Planet NOAA Podcast Episode 3: Earth Day is every day

How can we make our planet a better place for generations to come through conservation, preservation, and sustainability efforts? Ken Graham, Director of NOAA's National Weather Service, and other NOAA experts weigh in on building a Weather Ready Nation, ocean acoustics, marine sanctuaries, and more.

Planet NOAA Episode 3 thumbnail

(Image credit: NOAA)

Audio file


[Planet NOAA theme music plays]

SYMONE BARKLEY (HOST): Welcome back to Planet NOAA. I’m your host, Symone Barkley. I’m the National Ocean Service Exhibits Manager and an Education Specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Today, we’re chatting about NOAA's conservation, preservation, and sustainability work during Earth Month and beyond – and we’re gathering insights along the way on how NOAA's marine research got started in a lighthouse shed, the 1974 Super Outbreak of tornadoes, and what it means to build a Weather Ready Nation. 

HOST: I’m excited to welcome back NOAA Public Affairs Specialist and Climate Scientist, Tom DiLiberto, to take us through NOAA in the News.

TOM DILIBERTO: Happy to be here, Symone! Looking forward to unpacking some of our latest headlines and cool projects with you.

HOST: So Tom, we’re marking an anniversary that feels straight out of the Twisters movie. It’s now been 50 years since the 1974 Super Outbreak. 

DILIBERTO: Symone, we’ve definitely come a long way since this catastrophic event. Between April 3rd and 4th of that year, we saw a total of 148 tornadoes touch down in 13 states, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake from the Great Lakes region through the Deep South. This unprecedented outbreak of tornadoes caused many deaths and injuries and incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Ohio was hit especially hard by the Super Outbreak. On April 3rd, meteorologists at the Weather Service Office in Cincinnati recorded an unusually high number of hook echoes appearing on their radar. Hook echoes are hook-shaped weather radar signatures that can appear on the radar when a particularly strong thunderstorm is approaching – and for meteorologists, hook echoes signal that tornadoes may form. Minutes after a warning was issued, the most violent tornado of the entire outbreak touched down in Xenia, Ohio, claiming 34 lives. 50 years ago, NOAA’s National Weather Service, or NWS, did not have the technology or infrastructure we see today. Meteorologists would trace storms on the radar onto thin paper maps, and not every NWS office had a radar to begin with. When the power went out at NWS offices during the Super Outbreak, meteorologists were left without the ability to issue necessary warnings or take many precautions themselves. In the decades following, we’ve seen significant improvements made to both observational tools and the National Weather Service itself. Our GOES-R satellites and Doppler radar technology, among other tools, are helping us detect storms further in advance. Local offices are equipped with emergency power backup to ensure that they can get those crucial warnings out with as much lead time as possible. So today, we see these successful emergency preparedness efforts on NOAA’s part to ensure that folks stay safe in the rare event of another Super Tornado Outbreak happening.

HOST: That’s great to hear, Tom. So, last month I had the chance to talk to a few of our resident satellite experts about NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or the GOES – R Series. The GOES-U satellite, which is the fourth and final satellite in this series, is set to launch soon after years of construction and testing! Can you talk to us a little bit more about the preparation and launch process for GOES-U?

DILIBERTO: You got it! So, if you missed last month’s episode, the GOES-R Series is a fleet of geostationary weather satellites that orbit the Earth at a speed matching the planet’s rotation. That means that they rotate in connection with a fixed point on the ground to continuously monitor the same area over time, as if they were stationary. As the last satellite to launch and join the GOES-R series, GOES-U will be providing valuable data for weather forecasts, early warnings for severe storms, and long-term climate insights from over 22,000 miles above Earth. GOES-U also has some really cool tools that give it the ability to identify lightning strikes most likely to ignite fires, detect meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere, help plan aviation routes to reduce weather-related flight delays, and more. So, the GOES-U satellite was shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in January for final preparations before its launch. After it was removed from its shipping container, it was placed on a stand to undergo electrical testing and mechanical configurations to make sure everything was working properly. But even that was no small feat – the satellite weighs over 6,000 pounds! That’s like lifting almost 43 of me at once! So, these satellites are set to operate for 15 years to keep providing us with those important weather forecasts and severe storm warnings over time. 15 years in space means a lot of fuel – actually, over 5,000 extra pounds of fuel will be added to GOES-U! Once all of that fuel is very, very, very carefully loaded into the satellite by teams in protective suits, it’s time for GOES-U to get strapped into what’s called a payload fairing, which is the equipment used to encapsulate the satellite to keep it safe and secure during launch. The payload fairing is then attached to the actual launch vehicle, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, through an attachment process called launch vehicle mate. The day before liftoff, we’ll see that Falcon Heavy rocket and the attached satellite roll out to the launch pad! You can watch GOES-U launch into space – and stay tuned for more information on launch day – at 

HOST: Excited to catch that launch. Thanks for joining us today, Tom!

DILIBERTO: It’s always a pleasure, though that GOES without saying… You know… like the GOES-U satellite…

HOST: We got it Tom. Believe me. We got it.

HOST: It’s time to test your trivia knowledge on “Did You NOAA?” with special guest Tara Garwood! Tara is the communications and multimedia lead for the NOAA Heritage Program, where she creates content about NOAA's more than 200-year history and artifacts.

TARA GARWOOD: Hey Symone! Happy to be back.

HOST: Happy to have you, Tara! So, marine conservation is usually a big theme during Earth Month. How did NOAA get its start in the field?

