NOAA was founded in 1970, and after five decades we head into the future as an innovative force, changing the way the world is viewed, serving as a vital pillar of U.S. economic growth and competitiveness, and enhancing the safety and the well-being of everyone in our Nation.
Of course, NOAA's culture and core values of science, service and stewardship took root well before 1970. We trace our lineage to 1807, when Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast, America’s first scientific agency. Over the last 50 years, NOAA's dedicated workforce has built upon the foundations of the Survey of the Coast and our other trailblazing legacy agencies, showing the value of bringing them together into a single agency.
Building a Weather-Ready Nation
Watch this video tracking how the National Weather Service has improved lead times and accuracy for a range of severe weather events, including hurricanes, flash floods, tornadoes, drought and tsunamis. (NOAA)
Hand-drawn in ink, this 1900 "after-the-fact" weather map is drawn mainly from the visual observations of weather station forecasters looking out the window and asking, "How cloudy is it today?" (NOAA)
At this 1899 Buffalo, NY forecast station, weather information relayed by weather observers via telegraph and telephone relied on rain gauges, thermometers and instruments measuring wind speed (NOAA)
By the early 1920s, “signal flags” and the U.S. mail weren’t considered detailed and timely enough to forecast weather, and “weather bureau kiosks” such as this one in Washington, DC were placed in cities that had Weather Bureau offices. Each kiosk contained weather maps, forecasts and instruments for measuring temperature highs and lows, humidity and rainfall. But surrounded by buildings and concrete, temperatures were often warmer than the official forecast — a Washington newspaper even declared the Capitol’s kiosk “guilty of false advertising.” Design also offered little protection from the weather itself and, by 1931, most of the kiosks were gone. (NOAA)
Doppler's revolutionary effect
Watch this video showing how radar continues to evolve. Forecasters can now "see" the weather. They can tell, for example, what type of precipitation is falling, how much rain is accumulating, and where tornadoes land based on the debris they leave behind. Also show is the future of radar: the Advanced Technology Demonstrator, which combines two weather prediction technologies. (NOAA)
Only when war became likely did the U.S. recognize the potential of the promising new radar technology. This is a photo of a 1944 Mobile Doppler. (NOAA)
In 1973, researchers at NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory used an experimental Doppler radar to follow the full life cycle of a tornado. Originally a military radar seeking missiles, the "Norman Doppler" was converted to detect weather, and proved its value by detecting the rotation of storms associated with tornadoes. This radar led to NEXRAD, the national Doppler radar network. The National Weather Service installed the radar network in the early 1990s, and it's still in use today. (NOAA)
Understanding Earth from space
Watch this video showing how NOAA uses satellites (GOES-16, Jason-3, and JPSS-2) to track ocean surface heights to monitor sea level; lightning strikes to understand storm strength; and wildlife smoke to forecast air quality and visibility. (NOAA)
"TIROS-I, the world’s first successful weather satellite, was launched by NASA on April 1, 1960, marking one of the earliest efforts to see Earth’s weather from space. Equipped with two miniature television cameras, and circling Earth every 99 minutes, TIROS-1 gave weather forecasters their first-ever view of cloud formations developing around the globe. Linked to an extensive network of ground stations, TIROS-1 orbited 450 miles above Earth for 78 days, sending back nearly 20,000 useful pictures on 35-mm film. TIROS-1 pointed the way for NOAA’s current polar-orbiting satellites, the backbone of the global observing system. (NOAA)
Watch this video explaining how NOAA's Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputer System is undergoing a massive upgrade. New capabilities will go operational in 2022, tripling capacity and doubling storage and interconnect speed. The more advanced supercomputing opens possibilities for better forecast models. (NOAA)
1960s computer key card storage "isle" (NOAA)
This cartoon was created in the early 1970s, when computers were young and often characterized by a vast network of wires. To those unfamiliar with computers, the wiring looked like a tangled mess. This cartoon is a take on that, referring to a "mesh" of wiring, but actually meaning a "mess" of wiring. (NOAA)
Curious robots map coastal waters
Watch this video about NOAA nautical charts, which are vital to safe navigation. NOAA updates about 1,000 charts annually, with technology ranging from sonar aboard large hydrographic survey vessels to small autonomous robots that measure shallow, coastal water. (NOAA)
In 1769, Benjamin Franklin published this first scientific chart of the Gulf Stream, a fast-moving current that sweeps up from Florida, then along the East Coast and across the Atlantic to Europe. Franklin called it “a river in the ocean,” and predicted that staying in this current could speed mail delivery to Europe and shave valuable time off long and often treacherous shipping routes. He produced this chart showing a darkened Gulf Stream, opening the potential to nearly double travel speed. (NOAA)
Using pre-World War II technology, hydrographers collected data by dropping a hand-held line weighted with 10-pound lead over the side of a vessel. Once it reached bottom, markings on the line enabled surveyors to manually record depth and map reference points. This laborious process yielded limited coverage, and information missed between measurements left vital safety features unmarked. NOAA is replacing paper charts from this era with electronic charts created for today's navigational systems. (NOAA)
