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NOAA Moves to Unleash “Big Data” and Calls Upon American Companies to Help

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Guest blog post by Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator 

From the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the Department of Commerce, works to keep citizens informed about the changing environment around them. Our vast network of radars, satellites, buoys, ships, aircraft, tide gauges, and supercomputers keeps tabs on the condition of our planet’s health and provides critical data that are used to predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coastlines. As we continue to witness changes on this dynamic planet we call home, the demand for NOAA’s data is only increasing. 

Quite simply, NOAA is the quintessential big data agency. Each day, NOAA collects, analyzes, and generates over 20 terabytes of data – twice the amount of data than what is in the United States Library of Congress’ entire printed collection. However, only a small percentage is easily accessible to the public. 

NOAA is not the only Commerce agency with a treasure trove of valuable information. The economic and demographic statistics from the Census Bureau, for example, inform business decisions every day. According to a 2013 McKinsey Global Institute Report, open data could add more than $3 trillion in total value annually to the education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, health care, and consumer finance sectors worldwide. That is why U.S. Secretary of  Commerce Penny Pritzker has made unleashing the power of Commerce data one of the top priorities of the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.” 

Imagine the economic potential if more of these data could be released. Trillions more bytes of data from NOAA could help existing businesses, start-up companies, and even non-governmental organizations develop new and innovative products – products that might help us better understand our planet and keep communities, businesses, and ecosystems resilient from extreme events. 

It is a challenge that will take creative and unconventional thinking, and it is something we can’t tackle alone. 

Today, during a speech given in Silicon Valley, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker called on private industry to partner with NOAA and the Department of Commerce to help meet this Big Data challenge. How can NOAA unleash the power and potential of our oceanic and atmospheric data in a quick and sustainable way? What kind of economic benefits would more environmental data provide to companies? What new products and services could arise as a result? These are the questions that the Secretary is calling upon American companies to help answer. 

That’s why we have released a Request for Information (RFI) to help us explore the feasibility of this concept and the range of possibilities to accomplish our goal. At no cost to taxpayers, this RFI calls upon the talents of America’s best minds to help us find the data and IT delivery solutions they need and should have. 

When we look at the number of businesses that rely on NOAA and the Department's data today, and the economic vitality they represent, we see tremendous potential to spur even more economic growth, create new industries, and promote job creation. Today’s RFI is one step toward unlocking the power of NOAA’s number one asset – our data.

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