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Blog Category: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Travel Journal: There’s No Place Like Nome!

Secretary Pritzker reviewing plans in Nome, Alaska with Joy Baker, Col. Christopher Lestochi and NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan

Last week, I embarked on my first trip as Commerce Secretary to Alaska to see how the Last Frontier directly contributes to our economy, and how the U.S. Department of Commerce can help further support Alaskan communities.

The Arctic’s importance to the Nation continues to grow as the impact of global climate change and loss of sea ice make the region much more accessible. This accessibility has inspired strong interest for new commercial initiatives in the region, including energy production, increased shipping, scientific research, tourism, and related infrastructure development. Last year, the Obama Administration introduced  the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, not only in recognition of the growing interest in and vulnerability of the region, but also to prioritize and integrate efforts across the Federal government to explore emerging opportunities – while simultaneously exploring efforts to protect and conserve this pristine environment.

During my trip, I explored the city of Nome, which is located on the edge of the Bering Sea on the northwest side of the 49th state. Once a gold mining town, Nome is one of the most remote communities in Alaska, with a population of 3,500.

My first stop was the Port of Nome. Joy Baker, Special Projects Director and former Harbormaster of the City of Nome, led me and my staff on a tour and described the economic impact and infrastructure challenges associated with increased Arctic shipping.  Although originally from San Antonio, Texas,  Joy has worked for the City of Nome for almost 25 years. Her passion for the city was obvious, and she explained how satisfying it was to see the expansion and development of the facility as the successful end result of many years of work and input about additional infrastructure needs in Nome.

After the port tour, we saw U.S. Arctic port infrastructure and vessels, ranging from small gold dredges to industry ships, giving us a better understanding of how the Department of Commerce’s work in implementing the Community Development Quota program in 1992 has been able to grow and further support economic development and achieve sustainable and diversified local economies in the region.

Having enjoyed the outdoors, we moved inside for a roundtable focused on new economic opportunities that are emerging as the impacts of climate change are felt in the Arctic region, including maritime transportation, fishing, and oil and gas activities. Various Alaska Native corporations, industries, and local, state, and federal officials offered a variety of perspectives which gave me a better sense of how the Department of Commerce can further our efforts to support the region.

We wrapped up the day with another productive and engaging roundtable centered on the threats from climate change, which are already impacting some Alaskan communities. These threats include exacerbated erosion and inundation frequency; and the shrinking of sea ice habitat affecting marine mammals.

While we face these challenges, my hope is that the Department can continue to do its part to facilitate trade and investment, assist with the development and management of natural resources, and provide the data and environmental intelligence that are critical to the safety and prosperity of individuals, communities and businesses that are dealing with a changing environment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Alaska, and I look forward to strengthening our partnerships in Alaska and across the Arctic region in the coming months and years.

Commerce and NOAA Data Provide Critical Environmental Intelligence to Alaska

Secretary Pritkzer and NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan  visited the Alaska Weather, Water and Ice Center which is the National Weather Service’s (NWS) main operations center in Anchorage, Alaska

From supplying daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring, to managing fisheries management, supporting coastal restoration and promoting marine commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) products and services are critical to the country’s economic vitality. NOAA maintains a presence in every state, and has a particularly robust team in Alaska.

Secretary Pritzker visited Anchorage this week to see first-hand how Commerce helps Alaska stay “open for business” by supplying the environmental intelligence that citizens, planners, emergency managers and other decision makers rely on. Secretary Pritzker was joined by NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan on her first trip to Alaska.

Unlocking more of the Department of Commerce’s vast stores of data is one of the key pillars of the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda." In Alaska, the Department's data is critical to the safety and prosperity of individuals, communities and businesses that are dealing with a changing environment.

Secretary Pritzker and Dr. Sullivan visited the Alaska Weather, Water and Ice Center which is the National Weather Service’s (NWS) main operations center in Anchorage. The Center is also among the largest consolidated NWS operations centers in the country, containing four specialized operational units: the Weather Forecast Office including the Sea Ice desk; the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center; the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit and the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center. No other forecasting operation is positioned to deliver such integrated information services – from marine weather and sea ice to hydrology to public and aviation forecasts – making it incredibly beneficial to Alaskan and Arctic decision makers.

In addition to the NWS Center and various forecast offices, NOAA facilities in the state include four marine laboratories, an atmospheric observatory, and a satellite command data acquisition station.