NOAA and its predecessor agencies have been collecting hydrographic data for nearly 200 years, always with a focus on time, position and depth. This photo, from the 1960s, shows the South Carolina shoreline being charted on paper on a light table. A plotter, or button on a wired pad, traced distances and contours of various shapes such as islands and sandbars. Digitized information was then stored electronically, in contrast with today’s use of bathymetry data collected by sonar, in the air by LIDAR, and in shallow coastal waters by the robots in this video. (NOAA)
Navigating safely, efficiently & competitively
Vessel carrying cranes safely navigates an extremely tight fit under a bridge. (NOAA)
Along with NOAA’s
nautical charts, NOAA’s PORTS® data are critical to mariners who must move cargo safely, cost-effectively and competitively while protecting natural resources. PORTS® serves nearly one-third of U.S. major ports, which generate more than $4 trillion annually.
This cargo ship, for example, needed to transport very tall, wide cranes up the Chesapeake Bay to the Port of Baltimore. Weeks in advance, PORTS® tide and current predictions identified the ideal transit window. Days before transit, coastal forecasts showed that local conditions would not change water depth enough to affect bridge clearance. Right before reaching the bridge, real-time information ensured the ship would fit.
For safe navigation, PORTS® data is combined with information on NOAA's Electronic Navigational Charts, which are essential to both commerce and recreational boaters. The charts are updated weekly. Click on this “
viewer” to see how NOAA continuously depicts coverage over U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes.
America's marine treasures
Clocking in at 120 tons and pulled from the depths of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in 2002, the USS Monitor's turret is the largest metal marine artifact ever recovered from the ocean. (NOAA)
National Marine Sanctuaries and a marine national monument teem with life. Thousands of species have safe habitat, coral reefs and giant kelp forests flourish, whales and sharks migrate safely, and wilderness beaches can stretch for miles. The protected sites are research labs, magical classrooms and where divers give new life to historic shipwrecks and other deep archaeological sites.
From the first sanctuary covering just one square mile, the 15-site network now protects nearly 622,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. As the first preserve, the
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, located off North Carolina’s coast, was designed in 1975. It’s the burial site of the USS Monitor, a famous shipwreck in U.S. history. Sunk in 1862, the turreted warship was discovered on the ocean floor more than a century later. The distinct turret and other artifacts have since been recovered and preserved.
map of the magical sanctuary network. Dive in. offsite link
Positioning our nation's future
Watch this video highlighting the work of NOAA's National Geodetic Survery, which establishes all U.S. positioning, including the foundational elements of latitude, longitude, elevation, and shoreline information. The video shows how NOAA is using cutting-edge instruments to measure distances and angles and make calibrations that will ensure the nation's maps ware accurate and up-to-date. (NOAA)
Until the 1990s, an alidade, or telescope-like instrument, was used along with a plane table to manually map features such as those in this coastal marsh. Sensors on drones now do this work efficiently, cost-effectively and with greater precision. (NOAA)
From 1900 to about 1960, survey teams relied on their eyes to read a graduated rod that measured height differences between benchmarks. Now a digital level instrument takes images of a barcode on a rod to obtain this measurement. (NOAA)
In 1934, a “light keeper” 110 feet above a survey mark in Minnesota aimed target lights at similar towers as surveyors below measured angles targeting lights at other towers. During this era, a network of towers was spread thousands of miles across the U.S, establishing latitude and longitude for thousands of survey marks. With GPS, anyone can now capture such coordinates with a cell phone. (NOAA)
Smart sampling at NOAA fisheries
Watch this video detailing how NOAA's smart labs and technology are modernizing U.S. fisheries. The video highlights how "machine vision" digitally identifies and measures fish in real-time and how cutting-edge sampling and processing techniques help sort species and assign barcode tags. NOAA works closely with industry to keep fish populations healthy and sustain the over $200 billion billion U.S. fishing industry and its 1.7 million jobs. (NOAA)
IMAGE-NOAAat50-storymap-early-hydrographic-ships-albatross-bigelow-031620-1000x750-originalThis is Albatross I, the first vessel with electric lights and the first in a series of four Albatross vessels at sea from 1882 to 2008. NOAA Ship Bigelow, shown in the video, replaced the last ship in the series. (NOAA)
In the 1960s, fingers sorted species. Dr. Robert Edwards, later director of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, is shown sampling fish aboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV. Working with paper logs on a clipboard, voice tallies could be drowned out by wind and waves and measurements were subject to human error. Innovative approaches and “smart labs" equipped with leading-edge technology are now modernizing fish sampling. (NOAA)
Paper Fisheries survey record in the 1990s (NOAA)
Dynamic advances in global forecasting
Watch this FV3-powered simulation of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupting, underscoring the local-to-global impacts. As volcanic particles and gases travel far, they can degrade air quality and disrupt air travel. (NOAA)
Global Forecast System, NOAA’s flagship weather model, has been upgraded with a dynamical new core, an “engine” called FV3 that will improve forecast accuracy for severe weather, winter storms and tropical cyclone track and intensity. The upgrade will enable future advances in higher resolution and data quality control, among others.