GARWOOD: That’s a great question, Symone. Let’s rewind the clock all the way back to 1871, when the U.S. Fish Commission was looking for a place to set up a marine research lab. If you tuned in to our last episode of Planet NOAA, then you’ll remember hearing about the NOAA tide gauge in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. That’s exactly where the Fish Commission decided to set up shop in a small shed belonging to the United States Lighthouse Board. Over the years, the commission converted the shed into a proper 2-story building with a windmill to pump in sea water. One floor was dedicated to the study of fish and the other was dedicated to researching invertebrates. And I’d be remiss not to mention the 1870s version of a break room in the lighthouse shed-turned-research lab, which researchers affectionately referred to as the “Shark's Parlor.”

HOST: As an ocean scientist and a shark biologist, I feel like I could use a Shark’s Parlor. If only I had my own lighthouse!

GARWOOD: Honestly, Symone, that dream is closer than you think. Stay tuned through the rest of today’s episode to find out more!

HOST: This year, Earth Day falls on Monday, April 22. But here at NOAA, we celebrate our planet every day. Conservation, preservation, and sustainability efforts are key to making our planet a better place for generations to come – and today, I’m excited to be chatting with NOAA experts leading that charge through our mission of science, service, and stewardship.

HOST: We’re joined by John Armor, the Director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, or ONMS. As Director of ONMS, John oversees the conservation of a network of 15 national marine sanctuaries and multiple marine national monuments.

JOHN ARMOR: Thanks, Symone. I really appreciate you having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

HOST: Also joining us today is Kim Damon-Randall, the director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, Office of Protected Resources. Kim’s work at NOAA is dedicated to the conservation, recovery, and management of protected species.

KIMBERLY DAMON-RANDALL: Thanks so much. I’m glad to be here.

SB: We’re also speaking with Dr. Bob Dziak, who is a Research Oceanographer within NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Bob leads a passive acoustics research team on deep-ocean and coastal soundscapes to help conserve marine ecosystems and assess the impact of human activities on ocean health.

DR. ROBERT DZIAK: Thank you so much. Great to be here.

SB: Finally, I’m excited to welcome David Herring, the Chief of the Communication, Education, and Engagement Division within NOAA's Climate Program Office, where he leads the and U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit websites. David has over three decades of experience working within the Earth system science communities at both NOAA and NASA.

DAVID HERRING: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

HOST: John, I’d love to start with you. As an ocean scientist, I’m always intrigued by the work that ONMS is doing. So, I’d love to hear a bit more about the foundation of your work. At its most basic, what is a marine sanctuary? Where can they be found? 

ARMOR: So, at its most basic, a national marine sanctuary is a place in the Great Lakes or in the ocean that is set aside by NOAA to conduct cutting-edge research, to learn about our past, to educate communities about the importance of Great Lakes and the ocean, and to conserve both natural and cultural resources for future generations. In my mind, you know, these are places for study, for recreation, even places to recharge our souls, to connect with nature. And in terms of where they can be found, currently, there are 15 national marine sanctuaries all around the country and they are in the United States. They are in the northeast, in American Samoa, all the way up and down the West Coast from Washington to California. They're in the Gulf of Mexico and up and down the East Coast. And they also include the Great Lakes. 

HOST: You know, you talked a little bit just now about cultural aspects of national marine sanctuaries and the recreational aspects and, you know, just helping people to be connected to the environment. I know a little bit about Mallows Bay, for example, and that folks can kayak in Mallows Bay over the ghost fleet. Yeah. So can we just talk just a little bit about, you know, some of those benefits or some of the offerings at the national marine sanctuaries? 

ARMOR: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you touched on one that's local for us here in the Washington, D.C. area. We have – just a few hours drive away – we have the Mallows Bay and Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. That is a really great place for connecting, both with nature and with our past. So it's an opportunity to get out and kayak. Some of the shipwrecks there in Mallows Bay, you can see at low tide they emerge from the water level. But I also think a lot about other recreational opportunities at other sanctuaries. Stellwagen Bank National Sanctuary, which is off the coast of Massachusetts is one of the premier places in the world to view whales. I also think a lot about the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where it's a great place to go fishing. To get out on the water, with your family, connect with nature and put a line in the water and really do some really great fishing as well. I could go on and on, Symone. There are so many opportunities across the national marine sanctuary system, you know, like you said, to connect with nature and get out. And whether you're a diver, a fisherman, whether you're just interested in sailing or boating, national marine sanctuaries do have something for you.

HOST: Yes, I love that. And I would love to visit all of these national marine sanctuaries. 

ARMOR: Yeah, let’s do it. 

HOST: You just talked about whale watching and fishing, but how do marine sanctuaries protect local ecosystems and marine life? 

ARMOR: We work with local governments, tribal organizations, tribal governments, and other federal agencies to make sure that the natural and cultural resources of that area are preserved for future generations. So the way we do that, is, you know, first and foremost by educating and informing the public about the fragility and the importance and the relevance of these resources to them and to their communities, and to talk to them about how they can become stewards of these places by, you know, perhaps volunteering, conducting beach cleanups. To avoid, for example, you know, to avoid taking things. But, we work closely with communities to sort of educate first about the importance of not doing those things and leaving those things for future generations. After that, we work across NOAA to conduct cutting-edge research to inform ourselves and the public about how some of these resources are changing, in the changing climate. We have to have this information to understand how, say, for example, how whale populations are changing; where their feeding grounds might be changing. So we have to have a commitment across NOAA to conducting regular monitoring research in these places about things that we can be doing better to protect and conserve these places. And then finally, we do have a regulatory role in sanctuaries. And I'm intentionally putting that last, because that is what I think. We would generally first work with other agencies first to inform and educate and protect and research. But we do have a role in putting out regulations that, you know, protect the resources directly. And that could include things like prohibiting people from taking objects and historical artifacts off shipwrecks to drilling coral in the Florida Keys Sanctuary and discharging pollutants into the waters in sanctuaries.

