfall in the United Kingdom in 2012 was largely the result of natural variability. However, there is evidence that rainfall totals are influenced by increases in sea surface temperature and atmospheric moisture which may be linked to human influences on climate.The magnitude of the extreme rainfall experienced over southeastern Australia between October 2011 and March 2012 was mainly associated with La Niña conditions. However, the likelihood of above-average precipitation during March was found to have increased by 5 percent to 15 percent because of human influences on the climate. Extreme rainfall events such as the December 2011 two-day rainfall in Golden Bay, New Zealand, are more likely to occur due to a 1 percent to 5 percent increase in available moisture resulting from increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.The July 2012 extreme rainfall events in North China and southwestern Japan were mainly due to natural variability. 

The report was edited by Peterson, along with Martin P. Hoerling, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Peter A. Stott, UK Met Office Hadley Centre and Stephanie C. Herring of NCDC and written by 78 scientists from 11 countries. View the full report online.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our other social media channels.


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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NOAA, EUMETSAT sign long-term agreement for weather, climate monitoring

August 28, 2013

Building on a 30-year relationship, top officials from NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) signed a long-term cooperative agreement, ensuring continued space-based weather, water and climate monitoring.

At a ceremony at the European Union (EU) Delegation in Washington, D.C. yesterday, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA acting administrator and Alain Ratier, EUMETSAT’s director general, signed the agreement. They were joined by Dr. Francois Rivasseau, deputy chief of mission, EU Delegation to the United States.

“The need for environmental intelligence has never been stronger. This partnership with our EUMETSAT colleagues allows us to continue collecting and sharing vital space-based observations, resulting in a better understanding of our global environment,” Sullivan said.

Ratier added, “The partnership between EUMETSAT and NOAA has continuously developed over the last 30 years and taken a strategic dimension, bringing substantial benefits to Europe, the USA and the worldwide user communities. Today the partnership covers back-up arrangements and data exchange for geostationary satellites and full sharing of low Earth orbit satellite systems, with the Initial Joint Polar System and the Jason series. With this agreement, we have established a policy framework to further develop our cooperation into the next decades.”

Key successes of the NOAA-EUMETSAT partnership include:

NOAA and EUMETSAT operate a joint polar satellite system, where EUMETSAT’s Metop satellites fly in the mid-morning orbit, while NOAA’s polar satellites and the Suomi NPP spacecraft fly in the afternoon orbit. Both agencies share all the data, which form the backbone of all medium range weather forecasts in the United States and Europe and make up the majority of the data used by the U.S. weather model (GFS) and the major European weather model (ECMWF).NOAA instruments fly onboard the EUMETSAT satellites, and EUMETSAT instruments are on the NOAA spacecraft, providing cost savings and more uniform datasets for meteorologists and scientists across continents.NOAA and EUMETSAT also exchange data from geostationary satellites, and have a back-up agreement in place for data sharing should either agency’s spacecraft experience trouble.The partnership also extends to the Jason-2 ocean surface topography mission that has been crucial to improvements in weather modeling and tropical storm intensification forecasting, and is supporting the EU-led Copernicus Earth Observation program with data from the Suomi NPP satellite.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. For more information about NOAA satellites, please visit: www.nesdis.noa.gov and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Monday, September 16, 2013

Federal agencies remapping coastal areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy

August 20, 2013

NRT5 surveying Liberty Island: In a Sandy-response project earlier this spring, a NOAA navigation response team — equipped with high-tech surveying equipment — searched for underwater storm debris and mapped the depths surrounding Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

In a Sandy-response project earlier this spring, a NOAA navigation response team — equipped with high-tech surveying equipment — searched for underwater storm debris and mapped the depths surrounding Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A day after the administration released the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force progress report, three federal agencies have announced plans for remapping parts of the East Coast, where Hurricane Sandy altered seafloors and shorelines, destroyed buildings, and disrupted millions of lives last year.

NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are using emergency supplemental funds provided by Congress to survey coastal waters and shorelines, acquiring data that will update East Coast land maps and nautical charts.

Using ships, aircraft, and satellites, the agencies will measure water depths, look for submerged debris, and record altered shorelines in high priority areas from South Carolina to Maine, as stipulated by Congress in the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. The areas to be remapped will be based on their relative dangers to navigation, effects from the storm, and discussions with state and local officials as well as the maritime industry.

NRT2 at the boat ramp: In Sandy's immediate aftermath, NOAA survey vessels responded to calls for assistance from storm-ravaged areas in New York, New Jersey, Delaware Bay, and Virginia. This navigation response team cleared a path to launch at Marcus Hook.

In Sandy's immediate aftermath, NOAA survey vessels responded to calls for assistance from storm-ravaged areas in New York, New Jersey, Delaware Bay, and Virginia. This navigation response team cleared a path to launch at Marcus Hook.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

“Our approach is to map once, then use the data for many purposes,” said NOAA Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Under the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, NOAA and its federal partners are taking a 'whole ocean' approach to get as much useful information as possible from every dollar invested to help states build more resilient coastlines.”

