NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System Program

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NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) Program supports development of a coordinated network of people and technology that work together to generate and disseminate continuous data on our coastal waters, Great Lakes, and oceans. Activities of the National IOOS include observations and data transmission, data management and communications, and data analyses and modeling.

IOOS highlights from fiscal year 2009 include:

  • Marking the passage of legislation authorizing IOOS. On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Observation System Act of 2009 into law. The Act authorizes the establishment of a National Integrated Ocean Observing System and codifies a governance structure within which that system will operate. The Act defines two interagency bodies with policy oversight and administration of the system – the National Ocean Research Leadership Council and the Interagency Ocean Observation Committee. The Act explicitly vests authority in NOAA as the lead federal agency for implementation and administration of the System and charges NOAA to carry out this responsibility in consultation with interagency and regional partners.

    Within the Act, there are a host of specific tasks assigned to the Committee and to NOAA, including direction to NOAA to establish a System Advisory Committee charged with providing advice to the NOAA Administrator or the Committee as requested, and the provision of civil liability protection to those non-federal employees operating within the scope of their employment while carrying out the purposes of the Act.

  • Providing data to improve storm surge model for forecasters and emergency managers. NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters and emergency managers can now access time series graphs and display along with surge information from the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH), a computerized model run by the National Hurricane Center to estimate storm surge heights and winds. These improvements provide additional geographic information system capabilities for displaying roads, populated areas, and city boundaries to assist the NWS’s Tropical Prediction Center to make better use of the SLOSH display for media briefings. NOS’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services delivered two additional water level datums – highest astronomical tide and lowest astronomical tide – for display enhancement.
  • Helping to provide ocean current data to improve search and rescue operations. A new set of ocean observing data is now streaming into U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) servers to improve environmental observations for the agency’s operational Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System. The data enhances the ability to track the probable paths for those lost at sea and is expected to improve search and rescue efforts along the Mid-Atlantic coastline. The data comes from IOOS and is part of a joint effort among NOAA, the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, USCG, and the Department of Homeland Security. The new data sets include surface current maps from high frequency radar systems, technology that measures the speed and direction of ocean surface currents in near real time. The maps can also be used to support other scientific work, such as oil spill response, harmful algal bloom monitoring, and water-quality assessments.
  • Implementing development of a framework for model data interoperability. The model data interoperability framework is under development through the installation and configuration of specialized data servers in all eleven IOOS regions. This work has and will continue to be facilitated by a U.S. Geological Survey researcher on detail to the NOAA IOOS Program. The installation and configuration of these data servers are significant because they will make regional model data outputs accessible in compliant formats consistent with an essential component of integrated ocean observations – IOOS Data Management and Communications (DMAC). DMAC is the piece of IOOS that encompasses the actual integration of the data. Currently, ten of eleven IOOS regions completed installation and have similar capacity to provide model output files in IOOS DMAC-compliant formats.
  • Strengthening regional partnerships. In 2009, NOAA IOOS awarded $21 million to various partners across the nation. Funding was committed as part of continuing the support and development of a network of Regional Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (RCOOS) and their managing entities, called Regional Associations (RAs), to expand the network of ocean-related observations, data, and products available; improve regional implementation of NOAA and other federal missions; and meet regionally specific needs for coastal and ocean information. The program continues as a competitive, peer-reviewed funding process to maximize taxpayer return on investment and transition from a variety of distinct, sub-regional observing elements to eleven more cohesive regional systems directed toward common goals.

    NOAA administers the selection and funding process and provides the leadership, management, and oversight needed to ensure IOOS regional activities develop in a manner consistent and compatible with national IOOS data management standards and infrastructure. The RAs have been able to improve capabilities and enhance ocean monitoring efforts. For example, the Caribbean Regional Association deployed the region’s first buoy in June. This buoy collects real-time data on winds, waves, currents, temperature, salinity, and pressure for tsunami predictions.    

  • Collaborating on the Ocean Observatories Initiative/Cyber-Infrastructure. In 2009, the NOAA IOOS Program and the Ocean Observatories Initiative/Cyber-Infrastructure (OOI/CI) Project partnered to align their data framework infrastructures.  The Cyber-Infrastructure component is part of the $400 million OOI funded by the National Science Foundation to monitor the coastal and global oceans. The Cyber-Infrastructure is analogous to the NOAA IOOS Data Integration Framework project, a limited scope, risk reduction effort to make selected NOAA and non-NOAA ocean observation data compatible, thereby increasing their value and utility for associated decision-support tools, products, and services. 

    This partnership resulted in a plan of action and milestones for an initial effort between NOAA IOOS and the University of California San Diego’s OOI/CI project lead. The primary objective of this initial effort is to deploy a scalable data exchange prototype for the ocean modeling community to more efficiently exchange large model data sets, while preserving the original content and structure. 

  • Advancing collaboration with the National Water Quality Monitoring Network. In November 2008, the NOAA IOOS Program, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency partnered to improve compatibility of water quality data through use of common data formats, registries, and Web services. An overarching objective of this partnership is to enhance linkages between IOOS and the National Water Quality Monitoring Network. During a series of technical discussions, USGS and NOAA IOOS found that they are employing conceptually similar data formats. This finding provides an opportunity to harmonize data formats, which will lead to providing resource managers with more comprehensive data sets to better inform decision making. This partnership will continue working together to find the best solutions to improve water quality parameter data compatibility. 
  • Releasing the National Operational Wave Observation Plan. This document is the result of an interagency effort, coordinated through the NOAA IOOS Program, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Weather Service’s National Data Buoy Center. The plan outlines a strategic path for establishing a national wave observing network along the U.S. coastline. This network improves on the current ad hoc network by addressing the spatial coverage and accuracy requirements of the broadest number of wave information users.  Such a network will improve on the ability to integrate data into useful products that will reap a multitude of benefits for navigation safety as well as search and rescue operations.
  • Releasing th National Surface Current Monitoring Plan. Responding to clear requirements for increased and improved coastal surface current measurements throughout U.S. coastal waters, NOAA and its regional IOOS partners – including federal, state, academia, and industry – developed this plan to create a national surface current measurement, nowcast, and forecast capability. The most cost-effective technology for meeting the present-day requirements of the 21st century is high frequency radar.  The technology measures the speed and direction of ocean surface currents in near real-time to improve search and rescue operations, oil spill response, harmful algal bloom monitoring, and water quality assessments. These data also prove valuable in ecosystem assessments and fisheries management, when evaluated retrospectively.
  • Launching a new national IOOS Web site. The new Web site that highlights the national IOOS effort and its partners. The new address ( reflects the multi-agency relationships involved with IOOS. The site features quick links to information and tools on observations, data management, communications, regional and interagency programs, and global observations. It highlights the partnerships that are working to make IOOS successful and provides fast and easy access to information on IOOS.