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Story map: NOAA supports a healthy nation

October 7, 2019

NOAA has become a pillar of America’s health and economic vitality over our half century of existence.  This story map demonstrates how we continue to build on this legacy.  From innovations in managing heat risks and detecting waterborne bacteria, to giving new life to endangered species and driving resilience with high-value environmental data, you’ll see examples from across NOAA on how we continue to push the bounds of scientific understanding to protect our Nation's health!    

 

People on a beach. Cover for Health story map.

A delicate balance

Understanding and addressing the delicate interrelationships of human, animal and environmental health are vital to NOAA’s work.

NOAA’s knowledge of weather, climate, oceans and coasts, for instance, is directly relevant to the well-being of ecosystems, communities and the economy. Detecting bacteria in the nation’s waterways is immensely important to human health and the seafood industry.

With changes in climate, land use and habitat, NOAA’s work at the nexus of human, animal and environmental health has never been more critical.

Here's a look at recent initiatives:

Image showing sea turtle release, heat and smoke photos.
Image showing sea turtle release, heat and smoke photos. (NOAA)

Heat: #1 weather-related killer

To help manage heat risks, NOAA works with our partners to better understand the range of temperatures tied to heat illnesses. Created by NOAA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Integrated Heat Health Information System provides information about weather, climate and health. A web appoffsite link centralizes a broad range of information, widely leveraging the value of NOAA's health-related products and services. (Click map to interact.)

NOAA future heat events and social vulnerability map application.
Image showing screenshot of the NOAA future heat events and social vulnerability map application. (ESRI)

 

Feeling the heat

Cities heat up more than surrounding suburban and rural areas. This is called the Urban Heat Island Effect

Touch a city sidewalk on a hot day, and then a nearby grassy area, and you’ll feel the difference. While concrete, asphalt and steel mark city living, the heat they trap can be dangerous to humans. In contrast, trees, grass and farmland have a cooling effect.

City hotspots result from the dark, heat-absorbing materials that build urban areas. They often lack vegetation that expels moisture into the air and cools naturally. Air conditioning keeps pumping heat outside. 

Video about urban heat islands. (NOAA)

 

Mapping city hotspots

NOAA and our partners support citizen scientist campaigns to map city hotspots across the nation.

Mapping these urban heat islands identifies where cities are hottest and prioritizes cooling techniques such as planting trees, painting roofs with light colors, and sheltering outdoor areas where populations are vulnerable.

Last year, with temperature sensors on their cars, citizen scientists collected real-time data in the Washington, DC area. Once mapped, the data showed a high of 102°F in some areas while nearby neighborhoods were 17°F cooler. Areas with little vegetation and more concrete and asphalt were the warmest. Those near parks were the coolest.

Temperature data collected in real-time data in the Washington, DC area on August 28, 2018.
Temperature data collected in real-time data in the Washington, DC area on August 28, 2018. (NOAA)

 

Nature’s cooling effect

This satellite image of the mapped area confirmed that temperatures were cooler where spaces were greener. 

While satellites have long measured heat on roads, roofs and tree tops, the new approach to mapping urban heat islands measures temperature about six feet above ground, which is how people actually feel it.

Next year, NOAA will work with the Global Heat Health Information Network to help other countries replicate effective urban heat island mapping campaigns.

Satellite data collected in real-time data in the Washington, DC area in 2018.
Satellite data collected in real-time data in the Washington, DC area in 2018. (NOAA)

 

Protecting outdoor workers

America’s uniformed service members, emergency responders and many others are exposed to heat on an almost daily basis, often wearing layers of protective gear. As shown here, NOAA staff across an array of professions also spend much of their time working in the heat.

Scott Adams, NOAA Enforcement Officer, rescues an injured harbor seal pup.
Scott Adams, NOAA Enforcement Officer, rescues an injured harbor seal pup. (NOAA)

 

To help outdoor workers better prepare for and reduce heat exposure, NOAA works with many agencies and across our Weather Forecast Offices to improve the lead time and accuracy of two indexes.

Guidelines protecting workers in outdoor occupations rely on accurate predictions of a complex temperature index known as the WetBulb Globe Temperature, which measures heat stress in direct sunlight, accounting for temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and radiation. 

National Weather Service Heat Index chart.
National Weather Service Heat Index chart. (NOAA)

 

In comparison, the NWS Heat Index accounts for temperature and humidity and is calculated for shady areas. While the WetBulb Globe Temperature more accurately indicates heat exposure to active populations, the Heat Index remains a useful indicator for more sedentary populations. 

Three examples of NOAA staff working in the heat.
Three examples of NOAA staff working in the heat. (NOAA)

Wildfire smoke: detecting its secrets

 

Understanding the chemistry

Wildfire smoke is an incredibly complex, constantly evolving mixture of gases and tiny particles that can travel thousands of miles and cause serious health concerns.

NOAA's operational HYSPLIT model simulates how, where and when wildfire smoke plumes and other air pollutants are spread and deposited. Bright colors indicate higher chemical pollutant levels. Chemical concentrations are also being measured.
NOAA's operational HYSPLIT model simulates how, where and when wildfire smoke plumes and other air pollutants are spread and deposited. Bright colors indicate higher chemical pollutant levels. Chemical concentrations are also being measured. (NOAA)

 

Yet there is still much to learn about its effects. This summer, NOAA, NASA and more than 40 other partners teamed up to uncover the secrets of wildfire smoke, including the chemistry of trace gases and aerosols.

Hundreds of scientists joined this FIREX-AQ campaign, using NOAA Twin Otter aircraft, satellites and drones to study wildfire smoke and crop burns. Ground stations and mobile vans observed wildfire smoke at the surface where it matters most for public health. 

