NOAA, Census challenge innovators to build tools to tackle the climate crisis

Data-driven tools will help communities accelerate equitable resilience

Jeremy Hoffman and Vivek Shandas closely examine a large map with highly detailed satellite images of a city.

Jeremy Hoffman, scientist with the Science Museum of Virginia, (standing) and Vivek Shandas, professor at Portland State University, pore over a map of Richmond, Virginia as they plan the routes for citizen scientists to collect heat data with a special sensor tool attached to their cars. The data will then be used to create a high-resolution map of the city’s hottest neighborhoods, which will provide information for cooling projects, tree planting and other climate action strategies. (Image credit: Vivek Shandas)

As communities plan for the increasingly frequent and severe impacts from climate change, decision makers need relevant, usable data and information at their fingertips. However,  it can be difficult to find and synthesize the data that fits their local needs from among the many federal agency datasets and resources. 

To help solve this problem, NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, is bringing together innovators to participate in a product development sprint to create new data-driven tools that will provide decision makers with information to fit their needs and accelerate equitable resilience-building across the nation. Teams of participants are challenged to build world-class applications and technologies that make it easy for local governments, particularly in underserved regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, to quickly identify and integrate relevant federal climate datasets with their own local information. Such tools will support the development of climate resilience plans to help communities nationwide take action to better prepare for and respond to the increasing impacts of the climate crisis.

“NOAA’s data and information is the bedrock of climate-smart decision making in the face of an urgent climate crisis,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “We are thrilled to work with the Census Bureau to help all of our nation’s communities use data from NOAA and other federal agencies to prepare for impacts and build back better.”

The 12-week sprint launches on August 5, 2021, and participants will be eligible to compete for $50,000 in prize money from NOAA, plus additional prize money from the Census Bureau. Competition winners will be announced this winter. 

“Underserved communities may not have the budgets and resources to produce their own tailored climate information,” added Tony LaVoi, NOAA’s Chief Data Officer and Executive Champion for the NOAA sprint. “They need affordable tools with data at the ready that can be easily customized in maps, visuals, and text to help them understand, communicate about, and address their local climate-related risks and opportunities.”

The challenge is part of The Opportunity Project, led by the Census Bureau, that brings together government, industry, universities, non-profits, and communities for 12-week product development sprints. Government agencies first identify urgent issues facing Americans. Then teams of entrepreneurs and innovators use federal open data to create new technologies that provide solutions to those problems. Along the way, the agencies, product advisors, and users who directly experience those issues give valuable input to ensure the technologies developed directly target community needs. 

Over the past five years, development sprints have catalyzed products that have confronted problems such as homelessness and the opioid crisis. 

“The Opportunity Project has been a critical tool for innovation at the U.S. Census Bureau - both in how we disseminate data and in how we operate internally, pushing us to be more nimble and creative,” said Ron Jarmin, Ph.D., acting director of the Census Bureau. “We're thrilled to partner with NOAA to spread that methodology across the U.S. Department of Commerce. Together, NOAA and the Census Bureau are essential data providers on the post-COVID economy, population, and climate. Through TOP, different sectors come together to transform all this data into tools that really move the needle on problems for people nationwide,” 

By creating different approaches to improve local decision-making and federal capacity to support state and local-level priorities, NOAA envisions that the tools developed will reduce planning costs and empower decision makers to enact climate resilience plans efficiently in more communities throughout the country. 

To learn more about the sprint, visit: Scroll down to “Tackling the Climate Crisis through Climate Smart Communities,” for the project description.

Media contact

Monica Allen,, 202-379-6693