HOST: Okay. So, as you are talking about, you know, having folks engaged, can we discuss citizen science? What is citizen science and how is ONMS using it to support local marine conservation, preservation, and sustainability efforts? 

ARMOR: So citizen science specifically is incredibly important for us. And citizen scientists are engaged in a number of different ways across the national marine sanctuary system. I think about the West Coast in particular, where in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, we have a number of citizen scientists that work with us day in and day out, walking the beaches, count collecting seabirds, and identifying seabirds; identifying, you know, their cause of mortality. And they feed that information back to NOAA. Also, an even better example, further down the California coast, we have a number of citizen scientists that work with us on a program that we call the First Flush. During the rainy season, as waters go off the farm fields that are adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, we have a number of volunteers that take water samples from the streams and rivers before that water enters the sanctuary to help us keep track of improvements that communities have been making in reducing pollutant runoff into the Monterey Sanctuary. We have a number of citizen scientists that work with us in the Florida Keys Natural Sanctuary, monitoring and even helping to restore coral reefs. We work very closely with the Office of Response and Restoration Marine Debris Program on beach cleanups, which isn’t necessarily always citizen science, per se, but it is yet another form of volunteerism that we rely on to help protect these places. 

HOST: Thanks for that, John. For any folks looking to volunteer on cool projects or become citizen scientists with ONMS, you can visit 

HOST: Kim, let's head over to the Office of Protected Resources. How exactly does the Office support conservation efforts for marine species and their habitats? 

DAMON-RANDALL: So the Office of Protected Resources supports conservation efforts of marine species under two acts: the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And our work really spans across the country and beyond as we work closely with partners both here in the U.S. and internationally. And we work to conserve species like the Cook Inlet beluga whale, which is in Alaska, manta rays in the Caribbean, endangered corals that are in the Pacific and Southeast, and Atlantic salmon that are in the northeast. And some of the things that we work on include things like listing species under the Endangered Species Act and monitoring their status, designating critical habitat, identifying and implementing recovery and conservation actions that can help change things and put the species on the road to recovery, conducting marine mammal stock assessments so that we have the best available information on their status, and developing management measures and approaches to address threats to marine mammals. And we know we can't do this work alone, so we greatly value our partnerships in these efforts. 

HOST: Really quickly, my first internship at NOAA was actually in the Office of Protected Resources and worked on the baiji, the Chinese River dolphin five year review, and at species that might be thought to be extinct. Can you talk about why you might still be doing reviews or assessments of them?

DAMON-RANDALL: That's great. Yeah, we work on a lot of diverse things that I think a lot of people don't know that we have under our scope. So the ocean’s a big place and we know really very little about it. And so species that we might think are extinct, we might find out we’re wrong. So, we continue to try to put effort toward, you know, making sure that we're doing whatever we can to conserve and recover species and learn about them so that we know what we really need to do to be able to do that effectively. 

HOST: Kim, we know that NMFS protects over 150 endangered or threatened marine species under the Endangered Species Act. What are some of the factors placing these species at risk? 

DAMON-RANDALL: So our species face many natural and human-caused threats, and this can include things like the destruction of their habitats, impacts from pollution, disease or competition with invasive species, and unsustainable or illegal harvesting. And since these species are already at risk, additional human-caused threats from climate or habitat changes make their survival even more precarious. And since the ESA was enacted over 50 years ago – it actually just turned 50 last year – less than 1% of species listed have gone extinct, and others have actually been recovered to the point where they no longer need protection. So it is successful. We try to make sure that we're using the best available science, cutting-edge technology and strong partnerships to ensure that these species continue to survive and recover. And I thought it might be helpful to highlight a couple of our success stories because they're really cool. So white abalone is a great success story. This is a type of marine snail. It's actually the first invertebrate that was listed under the ESA. And along with about 20 of our partners, we’re rearing white abalone in captivity to increase their numbers. And our recovery team has placed more than 10,000 captive bred white abalone on native subtitle reefs since 2019. This provides a great foundation for the recovery in the wild. I actually had the privilege of visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific last year. This was part of our ESA 50th anniversary celebrations, and I learned about the work that they're doing with us and other partners on this really successful restoration program. And it was really cool. I had the chance to meet Myrtle, the white abalone, whose story is really inspiring. She was a white abalone that they found on a rock that was nowhere near any other white abalone. She was all by herself and they decided that they were going to bring her in and keep her in the aquarium. And so they have this great story just about how resilient white abalone can be. So she's a really, really inspiring story. And another example is North Atlantic right whales. The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most endangered large whale species. There are only about 360 individuals remaining, with fewer than 70 reproductively active females. And we know that human impacts continue to threaten the survival of this species. The two greatest known threats to them are entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. And we're really excited about the recent Inflation Reduction Act funding that we received. We are taking that funding and doing some innovative new things. We're partnering with a corporation called MITRE and also with NASA, to work on developing technologies and engineering approaches that help us to look at how we can detect whales, how we can avoid vessel strikes, and also how we can implement, more broadly on demand or ropeless fishing gear to reduce that entanglement risk.

HOST: Wow. Thank you for sharing. We've talked a lot about what scientists and informal learning institutions like aquariums are doing to protect endangered species. What can people be doing every day to keep marine species safe? 

DAMON-RANDALL: We know that we can't conserve species on our own. We need everybody's help. So, what we often ask people to do, to help, are to learn about the marine species that live near you. Our NOAA Fisheries website is a great place to find out more about marine species, including where they live, the threats to their recovery, and specific conservation efforts that we're undertaking. And it's also really important that when you're out on the water that you're really careful in that you recreate responsibly. Seeing marine species in the wild is an awe-inspiring opportunity. I had the tremendous opportunity to see a North Atlantic right whale mother with her calf in Massachusetts last April. Her name is Medusa. She was out in Cape Cod Bay with her calf, and it was truly amazing. But it really highlighted for me how vulnerable these species are. They spend a lot of time at the surface. They don't have a dorsal fin that sticks out of the water, and they're darkly colored, so it's really easy to miss them. So we ask people to be sure that when you're out on the water, you give wildlife space, both for your safety and for theirs. And a good rule of thumb to follow is to stay a football field away.