NOAA’s experimental HRRR-smoke model forecasts where wildfire smoke may be headed. The brighter the color, the higher the concentration, alerting downstream residents sensitive to the fine particles the smoke carries.
NOAA’s experimental HRRR-smoke model forecasts where wildfire smoke may be headed. The brighter the color, the higher the concentration, alerting downstream residents sensitive to the fine particles the smoke carries. (NOAA)

 

Ultimately, FIREX-AQ aims to improve forecasts for public health, land management and other sectors, and increase lead time for communities downwind of fires. 

Smoke column of wildfire burning on Bureau of Indian Affairs land.
Smoke column of wildfire burning on Bureau of Indian Affairs land. (BIA)

 


Bacteria: The risks in warming waters

 

NOAA delivers early alerts

Vibrio are bacteria that occur naturally in coastal waters. Although rare, certain species and strains can be harmful to human health, causing infection from water or food and about 100 U.S. deaths each year. 

NOAA’s Ecological Forecasting Roadmap provides early warnings to protect human health, coastal economies and a healthy seafood market.
Map showing key areas in NOAA’s Ecological Forecasting Roadmap, which provides early warnings to protect human health, coastal economies and a healthy seafood market. (NOAA)

 

While most U.S. cases bring just a few days of discomfort rather than serious illness, there is growing concern that warming waters may increase health risks. Already about 80 percent of infections occur between May and October when the water is warmest.

NOAA's Ecological Forecasting Roadmap provides early alerts when conditions are most suitable for vibrio growth. As a broad NOAA effort, it supports a healthy seafood market and safe, sustainable coastal communities.

Video showing NOAA Vibrio predictive models for three U.S. regions: Chesapeake Bay, Pacific Northwest and Long Island Sound. (NOAA)

Marine mammals: Life-saving interventions for an endangered species

Over 400 monk seals saved

Last year was triumphant for monk seals born in the main Hawaiian Islands. Thirty pups were born, eight to first-time moms. 

First-time mom with "Sole," her seven-day-old pup (Photo taken with NOAA Fisheries Permit #16632-02)
First-time mom with "Sole," her seven-day-old pup (Photo taken with NOAA Fisheries Permit #16632-02) (NOAA)

 

In the face of sea level rise, habitat loss, marine debris and other threats, NOAA’s disease surveillance, threat mitigation and vaccination efforts are playing a significant role in supporting the resilience of this endangered species. Only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals exist, and life-saving interventions are responsible for nearly 30 percent of this population.

NOAA assesses risks, implements mitigation and prevention strategies, and provides treatment. Ingested fish hooks are removed and, as needed, post-operative care provided. NOAA, with support from public-private partnerships, has rescued, transported, rehabilitated and released 28 malnourished seals since 2014.  Five hundred seals have also been vaccinated against infectious disease.

Critical habitat is being protected, long-term monitoring is supporting early disease detection, and genetic research is underway to build understanding of seal health, diet and population dynamics, among other initiatives.

Video showing NOAA work with monk seals. (NOAA)

U.S. fish stocks: growing the blue economy

Positive trend continues

Thanks to the hard work of our nation’s fishing communities, many partners, and NOAA Fisheries, U.S. fish stocks are continuing their positive trend, with 45 rebuilt since 2000.

As indicated in the 2018 Status of U.S. Fisheries Annual Report to Congress, the vast majority of U.S. stocks are now at sustainable levels and the number subject to overfishing at a near all-time low.

 

 

After a nine-year rebuilding plan, Gulf of Maine smooth skate was declared rebuilt in 2018, adding to a growing list of successfully rebuilt U.S. stocks.
After a nine-year rebuilding plan, Gulf of Maine smooth skate was declared rebuilt in 2018, adding to a growing list of successfully rebuilt U.S. stocks. (NOAA)

 

Sustainable catch levels are often based on the results of stock assessments. Released last year, NOAA's Stock Assessment Improvement Plan incorporates additional ecosystem and socioeconomic factors, increased use of innovative data collection and analysis techniques, and more timely assessments.

Built on sound science and reflecting changing ocean conditions, U.S. stock management is bolstering the blue economy, maximizing fishing opportunities and revenue, and reducing regulatory burdens.

Video describing NOAA fisheries work. (NOAA)

High-value data: Driving regional resilience

Demand rising fast 

From an eco-friendly valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) has a global reach. As a leading authority for environmental information, NCEI provides comprehensive data from the ocean depths and sun’s surface to million-year-old ice cores and near-real-time satellite images.

To keep pace with fast-accelerating demand for high-value information, NCEI’s cooperative institutes, regional climate centers and other sites are strategically located throughout the U.S. Widely diverse requests for NCEI’s products and services come from industry, the public, academia and all levels of government.

NOAA’s six Regional Climate Centers
NOAA’s six Regional Climate Centers (NOAA)

 

Working with many partners, NOAA’s six Regional Climate Centers develop health and other tools targeted to regional needs. This video provides a sampling.

Video showing West Nile Virus Threat Models, Mosquito Models and other climate health-related vulnerabilities. (NOAA)

 

"Next year, NOAA will celebrate its 50th anniversary. As a pillar of our Nation’s health and prosperity for the past five decades, NOAA builds on a proud legacy, pushing the bounds of scientific understanding and pioneering products and services to protect the life and viability of our planet."

Benjamin Friedman
Deputy Under Secretary for Operations

Benjamin Friedman
Deputy Under Secretary for Operations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

Video depicting scenes regarding how NOAA Supports a Healthy Nation. (NOAA)

 

To view the original NOAA supports a healthy nation story map, please see this version on the ESRI websiteoffsite link.