Later in the day, Secretary Pritzker and Dr. Sullivan met with about 75 NOAA employees to learn more about their work and thank them for their service. NOAA team members had the opportunity to provide their perspectives and discuss Alaska-specific issues.

Examples of Commerce data and research in Alaska include the following:

  • NOAA’s fisheries research and management programs, which are both vital to promoting sustainable use and conservation in light of a changing climate. Fishing is a $5.8 billion industry in Alaska, and supports 100,000 jobs. Fishery-related tourism also brings in more than $300 million annually for the state;
  • NOAA’s sea ice research which strengthens the forecasts of both ice and weather conditions, and helps build a better understanding of the direct links between sea ice and climate change;
  • NOAA essential decision support services that provide regional decision makers with forecasts and warnings for events like extratropical storms, tsunamis, floods, droughts, and volcanic ash;
  • Important NOAA services like mapping and charting, for coastal communities which improves safe Arctic maritime access and prepares communities for intensifying weather.     

Secretary Pritzker: Commerce Department Helps Keep Alaska Open for Business

Secretary Pritzker meeting with CEOs representing the Alaska Native Corporations

The Department of Commerce is focused on creating the conditions for businesses to grow, hire, and strengthen the economy in all 50 states. This week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is in Alaska to showcase how the Department keeps the Last Frontier open for business.

Secretary Pritzker met with business leaders in Anchorage this morning to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the business community in the state and resources for Alaska businesses that are looking to grow. Among the roundtable participants were representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the transportation, logistics, and travel and tourism industries.

During their conversation, they discussed workforce development challenges, the need for infrastructure development to seize the economic opportunities of a changing Arctic, and the importance of making it easier  for visitors to enter the United States. With more than 1.9 million visitors during fiscal year 2014, Alaska’s expanding travel and tourism industry is critical to economic growth and job creation in the state.

She also highlighted the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda,” of which trade and investment is a key pillar. Alaska’s merchandise exports have grown from about $3.2 billion in 2009 to $4.5 billion in 2013, but the Commerce Department wants to help Alaska reach even more international buyers. Secretary Pritzker announced that the Commerce Department is getting ready to reopen the U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) in Alaska in the coming weeks. USEACs around the country connect U.S. companies with international buyers, provide them with market intelligence and trade counseling, and facilitate business matchmaking and commercial diplomacy support.

NOAA-U.S. Coast Guard Exercise Aims to Improve U.S. Response, Capabilities to Deal with Future Contingencies in the Arctic

NOAA-U.S. Coast Guard Exercise Aims to Improve U.S. Response, Capabilities to Deal with Future Contingencies in the Arctic

As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise. This is leading to new maritime concerns, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges, and fishing vessels. Keeping all of this new ocean traffic moving smoothly is a growing concern for safety's sake. It's also important to the U.S. economy, environment, and national security. But what happens if there’s a major incident such as an oil spill in this remote region?

This month, researchers from NOAA’s National Ocean Service and NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program are taking part in an Arctic exercise aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy that is part of an annual effort to ensure the Arctic remains a safe, secure, and environmentally protected region.

During the month-long ‘Arctic Shield’ mission, the USCG’s Research and Development Center will simulate an oil spill once the Healy makes it far enough north to test technologies at the ice edge.  The team will test a variety of technologies, including unmanned airborne and underwater sensing platforms.

The NOAA components of this exercise focus on testing technologies to improve oil spill reconnaissance and mapping to enable faster and safer decision-making while operating from a ship—a likely platform for responding to a spill in the Arctic due to lack of infrastructure and accommodations.

NOAA and Partners Provide Real-time Information to Keep Economic Activity Flowing in Port of Jacksonville

The air gap sensor installed on the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville, Fla., ensured that Carnival Cruise Lines could continue serving the Port of Jacksonville while the bridge was undergoing repairs. According to a 2009 study completed by Martin Associates, the cruise industry generates more than $67 million in annual economic impact for Northeast Florida.

Our country’s port system is an essential driver of the U.S. economy and for connecting us to the rest of the world.  Every day, U.S. ports and waterways handle millions of tons of domestic and international cargo ranging from agricultural products to heating oil and automobiles.

As demand for U.S. goods and services increases, U.S. ports are responding by implementing innovative technologies. Today, the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its local partner, the Jacksonville Marine Transportation Exchange, dedicated the newest Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, or PORTS®, in the country.  