HOST: I totally agree. You know, when seeing the animals up close, you do kind of build that connection. And I definitely think that that rings true for a lot of people. 

DAMON-RANDALL: Yeah, I agree. And, you know, aquariums are so important to help people learn more about this species so they can create that connection. because, you know, it's rare that people are out on the water and have an opportunity to see one of these species. 

HOST: Absolutely. So it's true that we can tell a lot about the ocean and its many species by seeing them. But what about by listening to them? That's where experts like Bob come in. Bob, can you tell us a bit about your field of research?

DZIAK: Well, at its most basic, ocean acoustics is a broad scientific field that studies underwater sound and its transmission in the ocean. You know, the study of ocean acoustics includes identifying, understanding the various sources of underwater sound, as well as how sound travels through the water. Why can we hear underwater sounds from so far away? And what can sound tell us about what is happening in the ocean? You know, thus, ocean acoustics provides valuable information and insights into marine ecosystems, facilitates environmental monitoring, and informs marine conservation and management efforts. 

HOST: Thank you. Bob. Can we talk a little bit about how the underwater sound or noise is measured 

DZIAK: In essence, sound is a pressure wave where the wave mechanically compresses and expands particles as it moves through a given medium. You know, whether it be air, water. And we record underwater sounds just like we record sound in air by using special underwater microphones called hydrophones that detect these small fluctuations in pressure, which are the sound waves. There are a wide variety of sources of sound in the ocean. There are biological sounds; they’re marine organisms, and they produce a wide range of sounds as part of their natural behavior, such as harmonic calls, clicks, and barks from marine mammals, which include whales, dolphins, and seals. There's also fish making drumming and clicking sounds. Biological sounds play an important role for marine species that use underwater sound for communication, navigation, redirection and predator avoidance.

HOST: Bob, are there particular areas where there might be more sound versus at a different location? Where do you hear the most sound when you're, you know, studying different habitats?

DZIAK: Well, we have a hydrophone network across the United States. A lot of sounds around major ports, you know, like, from Boston or Los Angeles, New York. As a lot of ambient sound is generated by ships passing, you know, just in human activities is generally where we hear a lot of humans making noises and sounds in the ocean.

HOST: You know, I think we have some ocean noise audio captured by your team here. Let’s take a listen to some marine ocean noise captured via a NOAA hydrophone in American Samoa National Park – these are humpback whale vocalizations with snapping shrimp in the background.

HOST: Now let’s take a listen to what happens when humans enter the picture. Here’s an audio recording of ocean noise containing humpback whale vocalizations with a ship in the background in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

HOST: Bob, could you give us some background about this recording that we've just listened to? 

DZIAK: Of course. Yes. Thank you. First, I'd like to thank my Sanctuary and Park Service colleagues for their help in collecting these sounds. The two sound files displayed provide an interesting comparison of marine environments. As you can hear in the relative quiet underwater acoustic setting off the coast of American Samoa, you know, it's much easier to hear the calls of the humpback whales when there's, you know, no background noise. In contrast of the North Atlantic Coast of the United States, the ship noise is quite loud and very noticeable, and it makes it much more difficult to hear the whale calls. One can see where it might affect marine animals, since many marine organisms use sound to communicate and navigate their environment.

HOST: Now keeping those ocean noise recordings in mind, how can human made ocean noise impact marine organisms and ecosystems, Bob?

DZIAK: Well, human made noise can have a significant impact on marine organisms, disrupts their communication, interferes with their navigation ability as well as their detection of their prey, and it can also cause physiological stress as well. We need to consider both natural sounds that are produced by marine organisms, as well as sound generated by human activity when trying to understand ecosystems. Ongoing research looks to better quantify the contribution of human-made sounds to the overall ocean soundscape and thus assess their ecological impacts. There was a recent study of response of humpback whales to natural and human made ocean noise in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Our colleagues at the Park Service found that underwater sound in Glacier Bay came from a variety of sources, ranging from cruise ships to tour boats to weather, and even the barking of harbor seals. And when these noise levels increased, the humpback whales responded by increasing the loudness of their calls. So they also found that the probability of humpback whale calling in the area was lower when ship noise contributed to the soundscape, rather than when only natural sounds are present. 

HOST: Yeah. Wow. Thank you for sharing that study. What is NOAA doing to alleviate the impacts of ocean noise on marine life?

DZIAK: Well, thank you. That's a great question, and NOAA has developed a comprehensive plan to address the impacts of ocean noise, and it's known as the Ocean Noise Strategy Roadmap. And one step of the Ocean Noise Strategy is to conduct research into better understanding of the sources, distributions and effects of anthropogenic noise on the ocean. And so with this goal in mind, we implemented a long term underwater sound monitoring program, which is called the Ocean Noise Reference Station Network, which is a coastal wide array of 13 ocean listening stations. Each station of the Ocean Noise Reference Network is an autonomous hydrophone self recorder that records continuous underwater sound data in the 1 to 2kHz range for 1 to 2 years. The hydrophone at each site is moored, meaning the hydrophone is attached to an anchor via a nylon line of rope, and it’s very strongly buoyant. And we have 9 to 10 years of this acoustic data recorded off of major port areas, as well as national parks and sanctuaries, and even one offshore renewable energy site. And our goal with this data is to document baseline sound levels at each site and see what sources make up these sound levels, and how these sound roles vary in intensity through the seasons and over many years.

