Coastal residents may only know about NOAA -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- at the worst of times, say, when the National Hurricane Center is talking about a major storm stirring things up offshore.
But the NOAA plays a larger and more substantial role in U.S. coastal issues and it's worth any coastal advocate's time to get to know more about the agency.
While the NOAA is a relative newcomer to coastal concerns (having been formed in 1970), its roots go far back in the country's history -- all the way to the National Coastal and Geodetic Survey formed in 1807. Drawn together from a number of existing agencies, NOAA was tasked to work "for better protection of life and property from natural hazards for a better understanding of the total environment [and] for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources."
It works through the following to accomplish those goals:
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service: Providing satellite and scientific data to provide information and conduct assessments. Thanks to this, we can keep an eye on weather systems, polar ice caps, ocean and land conditions and more -- all from eyes hundreds of miles in the sky.
National Marine Fisheries Service: Monitoring and maintaining marine habitat and species, including fishery management and regulation to balance commercial and public needs. So, if you like to fish (or just like to eat those caught by someone else), these are the folks who fret about the state of the species. This arm weighs in on coastal permits as well, as those involved with beach restoration projects are aware.
National Ocean Service: Home of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, which includes many well-known coastal programs such as the Coastal Zone Management Program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, the Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program and more. You'll also find the many state-based Coastal Ocean Observing Systems here. Also the source for nautical charts, tidal information, and a lot of coastal data (see "State of the Coast" below).
National Weather Service: As the name implies they provide weather, water and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property -- issuing some 1.5 million forecasts and 50,000 warnings annually. The National Hurricane Center is housed here, of course.
Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research: Focused on atmospheric, climate and ocean/coastal research, to help others understand the natural processes at work here in hopes of achieving better forecasts, warnings and science. Drawing on the work done in the other offices, you'll find reports on ocean acidification, drought resilience, hurricane hunting and more. The National Sea Grant College Program is based here, which operates in 33 coastal states bringing coastal research closer to home.
Office of Program Planning and Integration: A recent addition to the agency to foster integration and strategic management. NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) is here, as well as other regional and strategic collaborations.
If you're in to coastal statistics and reports, be sure to check out NOAA's "State of the Coast" online compendium, teeming with tidbits such as:
* $6.6 trillion -- the contribution to U.S. GDP from coastal shoreline counties, just under half of the country's entire GDP in 2011. That would rank as the third largest GDP in the world if coastal counties were considered as an individual country.
* 51 million -- the total number of jobs in U.S. coastal shoreline counties in 2011, which generate $2.8 trillion in wages.
* 16.4 million -- the approximate population residing in a coastal floodplain in 2010 (5 percent of the U.S. population)and 12 percent of them have incomes below the poverty level.
* 39 percent -- how much of the nation's total population lived in coastal shoreline counties in 2010 (the number has gone up since then, and doesn't include coastal watershed or coastal-adjacent counties which are typically used to calculate actual coastal population). Those folks live on less than 10 percent of the total U.S. land area, which means coastal shoreline counties have a population density more than four times higher than the United States as a whole.
To see a thorough overview of NOAA's activities in your state, go to legislative.noaa.gov/NIYS/. For a county-level view, go to csc.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/snapshots. Want to see how different sea level rise scenarios could impact your coastal area? See the NOAA-sponsored simulation at csc.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/slrviewer.
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