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Blog Category: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

NOAA: Cultivating the Next Generation of STEM Workers, One Student at a Time

NOAA’s Ernest F. Hollings scholarship program students on Chesapeake Bay field study  (NOAA photo)

You’ve probably heard the term in the news of late. “STEM jobs” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, are the new “It” jobs.

A report from Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration discussed recently in this blog had good news for present and future STEM workers. Among its key findings, the report notes that in the past 10 years:

  • Growth in STEM jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs;
  • STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts; and
  • Job growth in these fields will continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs. 

As the report confirms, STEM workers are driving our nation’s innovation and competitiveness and helping America “win the future” with new ideas, new businesses and new industries.

Enter Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA’s mission—to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, to share that knowledge and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources—is central to many of today’s greatest challenges.  

Why? Climate change, extreme weather, declining biodiversity, and threatened natural resources all convey a common message: Now, more than ever, human health, prosperity and well-being depend upon the health and resilience of both natural and social ecosystems and resources.

That means we need skilled hands and inspired minds to help society prepare for and respond to weather-related events, to sustain healthy and productive ecosystems and to ensure resilient coastal communities and economies.

NOAA, U.S. Department of Energy and Private Partners Launch Project to Reduce Cost of Energy, Including Wind Energy

Wind turbines

There has not always been a need to know precisely how hard the wind blows 350 feet above Earth’s surface. Today, wind turbines occupy that zone of the atmosphere, generating electricity. So NOAA and several partners have launched a year-long effort to improve forecasts of the winds there, which ultimately will help to reach the nation’s renewable energy goals.

The Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP) is a collaboration among NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), two private wind energy companies and academic research institutions. The project began today as dozens of powerful, custom instruments designed to better profile and predict the weather and winds were powered up.

“The end goal is to lower the cost of electric power for the consumer and meet President Obama’s clean energy challenge,” said Alexander MacDonald, NOAA deputy assistant administrator for research and director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo. “Our starting point is to improve the basic wind forecast for all users, including wind power and conventional energy companies, the aviation industry and the general public.”

Last fall, through a competitive process, the DOE chose AWS Truepower, LLC and WindLogics, Inc. to participate in WFIP. DOE funds WFIP with about $6 million, while NOAA contributes scientific experts and expertise in collecting atmospheric data and in making weather predictions. The project targets the Upper Midwest and Texas, which were selected in part because WFIP industry partners support thousands of wind turbines in the areas.  Read more  |  Video

2nd Quarter Performance Excellence Awards Ceremony

Early in his tenure, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke issued a challenge to the entire Commerce Department to improve service delivery to the American public and to develop measureable standards by which each of the bureaus could judge their customer service and internal performance.  It is this vision that launched the Commerce Performance Excellence program, putting the department at the cutting edge of the Administration’s efforts to increase the return on investment of government programs.  The program supports the education of staff, recognition of significant achievements and the sharing of winning strategies to help the department become more engaged in improving processes to deliver more effective and efficient services.

On May 25, 2011, Secretary Locke recognized three exemplary employee teams from the Census Bureau, NOAA, and the Economic Development Administration with Performance Excellence Awards.  For the second time in less than one year, Commerce employees were honored for successfully implementing streamlined processes to better the administration and delivery of service to the American people.

In this video, Secretary Locke, Acting Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank and others discuss the program, the awards and why process improvement matters.

In addition to its efforts to identify and promote quality improvements by role model teams throughout Commerce, the Performance Excellence program also deploys a system of Balanced Scorecards, quarterly Performance Reviews, and team process improvements to all bureaus.  Employees can learn learn more about the Performance Excellence program and Award recipients as well as information on the Balanced Scorecard or how they can improve processes in their own office by visiting the Performance Excellence page on the Commerce Intranet.

NOAA Ship Fairweather Sets Sail to Map Areas of the Arctic

NOAA Fairweather

NOAA Ship Fairweather, a 231-foot survey vessel, departed Kodiak, Alaska, today on a mission to conduct hydrographic surveys in remote areas of the Arctic where depths have not been measured since before the U.S. bought Alaska in 1867.

Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will use the data to update nautical charts to help mariners safely navigate this  important but sparsely charted region, which is now seeing increased vessel traffic because of the significant loss of  Arctic sea ice.

Over the next two months, Fairweather will conduct hydrographic surveys covering 402 square nautical miles of navigationally significant waters in Kotzebue Sound, a regional distribution hub in northwestern Alaska in the Arctic Circle.

“The reduction in Arctic ice coverage is leading over time to a growth of vessel traffic in the Arctic, and this growth is driving an increase in maritime concerns,” explained NOAA Corps Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the Fairweather. “Starting in 2010, we began surveying in critical Arctic areas where marine transportation dynamics are changing rapidly. These areas are increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges and fishing vessels.”

Fairweather and her survey launches are equipped with state-of-the-art acoustic technology to measure ocean depths, collect 3-D imagery of the seafloor, and detect underwater hazards that could pose a danger to surface vessels. The ship itself will survey the deeper waters, while the launches work in shallow areas.

Spotlight on Commerce: John Gray, Director of NOAA's Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

John Gray, Director of NOAA’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Guest blog by John Gray, Director of NOAA’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs.