Part of NOAA’s network of observational platforms, PORTS® puts real-time, actionable information, or environmental intelligence, into the hands of people who need it to make informed decisions.

The new Jacksonville PORTS®, the second largest ever established in the system, includes a broad suite of operational sensors with water level, meteorological, visibility, salinity, air gap (under bridge clearance), and tidal currents. These sensors are the new “eyes” for the Port of Jacksonville giving 20/20 vision to port operators, ship captains, shipping companies, and others. Jacksonville PORTS® will provide mariners with better maritime information about currents and water levels so they can navigate more efficiently and safely.

PORTS®, combined with up-to-date nautical charts and precise positioning information, can provide mariners with a clearer picture of the potential dangers in the water.  In addition, as ships increase in size and carry more cargo, PORTS® provides shipping companies with information to ensure they safely enter and exit our ports.

Guidance Aims to Improve Community Resilience to Coastal Hazards

A view of the Pacific coastline along Santa Monica, California

Do you live on or near the coast? According to the latest population data, more than 39 percent of Americans lived in coastal shoreline counties and the number is growing. America’s coasts stretch along more than 95,000 miles. One downside to living along the coast is that climate change increasing many natural hazards, such as erosion, harmful algal blooms, big storms, flooding, tsunamis, and sea level rise.

Investing in infrastructure has never been more important. In addition to the clear economic benefits of building a world-class infrastructure system, the third National Climate Assessment NOAA released earlier this year confirms that the impacts of climate change are already taking a toll on our communities. To help communities withstand impacts from more extreme weather and increased flooding, President Obama announced a series of actions to respond to the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience’s feedback to help state, local, and tribal leaders prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change by developing more resilient infrastructure and rebuilding existing infrastructure stronger and smarter.

President Obama’s focus remains on building on the progress America’s economy is making by helping businesses create jobs and expanding opportunity for all hardworking Americans. As part of those efforts, the President recently put forward a comprehensive plan to invest in America’s infrastructure in order to create jobs, provide certainty to states and communities, support American businesses, and grow our economy.

In 2011, 45 percent of our nation’s GDP – or $6.6 trillion – was generated in coastal and Great Lakes counties, supporting approximately 51 million jobs and $2.8 trillion in wages. Close to three million jobs directly depend on the resources of the oceans and Great Lakes. If the nation’s coastal watershed counties were an individual country, they would rank third in GDP globally behind the U.S. as a whole and China.It's no secret why so many of us choose to live in coastal regions. These are areas of great bounty and beauty.

Improving Resilience by Building a Weather-Ready Nation

NOAA GOES East image of Hurricane Katrina, August 2005

NOAA's mission of reducing loss of life, property, and the disruption from high impact weather and water-related events has existed since its inception.  However, in recent years the significant societal impacts resulting even from well forecast extreme events have shifted the attention toward better decision support services for communities, businesses, and the public -- decisions ranging from years in advance such as coastal community planning to mitigate impacts from rising sea level, to farmers minimizing impacts from drought heading into growing season, to immediate lifesaving decisions such as a family seeking adequate shelter after their NOAA Weather Radio alerts them to a tornado warning.  

To this end, NOAA is committed to building a "Weather-Ready Nation" where society is prepared for and responds appropriately to these events. The Weather-Ready Nation strategic priority is about building community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to extreme weather, water, climate, and environmental threats.  NOAA also recognizes it is essential to work collaboratively with external stakeholders across all levels of government, industry, nonprofits, and academia.  In February, 2014, NOAA launched the Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador initiative to recognize organizations committed to working with NOAA and contributing to a Weather-Ready Nation.

What can you do?

  • Know your risk: Hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding – severe weather impacts every part of the country. The first step to becoming weather-ready is to understand the type of hazardous weather that can affect where you live and work, and how the weather could impact you and your family. 
  • Take action: Be Force of Nature by making sure that you and your family are prepared for severe weather. This includes creating a disaster supplies kit and making sure that you can receive emergency messages.
  • Be an example: Be a positive influence on your community by sharing your weather preparedness story. Be a Force of Nature by letting your friends and family know what you did to become weather-ready.

Looking for Economic Information on Coastal Areas? Visit BEA’s Website

Recreational boats parked in a marina

How much economic activity is generated by a state in a coastal area? How much do people living in coastal areas earn?