The data, much of which will be stored at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center, and through NOAA’s Digital Coast, will be open to local, state, and federal agencies as well as academia and the general public. The information can be applied to updating nautical charts, removing marine debris, replenishing beaches, making repairs, and planning for future storms and coastal resilience.

TJ retrieves SSS: As the sun rose over New York on November 1, NOAA Corps Ensign Lindsey Norman retrieved the side scan sonar that NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson used to survey the Hudson River, allowing fuel barge traffic to resume.

As the sun rose over New York on Nov. 1, NOAA Corps Ensign Lindsey Norman retrieved the side scan sonar that NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson used to survey the Hudson River, allowing fuel barge traffic to resume.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The three federal agencies are collaborating for greater topographic and hydrographic coverage and to promote efficiency. Earlier this year, a NOAA navigation response team surveyed the waters around Liberty Island and Ellis Island in New York harbor, measuring water depths and searching for debris that could cause a danger to navigation. Also, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson began surveying the approaches to the Delaware Bay in June.

NOAA plans to contract with commercial firms for additional hydrographic survey projects and high resolution topographic and bathymetric elevation data and imagery in the region.

The U.S. Geological Survey will collect very high-resolution elevation data to support scientific studies related to the hurricane recovery and rebuilding activities, watershed planning and resource management. USGS will collect data in coastal and inland areas depending on their hurricane damages and the age and quality of existing data. The elevation data will become part of a new initiative, called the 3D Elevation Program, to systematically acquire improved, high-resolution elevation data across the United States.

Bay Hydro II returns to Norfolk: Within hours of Sandy's departure, NOAA deployed research vessel Bay Hydro II to survey ship channels in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, speeding the resumption of shipping and naval operations.

Within hours of Sandy's departure, NOAA deployed research vessel Bay Hydro II to survey ship channels in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, speeding the resumption of shipping and naval operations.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

“The human deaths and the powerful landscape-altering destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy are a stark reminder that our nation must become more resilient to coastal hazards,” said Kevin Gallagher, associate director for Core Science Systems at USGS. "Sandy's most fundamental lesson is that storm vulnerability is a direct consequence of the elevation of coastal communities in relation to storm waves. Communities will benefit greatly from the higher resolution and accuracy of new elevation information to better prepare for storm impacts, develop response strategies, and design resilient and cost-efficient post-storm redevelopment."

The Army Corps of Engineers and its Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise are covering particular project areas in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey. They will coordinate operations, research, and development in airborne lidar bathymetry and complementary technologies for USACE, NOAA, and the U.S. Navy.

Preliminary U.S. damage estimates are near $50 billion, making Sandy the second-costliest cyclone to hit the United States since 1900. There were at least 147 direct deaths recorded across the Atlantic basin due to Sandy, with 72 of these fatalities occurring in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. This is the greatest number of U.S. direct fatalities related to a tropical cyclone outside of the southern states since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Eleven marine debris removal projects to share $967,000 in NOAA grants

September 4, 2013

The Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources will continue organizing cleanups to remove debris from beaches in Kaho'olawe.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources will continue organizing cleanups to remove debris from beaches in Kaho'olawe.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program announced today that it provided $967,000 through NOAA’s Restoration Center to support locally driven, community-based marine debris prevention and removal projects. Eleven groups across the country received funding to remove derelict fishing nets, litter, lumber, tires and other harmful marine debris from shorelines and coastal waters.

“Marine debris plagues coastlines all over the country, and these communities have the expertise and motivation to address it,” said Nancy Wallace, Marine Debris Program director. “We are proud to support them as they work to mitigate impacts and address the damage marine debris has caused.”

The projects typically last for 24 months and create long-term ecological improvements for coastal habitat, waterways and wildlife, including migratory fish.

The projects were chosen from a pool of 46 applications submitted by non-governmental organizations, tribes, academia and local government agencies. The combined request from all applications totaled nearly $5 million, demonstrating the widespread need to address marine debris across the country. With this program, NOAA has funded 76 marine debris removal projects and removed more than 3,800 metric tons of marine debris from our oceans and Great Lakes since 2006.

