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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Scouting Mother Nature

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It seems like such an elementary concept, the weather. But it isn’t. A ubiquitous topic of conversation, it dictates everything from how we dress to crop yields to the sustainability of the earth’s ecosystems. Keeping track of the weather is a full-time job, and in the U.S. government, that job is handled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is a federal agency under the auspices of the U.S. Commerce Department. It is the nation’s official clearinghouse for weather-related information, including forecasts and storm warnings, as well as a range of services from charting U.S. waterways to studying global climate change. It also acts as an environmental steward, managing the nation’s coastal and marine environments, regulating fisheries and aquaculture, and protecting endangered marine wildlife.

NOAA was formally established in 1970, but several other government agencies existed long before then to perform some of its many functions. The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey was formed in 1807; the Weather Bureau dates to 1870; and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries was founded in 1871.These and other agencies were consolidated to form NOAA. Today, NOAA includes the National Weather Service; the National Environmental Satellite, the Data and Information Service; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; the Office of Program Planning and Integration; the National Ocean Service; and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Every television news weather forecast has the same source at its disposal: the National Weather Service. It's the sole source of official information for meteorological warnings, such as storms or floods, in the United States. The National Ocean Service observes, measures, assesses and manages coastal and ocean areas in the U.S. The National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service maintains, manages and operates a system of weather satellites for both short- and long-term forecasting and is a clearinghouse of global satellite images and information. The National Marine Fisheries Service protects and preserves U.S. marine resources through research, management, enforcement and habitat conservation.

NOAA also provides charting and navigation services as well as information for private, public and commercial use with nautical charts, topographical maps, historical maps and charts, electronic navigational charts, tidal tables, hydrographic surveys of the ocean floor and remote sensing for aircraft, including aerial photography and maps.

NOAA's activity isn’t limited to what we see; some of its work is literally out of this world. The Space Environment Center monitors and forecasts cosmic activity around the Earth, including solar or geophysical disturbances. It’s jointly operated by NOAA and the U.S. Air Force and assists national and international organizations that work in space.

Phaedra Trethan is a freelance writer and a former copy editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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