Precipitation Forecast for Heavy Rain on West Coast, March 2018
Animation showing precipitation forecast for heavy rain on West Coast in March, 2018. (NOAA)
NOAA Corps: In command on land, sea and in the air
Watch this video about the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of our Nation's uniformed services. NOAA Corps' work on the ground, in the air and at sea touches every American, protecting lives, property and natural resources. (NOAA)
In 1939, officers at U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, a NOAA legacy agency, used this taut wire machine to measure the distance between floating hydrographic survey markers. If measured from shore, the wire was attached to an anchor. If measured offshore, it was attached to a buoy. NOAA Corps officers now use GPS and aerial image analyses to accurately measure distances and characterize features on nautical charts. (NOAA)
“Shooting the sun” once helped ships stay on course. In this 1952 photo, a sextant, or navigation instrument, is used to measure the angle between the Sun and the horizon. This angle and the precise time it is measured can determine a ship’s position. Today NOAA Corps officers rely primarily on GPS and Electronic Navigation Charts to stay on course. But with cybersecurity a concern, celestial navigation is again being taught. (NOAA)
In 1973, then Ensign Evelyn Fields (third from left) joined other NOAA Corps members in performing bridge operations. In 1999, and as RADM Evelyn Fields, she became the first woman and first African American to become director of NOAA Corps and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. (NOAA) Collaborating across NOAA
NOAA’s Regional Collaboration effort is a network of NOAA employees and affiliates representing the agency’s diverse capabilities across the country. (NOAA)
From developing high tech global weather models to innovating machine vision that accurately and efficiently samples fish, NOAA's mission is sweeping and complex. Many of the complexities that drive this mission are place-based, requiring interdisciplinary approaches and regionally-tailored solutions that hit home where people live and work.
To provide the rich insights that spur action, NOAA’s
Regional Collaboration Network was formed in 2010. By engaging and connecting people and resources within and across regions, the network’s more than 165 NOAA staff and partners help push the boundaries of NOAA science, service and stewardship to both support the kinds of advances highlighted in this story map and achieve important new ones.
Animation showing NOAA’s Regional Collaboration Network. (NOAA)
Here's a sampling of 2019 accomplishments:
Produced 5-to-1 economic gains in
Great Lakes restoration Reduced shellfish poisoning risks in the
Arctic Improved disaster resilience in the
Southeast and Caribbean Tested emergency response in the
West Bolstered fisheries management in the
North Atlantic Improved water quality throughout the
Central region’s Mississippi River watershed Strengthened preparedness and response in the
Pacific Islands Facilitated data-sharing in the
Gulf of Mexico, leading to better forecasting after tropical cyclones and, over time, faster FEMA claims adjustments at lower cost
Read more about regional initiatives in the Regional Collaboration Network’s 2019 Accomplishments Report offsite link
Watch generic video celebrating NOAA staff and NOAA's 50th anniversary. (NOAA)
"The Survey of the Coast was born on the spirit and necessities of 1807 and grew as the nation grew ... No doubt it would have been a point of pride with Jefferson to have played a part in the establishment of what is considered today the oldest scientific agency in the U.S. government."
– Thomas Jefferson Foundation
To view the original NOAA story map, please see this
version on the ESRI website. offsite link