HOST: Now we're hearing and seeing, you know, on Spotify or on Apple Music, where folks are listening to, rain sounds at night or sounds of the ocean. Have you ever listened to any of the recordings that your team has gathered to help you, like, relax or have you fall asleep? 

DZIAK: I do, yeah. Certainly the sounds of whale calls are very soothing. When I do public displays and public outreach events, I go to really produce an immersive event where we have video of underwater volcanoes. And so I'll bring these speakers in to play the sounds back live. So you really feel like you're down there at the bottom of the ocean experiencing this eruption in real time. So, maybe that's not relaxing, but I find it very exciting and fun.

HOST: Perfect. Love that. Thank you. Bob. All right. We spent a lot of time in the ocean today, y'all. But let's broaden our focus a bit. David, climate plays a major role in determining the health and well-being of our planet and its inhabitants. What is NOAA's initiative and how is it helping to build a climate ready nation? 

HERRING: Thank you. Yeah, that's a great question. NOAA is a whole-of-agency website that's designed to help promote public climate literacy. It has four sections designed to serve four different audiences and their objectives. We recognize that everyone is not the same and different people have different motivations for seeking information and for learning. So the site offers a news and features section, which is an online popular science magazine for the science interested public, with visually rich stories and articles about NOAA's climate research, as well as data and information about how and why the climate system is changing and how its changes affect things we care about. Like, say, there's articles like Climate and Coffee or Climate and Peanut Butter. So it really helps connect the dots in an engaging and visually rich way. We have another section called Maps and Data that's designed to help people find and use NOAA and its partners’ climate maps and tools and data sets that may be of interest to them. And that section is especially well-suited for users who are new to climate data, in that we offer a primer and we have other easy-to-interpret interfaces in that section, like our Global Climate dashboard. There's a section called Teaching Climate, which offers learning activities and curriculum materials and multimedia resources for educators. And we have paired professional development opportunities with teaching climate to train educators and to help them find and use resources that they can use in their classroom when they want to teach key concepts that are related to climate science and Earth system science. And ultimately, the goal there is to help attract more students into the pipeline of science, technology, engineering and math, and to consider studying climate and maybe becoming interested in higher level coursework. And then lastly, in the site, there's a section called the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. It's a sister site that's spun off from But it's in association with it. And it's designed to serve planners and decision makers in government, in business and in community organizations who are facing climate-related hazards. The toolkit is designed to help them find and use decision-support tools and information that helps them understand their exposure and helps lead them through a resilience planning process. I mean, we like to think of not as – as more than a website, but it's also a relationship-building process where we get to know our audiences and their objectives. We like to interact and engage with them. We'll offer guided tours of the site, and we'll also ask them in focus groups or feedback sessions, “What are you seeking? What's helpful to you? How can we evolve and improve?” So yeah, we do consider it a relationship-building effort as well. 

HOST: I love that. Thank you for sharing that. You know, I had the chance to explore the site and I see a lot about climate resilience. What is climate resilience and how can we all build climate resilience as our planet continues to change? 

HERRING: Yeah. Well climate resilience, it's the ability to anticipate, avoid, respond to and recover from a shock or disruption. There can be climate-related hazards that can produce disruption, like, say, a wildfire or a heat wave or a severe storm and so forth. And there can be non-climate hazards or disruptions as well. And there's often interaction between the two. So for example, if there is a heat wave and it stresses our energy grid system, there can be rolling blackouts. So there can be loss of energy or electricity coming to our homes and buildings. And so that can make it hot. But that can also begin to interact with other health stressors or health impacts. So there's definitely a relationship. And often it's not just climate or climate-related hazards working in isolation. They can produce what we call cascading effects in our communities or in our built environments. So in the Climate Resilience Toolkit, we're offering information that helps people begin to connect the dots and to understand the ways that climate is changing and the ways that those changes are interacting with things we care about in every region and economic sector of our country. And I like to say the backbone of the site is a framework that we call the “Steps to Resilience.” This framework is essentially to help guide you through a resilience planning process so that it helps you to consider the things that you care about in your community or in your business. What are the things that your community needs to remain viable, to be healthy and vibrant and then to be able to formulate a list of, okay, now, what exposures does your community have? If you're in a coastal community, you might be exposed to both the slow change of sea level rise, but also the sudden shock of, say, a storm surge, or say astronomy. And so there's a relationship between sea level rise and then other events. And so then we can begin to consider, okay, well, if there's exposure, if there are things that I care about that are exposed to these hazards, what's the chance of occurrence? What would be the magnitude of the damage? So we characterize the risk in those terms. And if there's risk we're not willing to tolerate, then we can begin to ask the question, okay, we can't tolerate risk to people and property and infrastructure. And therefore it raises the question, well, what can we do about it? What are our options? What are things that are no regrets? Solutions that we could implement, that are affordable, that are feasible, that are equitable, that would do no harm to the environment, and that sort of thing. And then from there, we can begin to formulate and make a plan. And it might be things like, well, we could retreat, we could elevate, we could harden, we can use nature-based solutions often. Mother Nature has innovated ways to deal with these types of things. And so there are lots of solutions that are synergistic with nature. And the purpose of the toolkit; I like to say it's serving as a kind of a cognitive bridge and a technological bridge. I say cognitive bridge in the sense that, again, it's helping people to begin to move into the different domains of expertise, because climate is inherently an interdisciplinary challenge. It brings together people from health professions, in engineering and in energy and agriculture. It really touches on all these domains. And so it's designed to help people bridge across these domains and understand the relationships in play. And I also say it's a technological bridge in that much of the information that we're offering through the toolkit, we ourselves on my team do not own and curate, but we're offering discovery, metadata, discovery, information about the resources from all across the federal landscape, not just in NOAA, so that people can find and use it and understand the purpose of these tools in the context of the action verbs of the steps to resilience.