This year’s projects include:

Alabama: The Dauphin Island Sea Lab will remove derelict vessels and address habitat impairment in the Dog River Watershed in Mobile. ($99,766) Alaska: The Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation will conduct marine debris cleanups in five communities in the Bering Sea: Port Heiden, Nelson Lagoon, Nikolski, St. George and Savoonga. ($210,000) The Sitka Sound Science Center will perform cleanups of tsunami debris from Japan that impacted Alaskan coastlines. ($120,000) California: The Wiyot Tribe of the Humboldt Bay region will remove large marine debris from the within bay and on Indian Island, a National Historic Landmark known for its importance as the site of the Wiyot World Renewal ceremony. ($125,000)Florida: The Coastal Cleanup Corporation will remove plastics, glass, Styrofoam, rubber and discarded fishing gear from sea turtle nesting sites within Biscayne National Park. ($16,953) Hawaii: The Hawaii Wildlife Fund will continue its work to remove marine debris from the shoreline of Big Island of Hawaii, focusing on the Ka‘u coast. ($45,000) The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources will remove debris from Kaho‘olawe. ($100,530) New York: Hofstra University will remove debris from one of the last remaining natural salt marshes in Nassau County, in collaboration with Long Beach School District and Town of Hempstead. ($75,000) North Carolina: The North Carolina Coastal Federation will implement a pilot program working with commercial fishermen to remove derelict crab pots and repurpose them as artificial oyster reefs. ($35,576)Puerto Rico: The Corporation for The Conservation of The San Juan Bay Estuary will remove litter from Condado Lagoon, one of two natural lagoons in Puerto Rico. ($40,000) Washington: The Northwest Straits Foundation will continue its longstanding efforts to remove derelict fishing nets from Puget Sound and surrounding marine waters. ($99,995)

NOAA’s Restoration Center is now accepting applications for the next funding cycle and applications are due November 1. For more information, visit http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/funding/marinedebris.html.

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program leads national efforts to research, prevent and reduce the impacts of marine debris. Its staff, which is positioned across the country, supports marine debris projects in partnership with state and local agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, academia and industry. The program also spearheads national research efforts and works to change behavior in the public through outreach and education initiatives. For more information, visit www.marinedebris.noaa.gov.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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Saturday, September 14, 2013

National Weather Service more than doubles computing capacity

July 29, 2013

This is the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model showing the Tropical Storm Flossie precipitation forecast for the Hawaiian Islands on July 29, 2013.

This is the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model showing the Tropical Storm Flossie precipitation forecast for the Hawaiian Islands on July 29, 2013. HWRF is one of the sophisticated numerical computer models now being run on NOAA's new supercomputers.

Download here (Credit: NOAA)

Whizzing through 213 trillion calculations per second, newly upgraded supercomputers of NOAA’s National Weather Service are now more than twice as fast in processing sophisticated computer models to provide more accurate forecasts further out in time. And as the hurricane season ramps up, forecasters will be armed with an enhanced hurricane model that will improve track and intensity forecasts.

The scientific data and insights that these newly upgraded supercomputers will provide are essential to help government officials, communities, and businesses better understand and manage the risks associated with extreme weather and water events. In support of the president’s Climate Action Plan, the administration will continue to take steps like this to analyze and predict climate variability amid an increasing number of extreme natural events affecting the nation.

“These improvements are just the beginning and build on our previous success. They lay the foundation for further computing enhancements and more accurate forecast models that are within reach,” said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “These upgrades are a game-changer for the entire public and private weather industry. In addition to the benefits to our own forecasters and products, we will provide our private sector partners with better information to empower them to enhance their services.”

Nicknamed “Tide,” the supercomputer in Reston, Va., and its Orlando-based backup named “Gyre,” are operating with 213 teraflops (TF) — up from the 90 TF with the computers that preceded them. This higher processing power allows the National Weather Service to implement an enhanced Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model.

"These forecasting advances can save lives,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who helped get funding to add even more capacity to the supercomputer. “It's going to allow for better tracking of life-threatening storms and more accurately predict when and where they'll hit, and with what intensity."

With improved physics and a storm-tracking algorithm, the model has displayed up to a 15 percent improvement in both track and intensity forecasts, compared to last year's version of the model. The upgraded HWRF is also capable of processing real-time data collected from the inner core of a tropical system by the tail Doppler radar attached to NOAA’s P3 hurricane hunter aircraft, data which are expected to produce even greater forecast improvements.

“Next comes the quantum leap,” added Uccellini. Following this round of long-planned upgrades, funding requested in the FY 2014 President’s Budget, in addition to funding provided to NOAA by Congress in the spring of 2013 as part of the Hurricane Sandy emergency supplemental appropriations bill, would increase computing power even further to 1,950 TF by summer 2015. “That gives us the necessary computer power to run an enhanced version of our primary forecast model, the Global Forecast System,” said Uccellini.

"Given recent events like the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma or Superstorm Sandy, federal weather resources and personnel should be considered vital national assets. These upgrades assure world-class capabilities and a continued pathway to keep American lives and property safer," said J. Marshall Shepherd Ph.D., president of the American Meteorological Society and Professor at the University of Georgia. "As a father of two children and a scientist that understands looming weather threats, I take comfort in these developments."

Investments in supercomputing power for weather prediction are another step in NOAA’s efforts to build a Weather-Ready Nation. NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative, launched nearly two-years ago, has resulted in improvements in products, services and the way information is communicated to the public and partners. These improvements increase resilience to severe weather and reduce the potential of significant societal and economic impacts from severe weather.  A Weather-Ready Nation is a society that is prepared for, and responds effectively to, weather-related events.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.


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