Observing Our Oceans and Coasts

NOS images

Natural — and human-induced — forces are constantly at work, changing the face of our planet. At the core of being prepared and able to respond to these changes lies the need to understand how, when, and why they will occur. Scientific observations about our oceans and coasts are the foundation for increasing our understanding.

During the 2009 fiscal year, NOS continued to collect, interpret, and disseminate the ocean and coastal observations needed to better understand our world. Highlights from 2009 include:

  • Expanding and strengthening the National Water Level Observation Network in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska. The network now includes more than 200 stations. Upgrades to 30 stations included the installation of wind, barometric pressure, and air temperature sensors. The water level and weather data delivered from these stations are key components of coastal decision making before, during, and after major storm events, providing information for things such as vulnerability assessments, marine weather and flood forecasts, evacuation plans, and decisions on when to open and close locks or reopen ports following storms.
  • Providing strong support for regional ocean governance across the country. This included supporting the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Governors’ Action Plan for Healthy and Resilient Coasts; assisting with eight work plans designed to carry out the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health Action Plan; and assisting with work plans for the Northeast Regional Ocean Council. The issues addressed by these plans range from water quality and community resilience in the Gulf of Mexico to climate change and sea-floor mapping on the West Coast and ocean energy planningand management in the Northeast.
  • Awarding $21 million to partners in order to support the development of a network of Regional Coastal Ocean Observing Systems and their managing entities, called Regional Associations. Funding was awarded 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.
  • Seeing the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Observation System Act of 2009 signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Act authorizes the establishment of a National Integrated Ocean Observing System and codifies a governance structure within which that system will operate, with the National Ocean Research Leadership Council and the Interagency Ocean Observation Committee having policy oversight and administration of the system. The Act also identifies NOAA as the lead federal agency for implementation and administration of the system, working in consultation with interagency and regional partners.
  • Deploying, in partnership with the University of Hawaii, five high-precision sensors in the waters off Oahu, Hawaii, at a site called “Ordnance Reef,” to assist the Department of Defense in addressing the potential environmental impacts from underwater military munitions. NOS will use data from the devices to determine where Pacific Ocean currents would potentially carry munitions materials if released into the marine environment.
  • Upgrading the Online Positioning User Service (OPUS) Web tool, allowing users to publish their positioning data into the National Geodetic Survey databases. This OPUS upgrade will enhance user efforts to share work and personalize the National Spatial Reference System by lowering the cost and effort associated with traditional “blue-booking” methods and contracted surveys. The standardization provided by OPUS processing and formatting will make user data more consistent, reliable, functional, and accessible.
  • Helping to develop the Honua program, a suite of educational and outreach products aimed at increasing environmental understanding and awareness in the Pacific Islands region. Information about NOAA’s science, data, and services, illustrated via Honua spherical data visualization tools such as Science on a Sphere, Eluminati Domes, and Magic Planet, reached thousands of people throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Touch screen interfaces and kiosks provide even greater opportunities to increase environmental literacy through the project.
  • Supporting, in partnership with other NOAA offices, the California State Coastal Conservancy, other state agencies, and the U.S. Geological Survey, the California Seafloor Mapping Project. This multi-year partnership to acquire sea-floor mapping data will allow scientists, coastal managers, and policy makers to more effectively manage marine ecosystems and coastal resources, identify obstructions to navigation, and better understand the California coast’s unique natural hazards.
  • Establishing absolute gravity stations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and performing preliminary terrestrial gravity observations at these locations. These new absolute gravity stations were used as control points for scheduled airborne gravity observations to support the creation of a vertical datum. The completion of this project is vital to the territories’ geodetic, surveying, and geospatial infrastructure and collected data are part of the National
    Spatial Reference System.