HOST: David, you talked a lot about the partnerships that are producing this data. How does select and share climate information through these partnerships? 

HERRING: So our role is to highlight the data that our partners in NOAA and outside of NOAA collect. And we work together with them to help people find and access and understand and use those data in confronting the challenges that they face. So, for example, we offer maps and charts that show how our world has changed, in recent history or how a particular location, maybe the county that I live in or the watershed that I live in. How has it changed in recent history? What is the rate of change, and also how is it predicted and projected to change going out into the future? So people, oftentimes when I will interact with some of our publics, you know, I'll say, “Do you want data or do you want data-based answers to questions that you have about things you care about, about people, property or infrastructure?” And oftentimes that's when a lot of hands will come up and they'll say, “We want to know how the world is changing and how it affects those things that I care about, but then I may also want to once I have the that data, that answer, I may want to go get the data and do analyses.” And so in short, we're providing more interpretive guidance and context. But as it relates to management and protection of people and property and infrastructure and natural resources. 

HOST: Okay. Thank you so much. We appreciate you, David, and the work that you all are doing on 

HERRING: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here with you today.

HOST: I want to say thank you to all of you for joining us, to chat today. I’d love to make time for any final thoughts from each of you. 

ARMOR: It is incredibly important for folks in our communities around the country to understand that National Marine Sanctuaries are there, that they're relevant to them and that their actions and decisions that they make affect those places, and that they can become stewards alongside sanctuary superintendents and scientists.

DAMON-RANDALL: I think one thing I would just want to kind of emphasize is something I said earlier, that we can't let species go extinct on our watch. You can't get species that have gone extinct back. Extinction is forever. And so while the status of many of our species is concerning, there is hope. And we know that we can recover them and their ecosystems. It just takes time and effort. And then I also – Bob was talking about whale sound and just something interesting to maybe add to that is that I use right whales as an example of a species that we're doing a lot of work for. We actually use passive acoustic monitoring to be able to track the seasonal and temporal distribution of North Atlantic right whales along the East Coast of the U.S. and into Canada. So they put out those listening devices that Bob was talking about to be able to see where they are and when they're there. So, we use the sounds that they make to help us learn more about them as well. 

DZIAK: You know, human-made noise in the ocean is of concern and how it affects the marine animals, organisms, ecosystems is at the forefront of our thoughts every day. And a thing that gives me hope moving forward is that ocean noise is something that's actually fixable in the short term. You know that we can implement near-term strategies. Slowing down ship traffic to implementing electric, you know, ships with electric motors and restricting access to high risk ecosystems can really bring about a positive impact.

HERRING: Yeah. Just thinking generally about science, science is an evidence-based enterprise. So our ability to understand the world and therefore understand cause and effect and the implications of change are really hinged upon having this evidence, this observational evidence, this data basis and so on. – one of the things that we focus on doing is using new techniques for mapping, and visualize using this data in ways that help people understand and interpret the ways that our world is changing. I wanted to also mention that that's another aspect of what we're trying to do in that relationship-building is we don't think of as an end unto itself, but as also a means to amplify communications about the evidence basis that NOAA has been methodically and systematically assembling to help us understand our world.

HOST: Thank you. Thank you again to all of you for joining us, and we appreciate the work that you are doing. Happy Earth Month!

HOST: Welcome back, Tara. Ok, don’t keep me in too much suspense – what’s the deal with NOAA and lighthouses?

GARWOOD: So, as we talked about, NOAA and lighthouses go way back – and that partnership continues today. NOAA actually coordinates a network of meteorological stations that collect data in real time from equipment on lighthouses and buoys. These lighthouse stations share their findings with researchers, educators, and scientists around the nation.

HOST: That’s really cool, Tara. Where are these lighthouses located?

GARWOOD: Well, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory monitors environmental conditions via lighthouses and buoys around the Great Lakes – but NOAA is connected to lighthouses around the nation. While we’re on the topic of marine sanctuaries today, many of NOAA’s national marine sanctuaries are actually located near lighthouses. If you ever want to learn more about your local marine sanctuary, nearby lighthouses usually offer historic information about the area – you should definitely pay them a visit. Looking at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary alone, there are four lighthouses to choose from on its Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail. 

HOST: Thanks, Tara. As a reminder, you can visit to find your local marine sanctuary. But, ok – don’t think I’ve forgotten that you said my lighthouse pipe dream was closer than I imagined. Spill!!

GARWOOD: Ok, stay tuned, Symone – I promise you can learn more at the end of this episode! 

HOST: NOAA’s National Weather Service, or NWS, provides the weather, water, and climate data & forecasts that our planet relies on to protect ecosystems and lives. Under Director Ken Graham’s leadership, NWS is building a Weather Ready Nation to ensure that communities can prepare for and respond to weather threats. In addition to serving as the Director of NWS, Ken oversees all civilian weather operations as the Assistant Administrator for Weather Services at NOAA. Ken is the first NWS director with significant operational field experience, having started as an intern meteorologist in 1994 at the New Orleans and Baton Rouge weather forecast office. So, I’m pleased to have Ken here with us today in the Leadership Corner. Welcome, Ken!

KEN GRAHAM: Symone, I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me on. 

HOST: Yes, it's a pleasure. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey through the NOAAverse? How did you land at the National Weather Service? 

