At 50, NODC Still Pivotal in Monitoring World’s Oceans


NODC's 50th Aniv.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Happy birthday to NOAA’s National Oceanographic Data Center! The agency turns 50 years old November 1.

Over the past five decades, NODC has grown from 29 employees striving to keep pace with the challenges of organizing a rising tide of ocean data to an agency of 127.

Today, NODC is keeper of the world’s largest collection of scientific information about the oceans, which date to as far back as 1800. Its archive is flush with ocean data from hundreds of different categories, from temperature and salinity to plants and nutrients in the oceans — all critical indicators for climate change.

Growing in Prominence, Particularly in Times of Crisis
“Scientists around the world are using our data to look for trends, which help answer tough questions about how the oceans are impacting climate change and how climate change is impacting the oceans,” said Dr. Margarita Gregg, NODC director.  She says the interest in NODC is expected to swell as NOAA deploys new ocean observing systems capable of capturing greater amounts of data.

NODC's 50th Aniv.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

When natural disasters strike or major accidents impact the oceans, NODC becomes a focal point for information. For example, as NOAA responds to the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill, NODC is playing a pivotal role by providing data management support for Gulf of Mexico oceanographic data, historical records of ocean climate conditions and coastal ecosystems maps. NODC has also developed a bibliography of oil spill resources available online to the public.

“If a crisis poses a risk to the oceans, it is so important for the decision-makers, first responders and scientists to have reliable — and accessible — data and information,” Gregg said.

NODC’s vast collections also describe the history of our oceans.

Just how much history? The NODC archive, which has information captured from collection points in the water and from satellites in space, contains more than 44 terabytes — or more than 45,000 gigabytes! — of data ranging from coastal areas to the deep ocean. NODC shares this data with the international community by developing novel tools for discovering and accessing the large cache of its complex data and information.

Data Collection Enhanced by Strong International Partnerships
A significant amount of the oceanographic data in NODC’s archive comes from international partners. NODC acquires global data through direct, bilateral exchanges with other nations and through the World Data Center System.

“These international partnerships help us get a more complete picture of the health of the global oceans,” Gregg said.

 NODC’s Origins: A Look Back
In 1960, NODC was an interagency facility administered by the U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office. The following year, NODC was formally dedicated by the Honorable James H. Wakelin, Jr., assistant secretary of the Navy for research and development, along with representatives of the supporting agencies. Dr. Woodrow C. Jacobs was appointed the first NODC director.

NODC was transferred from the U.S. Navy to the newly formed NOAA in 1970.  Thirty years later, in 2000, the National Coastal Data Development Center was incorporated into the agency, thereby expanding NODC’s focus on global oceans to include coastal ocean areas.

One of NOAA’s national environmental data centers, NODC is headquartered at the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Md., with field offices co-located with other government and academic oceanographic laboratories in Mississippi at the Stennis Space Center; Miami; La Jolla, Calif.; Seattle; Charleston, S.C.; and Honolulu.

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Posted Nov. 1, 2010 NOAA logo.