A visit to BEA’s Economic Information for Coastal Areas section on its website provides you with that information – and much more.

You can get details on the sources of personal income, such as wages and salaries, how much income came from investments and how much came from transfer benefits such as unemployment checks and Social Security benefits. This information is available for coastal states and for coastal counties. You can also find out how much income per person was generated in coastal counties and states.

You also can find out earnings generated by people working in different industries for coastal states and coastal counties. For instance, you can look up earnings for people employed in fishing, hunting and trapping. Or for those employed in oil and gas extraction, food manufacturing or transportation. That information also is available on a state and county level.

Business owners and entrepreneurs can use BEA’s coastal economic statistics to help them make more informed decisions about investing and hiring in those areas.

The site, launched two years ago, stems from a joint project with the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Response to NOAA's data RFI - "let's get started." And we are!

National Weather Service Data Visualization

Did you know that NOAA gathers 20 terabytes of data every day - twice the data of the entire printed collection of the United States Library of Congress? This environmental intelligence comes from a wide variety of sources including: Doppler radar systems, weather satellites, buoy networks and stations, computer models, tide gauges, real-time weather stations, as well as ships and aircraft. This network provides valuable and critical data that are instrumental in protecting lives and property across the country. But only a small percentage is easily accessible to the public and, as demand increases for this data and information, NOAA recognized it needed to find ways to effectively and efficiently distribute this data to decision makers and industries.

With that in mind, this past February NOAA announced a new effort to unleash the power of its data to foster innovation, create new industries and job opportunities. NOAA issued a Request for Information, or an RFI, to engage private industry to help make NOAA's data available in a rapid, scalable manner to the public. Through this process, American companies were asked to provide possible solutions for NOAA to be able to turn this untapped information into usable products or services.

So what does this mean to the economy? 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, healthcare, and consumer finance sectors worldwide. If more of this data could be efficiently released, organizations will be able to develop new and innovative products and services to help us better understand our planet and keep communities resilient from extreme events.

NOAA received more than 70 responses to the RFI that closed on March 31st.  Responses came from industry and academia and ranged from single organizations to broad, integrated teams. NOAA has reviewed the responses and is continuing to engage with industry to elicit feedback for the best way to make this data accessible and useful.

Overall, respondents to the RFI provided a clear message - get started. And we heard this again at the Open Data Roundtable last week at the White House. So NOAA is talking to other agencies and formulating a plan for implementing a new, innovative model of public-private partnership around open government data, all in support of the Obama administration’s efforts to make data more accessible. NOAA intends to incrementally implement this partnership by enabling the government and industry to work together by testing the best methods for not just making data available, but creating an ecosystem around the data that will make a meaningful and lasting impact on the economy.

NOAA Harnesses Digital Technology to Empower Commercial Innovation in Nautical Charts

NOAA harnesses digital technology to empower commercial innovation in nautical charts

The nautical chart – that simple and so very complex map that enables safe navigation over millions of miles of coastal waters – is undergoing a revolution. For two hundred years, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has gathered ocean measurements and created the Nation’s nautical charts – on paper. NOAA pioneered digital charts in the 1990s, and demand has grown steadily since then. This year, NOAA decided to shift the focus of chart production to digital products, while still supporting an important (but declining) demand for paper. Using digital technology, cartographers can now use more data at a higher spatial resolution and richer attribution than was possible on paper nautical charts, giving the maritime industry greater navigational intelligence to manage risks.

Last year, Coast Survey beta tested MyNOAACharts, an app for Android tablets that allowed users to download NOAA nautical charts. Users could find their positions on updated charts; they could zoom in on any location, or zoom out for the big picture to plan a day of sailing. Hundreds of users commented during the beta test, providing essential insights, and Coast Survey listened. One key project insight was that Coast Survey’s distribution formats for nautical charts are not well suited to mobile apps. Coast Survey also recognized that there is an innovative and growing commercial market for mobile navigation apps.

With input from the user community in mind, Coast Survey decided to cancel further development of the app and instead refocused efforts on improving the distribution system for charts and other navigation data. This summer, for instance, Coast Survey will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products by breaking charts into much smaller “tiles,” which are used widely in mobile apps, web maps, and commercial chart plotters. This will empower the next generation of app developers, chart redistributors and software entrepreneurs to create new navigation products, and speed updated chart information to U.S. boaters.