GRAHAM: Well, it was pretty interesting. Back in graduate school, I was actually doing television weather and there was a big severe weather event with tornadoes. And I, you know, you have this fancy degree, this atmospheric physics degree, and everything was about science and math. And I get to this event with tornadoes on the ground. And I remember getting a phone call that basically says, you know, “I'm here. I'm in a mobile home. It looks like I'm under a tornado warning. I just don't know what to do.” And I'll never forget telling the person that, you know, you need to get out. You need to get into a ditch and to protect your head and that sort of thing. Well, hours later, it was interesting. They got…the person called back and told me, they're alive. “We're alive, we're alive.” And I said, “Well, that's good.” And the person said, “You don't seem to understand, Ken.” And they said, you know, “We all got out. My family, the dog, the kids, everybody got out. And we lived. And our home is gone.” And it really struck me at that moment about, you know, where the warnings come from, where you know, really where they originate. And it wasn't weeks later after I graduated, I resigned from television and I joined the National Weather Service in 1994. And ever since then, I've just been on a quest for service, so to speak. And it's just amazing to crawl up through the ranks of the agency from intern to director with all the operational experience from, you know, being a meteorologist in charge to the Hurricane Center director to this job…really showed me how important it is to be able to serve all of NOAA, being able to serve the public and save lives and get the science and the resiliency out there for the public.

HOST: Ken, that story just gave me chills for you to talk about really wanting to dedicate your skills and your life to service. Wow. You know, Americans may recognize NWS as the nation's official provider of daily weather forecasts, but what other services does NWS provide and where else can people see the impact of the National Weather Service?

GRAHAM: It's interesting to look at the stats. The National Weather Service in 2023, we issued 1.5 million forecasts. We issued 75,000 warnings and watches. We even had 149 incident meteorologist deployments. And these are meteorologists on the front lines of the nation's worst fires. They deploy with those fighting the fire and making the decisions and keeping all the firefighters safe. So we have deployments. We issued 1.4 million terminal forecasts, that is for the airport terminals. And we work with the FAA to keep you out of the turbulence. So it's aviation, it's marine, it's severe weather, tsunami, tornado, hurricanes, atmospheric river – currents in a river on the ground where you have a channel of water in a river. The same thing happens with the atmosphere out in the Pacific. We have these concentrations of moisture and they flow just like a river in the atmosphere. And wherever they go, once they reach land, it's just an absolute catalyst for being able to provide an incredible amount of rainfall, snowfall, incredible amount of precipitation. So we watch these bands of precipitation well ahead of time. And then we you know, we start looking at that forecast and start talking about how much rain these areas could get in a relatively short period of time. We even do space weather. Most people don't think about this part of the National Weather Service. We have a unit in Boulder, Boulder, Colorado…they stare at the sun all day. But don't worry, they keep safe. They look at monitors to be able to do that. And they issue warnings for solar flares and energy that could reach the Earth, that could impact satellites, impact the power grid, impact GPS. That's another big part of the National Weather Service. Marine forecasting for the oceans, floods, rivers, heat, cold; and we have offices right across the country, right in the communities that we serve. And I think it's really interesting to think about the influence that the Weather Service has on the front lines with everybody, even new technology using NESDIS satellite data across the line offices to be able to detect fires ahead of time. So all of that comes together as the National Weather Service. It's incredible infrastructure, incredible amount of service and influence on the country and most importantly, we take all that science and we translate it into something that could be actionable. A decision maker can make a decision on it, and that's called impact based decision support. 

HOST: Ken, you talked a little bit about the new technologies and satellite technology. Are there any plans to implement any AI in this work or are there any new radar systems that you can discuss with us? 

GRAHAM: Absolutely. We really are looking at the next generation of modeling, and we're actually working across line offices with OAR, NESDIS, the Weather Service, and NOS. We're all working together to come up with new data assimilation technology to be able to really be able to take all this new data, the satellite data from NESDIS. So we're looking at the cloud. So with the cloud technology and we start looking at this new data assimilation technology, now we're going to really start getting into artificial intelligence and putting AI into the modeling even more than ever. One big thing that we're doing with the modeling is we're going more probabilistic. In other words, putting science behind the worst case scenario, putting science behind all these probabilities. At that point, with AI in the probabilistic models, it's going to change how the forecaster does their job. It is going to change how we do our job every single day instead of really trying to look way out and tweaking that forecast. That's going to be more interpreting those impacts when it comes to the AI. The computers are going to get so much better as an agency; we’ll be adapting to that as we go forward. You know, I think about even recently the atmospheric river event. So an atmospheric river is just a river in the sky, providing an incredible amount of moisture to feed rain and snowfall, mainly on the West Coast. But to be able to advertise a historic event ten days ahead of time before all that rainfall in California, in the city of Los Angeles, areas reaching their yearly rainfall by February. I mean, this was…these were big, big events, but giving ten days notice really minimized the loss of life and minimized the impact to infrastructure. There are just incredible success stories. You know, a warmer atmosphere will hold more moisture and that translates to more floods, more impacts to people. That comes into play and why we have to really start talking about that resiliency and talking about not just a Weather Ready Nation, but a Climate Ready Nation as we go forward to make sure everybody is ready for these these type of changes. And that's something that we are seeing across the globe. 

HOST: Ken, as weather events continue to change, how is NWS rising to meet new challenges under your leadership? 

GRAHAM: We are really looking at our agency changing and actually transforming. We're really going to start looking at how to be able to get out of the office, be able to deploy into areas with FEMA or a state emergency management office. We're really going to start looking at changing our agency to be able to get into the communities that need us the most, get to the decision makers that make sure that we can do everything that we can to provide equitable service on the front lines of this country. And you look at it, the most vulnerable are the ones that are most impacted by these events. It's the ones that can't afford to have a kit or a plan to be able to go somewhere. We talk about evacuations. There's people that can't afford that one night at a hotel; they're looking at where their next meal is going to come from. So we really are going to transform our agency. We're looking at an agency that can get into locations, co-located with FEMA emergency managers to be in the communities where we're trusted. It's the person they trust on a regular basis, and they'll trust them on a regular day. And that means they'll really trust them on a big weather event.