My father served in the U.S. military so as a child our family moved all over the world. I fondly remember my time in New Mexico, Texas, Washington state, and abroad in Panama and Japan. Even though I was a world traveler as a child, I found Texas to be home. I entered and graduated from Rice University in Houston, Texas and graduate school in Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. After college and graduate school I was recruited to work at the Congressional Research Service, a part of the Library of Congress that specifically responds to congressional inquiries.  I have held several jobs in Washington, in and out of government, but immediately before starting at NOAA I worked as the Public Outreach Director, Economics for AARP. Prior to that, I worked for almost 8 years at the Department of Commerce where I served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs among many other positions.

I feel very grateful to work in this administration to further the President’s goal of winning the future.  At NOAA we perform a variety of services that move the President’s agenda forward. In my role as Director of NOAA’s Office of Legislative Affairs, we help communicate that vision to the Hill every day, ensuring that members of both parties understand how NOAA’s daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring, fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce support America’s economic growth and affect more than one-third of the gross domestic product. I’m particularly proud of NOAA’s effort to establish a climate service, which will provide available information about long term weather for public and private sector audiences and will be a significant innovation in the service that government can provide its citizens. Our work to build sustainable fishing waters will ensure that coastal communities can remain viable.

Commerce’s Commitment to Eliminating Regulatory Burdens in Support of Growth, Competitiveness and National Security

Guest blog post by Dr. Rebecca Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In January, President Obama issued an executive order outlining his plan to create a 21st century regulatory system that encourages job creation, economic growth and U.S. competitiveness. The idea was to make it simpler, smarter and more efficient, while still protecting the health and safety of the American people.  As a key part of that plan, he called upon government agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of the rules and regulations currently on the books and to remove those that are outdated, unnecessary or excessively burdensome.  

This review has led agencies, including the Department of Commerce, to identify initiatives that have the potential to eliminate tens of millions of hours in reporting burdens and billions of dollars in regulatory costs. Today, the results of each agency’s review is being made public and posted on Whitehouse.gov. 

Here at the Commerce Department, we focused our plan on those bureaus with the greatest regulatory activity: the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the International Trade Administration (ITA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

NOAA Hurricane Outlook Indicates an Above-Normal Season

Hurricanes Karl, Igor and Julia

Urges residents in hurricane-prone areas to be prepared

The Atlantic basin is expected to see an above-normal hurricane season this year, according to the seasonal outlook issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is predicting the following ranges this year:

  • 12 to 18 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which:
  • 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including:
  • 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)

Each of these ranges has a 70 percent likelihood, and indicate that activity will exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Now is the time to get your plan together for what you and your family would do if disaster strikes. Visit ready.gov to learn more and if you’re a small business owner, visit www.ready.gov/business to ensure that your business is prepared for a disaster.

Hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline; strong winds and flooding rainfall often pose a threat across inland areas along with the risk for tornadoes.

Next week, May 22-28, is national Hurricane Preparedness Week. To help prepare residents of hurricane-prone areas, NOAA is unveiling a new set of video and audio public service announcements featuring NOAA hurricane experts and the FEMA administrator that are available in both English and Spanish. These are available at http://www.hurricanes.gov/prepareRelease 

Plato, Mo. Celebrates Recognition as the 2010 Census U.S. Center of Population

In the photo are (left to right) Dr. Robert Groves, Juliana Blackell & Bob Biram  - Village Chairman.

Townspeople, elected representatives, government officials and hundreds of students today celebrated the naming of Plato, Mo., as the 2010 Census U.S. center of population. Amid music, speeches, banners and cheers, village chairman Bob Biram welcomed the crowd, saying, “We’re proud of our village. As one of our students said, ‘we were in the middle of nowhere; now we are in the middle of everywhere.’"

At the event, U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves and Juliana Blackwell, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Geodetic Survey, revealed a survey disc, commemorating the national center of population as calculated by the Census Bureau and measured by the National Geodetic Survey.

Each decade after tabulating the decennial census, the Census Bureau calculates the mean center of population for the country, as well as for each state and county. The national center of population is determined as the place where an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all 308,745,538 residents counted in the 2010 Census were of identical weight.  Press release

NOAA: All Federal Waters of the Gulf Once Closed to Fishing Due to Spill Now Open

NOAA map: Tuesday, April 19, 2011: The last area in federal waters closed to fishing due to the oil spill reopens (

More than 1,000 square miles opened today

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 1,041 square miles of Gulf waters immediately surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, just east of Louisiana. This is the twelfth and final reopening in federal waters since July 22, and opens all of the areas in Federal waters formerly closed to fishing due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This reopening was announced after consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and under a reopening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA, and the Gulf states.

“I am pleased to announce that all federal waters affected by the spill are now open to all fishing,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “I thank fishermen and the public for their patience and FDA for its support and cooperation throughout this process while we worked diligently to ensure the integrity of Gulf seafood.”

NOAA sampled this area between November 11 and November 14, 2010, March 12 and March 16, 2011, and March 28 and April 1, 2011, for potentially affected finfish, including tuna, swordfish, and escolar.  Read more in NOAA press release