HOST: Well, Ken, you know, the Weather Service has touched millions of lives through their lifesaving forecasts and warnings, as you've even shared here in the stories that you've discussed with us. As you look ahead to the next few years, what are some challenges and opportunities that you see for NWS in terms of climate adaptation and resilience?

GRAHAM: You know, I think one thing that comes to mind, and we don't talk about this very often, I think one thing that we're seeing is more and more records. In other words, people have a perception of what their weather is like on a regular basis. This is what the sea level has been. I've been here, you know, I've lived here for 40 years. I've lived here for 50 years. I've lived here for all my life. And there's so many more times over the last five or six years, maybe even ten, that you hear people say, wow, I've never seen this before. I've never…this has never happened here before. So I think one big challenge that we have as scientists, as a NOAA, as a Weather Service, is when you make predictions for record events, it's really hard to get the response that you need from the public. And sometimes the decision maker, too, because these…we're forecasting more record events. We're forecasting events that have never happened before. So it's very hard to be able to translate that science into something that's really actionable, something somebody could really do something with it. And I'll share the story of being in Louisiana when I was the meteorologist in charge in New Orleans and giving a hurricane talk in Saint Bernard Parish. And after the talk, an elderly gentleman says, “Ken, come upstairs with me.” And it was a concrete building, an old building. Downstairs we gave the talk. We walked up several flights of stairs to the roof of this concrete building, and he says, “Look over the side of the building.” And I said, “Okay, I'll look.” He goes, “What do you see?” I said, “Well, sir, I see water.” He goes, “Well, let me show you a picture.” And he reaches into his pocket and he shows me a black and white picture, an old picture kind of bent a little bit. And it shows a ballpark with boys playing baseball and a bunch of pickup trucks backed up to that ballpark. And he goes “That young man right there is me.” And a while he goes, “That location is what you're looking at right there.” And he goes, “This is changing, it’s changing all around us.” So he showed this ballpark that is now water over the years…is subsidence. And you look at sea level rise. Those are the type of stories that I'm hearing more and more. So the challenge is going to be is – as we forecast for climate, as we forecast for weather and the next big event – is convincing people that just because it hasn't happened before doesn't mean it's not going to happen in the future. And that's what we got to be ready for. 

HOST: Yeah. Wow. Powerful stories, Ken. Thank you so much for sharing them. 

GRAHAM: And the stories are the ones we have to tell, Symone. I mean, I think the stories are the best ways to communicate science and tell the stories that way. I think that's the way it's most understood. And I think that's the way people – it will help them prepare going into the future. I think it's really important to be able to do that across NOAA.

HOST: Absolutely. Ken, this is just a question that I have, as you’re talking about you know, preparing communities and preparing folks for things like this. As an educator, how do you think we can prepare, you know, young people, students, how can we get them involved? 

GRAHAM: I think the biggest thing that we have to do is we need to recruit them into science. I think it's an important topic. We've got to be able to look at the next generation to say, you know, if we are going to have some, you know, some serious challenges associated with the climate, the sea level rise and storms and the changes that we're seeing on our planet, and we need them to be in science and and engineering and STEM type programs to help us solve some of these issues and help us tackle some of these issues. I think that's something that we have to really get really serious about recruiting them into science and following them through school right into our NOAA agencies and NOAA programs or even other agencies. 

HOST: Yes, I love it. Yes, youth are our future, so I totally feel you. Ken, is there anything else that you like to share today? 

GRAHAM: I just think it's important. You know, you look across the line offices of NOAA. It's interesting as…30 years in this agency and I look back at huge, big events, everything from Deepwater Horizon. I look at hurricane events, floods, I look at recent events. You know, a bridge that collapsed in Baltimore, I look how NOAA springs into gear. I look how NOAA data across the line offices feeds all sorts of decisions and actions; the modeling. I look at the resiliency that NOAA brings. Fisheries. I think the older I get, I reflect more and more on the agency that I work for and the more humbled I get to be able to serve in this capacity. 

HOST: Yes, absolutely. And Ken, thanks for noting about the Key Bridge. You know, I'm from Baltimore. I live in Baltimore. And so I appreciate you bringing it up and acknowledging, you know, our agency's work to support, you know, the communities there. 

GRAHAM: The things that people won't see there behind the scenes is the night of the collapse, the Weather Service sprung into gear, the National Ocean Service, OR&R, our response unit that we have at NOAA – they all sprung into action overnight. They were already pre-deployed first thing in the morning to help decision makers in the search and rescue and then be right there on the front lines for the recovery as well. So that's the part that…those are the stories that don't always get out there. NOAA was right on top of that to be able to support any way we can from a science and data perspective, from the atmosphere to the water part of this, the river, everything. We sprung into gear and got it done right away. That – it's amazing. We're literally science first responders. 

HOST: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Love it. Okay. Thank you so much. Ken, we really appreciate you joining us on the podcast today.

GRAHAM: Absolutely. It's my pleasure. And I look forward to it. Thank you so much.

HOST: I’m back with Tara Garwood, who is here to make all of my lighthouse dreams come true! 

GARWOOD: Fairy godmother reporting for duty! Public bodies and nonprofits can actually acquire a federal lighthouse for free through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act Program, allowing them to serve as the new stewards of these historic structures. But – if a steward is not identified through the National Park Service’s application process, the General Services Administration gets to conduct a public sale of the lighthouse. So, if you’ve ever wanted to tap into your inner Robert Pattinson or Willem Dafoe A24-style, you can keep an eye on to purchase your very own lighthouse. 

HOST: Tara, let’s go in on one together. 

GARWOOD: Sure – as long as I get to be Willem Dafoe!

HOST: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Planet NOAA. Don’t forget to tune in next month to go behind NOAA headlines, get up close with cool science, and stream one-on-one conversations with our resident experts!