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Since 1984, NOAA has conducted the largest and most comprehensive national monitoring program of coastal marine environmental quality ever undertaken in the U.S. The objective of the program is to determine the existing status and the long-term, general trends of environmental quality in estuarine and coastal areas throughout the U.S. Essentially, the program is measuring levels of toxic chemicals in bottom-feeding fish, mussels and oysters, and sediments. Known as the National Status and Trends Program this effort has two field sampling and analysis components: (1) the Benthic Surveillance Project, completing a third year of collection at 50 sites; and (2) the Mussel Watch Project, with sample collection completing its first year at 150 sites. Samples are collected once a year at each site and analyzed to determine levels of synthetic chlorinated compounds (e.g., DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and toxic trace elements e.g., mercury and lead). Other key elements of the program are a "specimen bank" to store samples for analysis in the future; extensive and rigorous quality assurance, calibration and standardization procedures; and collection of historical data on indicators of environmental quality over the past 40 years. The principal product of the program will be a high quality, national data base, that contains information on environmental quality in coastal and estuarine areas.

The Ocean Assessments Division of NOAA's National Ocean Service also is building a number of other "first of their kind" comprehensive national data bases to aid resources managers or decision-makers in interdisciplinary, strategic assessments. Strategic Assessment Data Atlases are being produced to synthesize the best available information on important characteristics of each geographic region of the EEZ (East Coast, 1980; Gulf of Mexico, 1986; Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, 1987; and West Coast and Gulf of Alaska, 1988). The National Coastal Pollutant Discharge Inventory represents the first attempt to develop a comprehensive, national assessment of pollutant discharges entering the estuarine, coastal and oceanic waters of the contiguous states. The National Estuarine Inventory will provide assessment capability for comparison and analysis of estuarine resources. It includes 92 estuaries of over 32,000 square miles accounting for 90% of the estuarine surface water and fresh water inflow and will eventually contain data on physical and hydrologic characteristics, adjacent land use, living marine resource distribution, and data from the other inventories, as well as the Status and Trends Program. Other inventories and data bases being developed by this unique Federal program are: (1) National Shellfish Register; (2) National Coastal Wetlands Data Base; (3) Economic Survey of Outdoor Marine Recreation; and (4) Living Marine Resources.

Geodesy is the science of accurately determining the location of points on the earth's surface, the earth's gravity field, and its orientation in space. NOAA's National Ocean Service provides the Nation with the fundamental geodetic reference system which is the foundation of all surveying, mapping and charting. Reference points in the two control networks (horizontal and vertical) are the base starting points for land surveyors, engineers, planners, scientists and tax authorities. Example applications of geodetic data include transportation; utilities routing; dam and water projects; and positioning and tracking of defense weapon systems and satellites. NOAA also plays a leading international role in application of new technologies to geodetic and other earth science problems.

The 1980's will see completion of an eleven-year effort for readjustment of the North American Horizontal Geodetic Reference System. Because the geodetic control network has been established and expanded across the country since 1807, discrepancies and inconsistencies have accumulated from connection of new surveys to old. To correct the resulting wide variations in reliability and accuracy, NOAA is readjusting each point in the network (250,000) in reference to nationwide datums, by complex mathematical processes. The adjustment of the network will provide a geodetic position accuracy of 1 ½ inches.

Space age technology is causing revolutionary changes in geodesy, with accuracies improved 100- to 1,000-fold over classical techniques. These precise measurements can be used to verify continental drift theories. Plate tectonics, glacial rebound, global sea level rise, polar motion, and global atmospheric phenomena now can be monitored for research, and the development of possible mitigating responses to these changes in the global earth system. NOAA has taken the lead in the application of these new technologies which will require close cooperation with other Federal and international organizations.

Safe marine and aerial navigation are vital NOAA objectives. Steady progress has been made in the automation of charting. In 1985 alone, nearly 3 million copies of 1500 different nautical maps and related publications for coastal and Great Lakes waterways, plus daily tide predictions for 6200 ports and harbors, were issued.

Nearly 10.5 million copies of more than 7500 aeronautical charts and related publications were issued to help assure safe navigation in the U.S. airspace system. The satellite-aided global positioning system can now routinely determine positions of points on the national geodetic reference system at on-fifth the cost of conventional methods.

The 1980's brought the Coastal Zone Management Program to a significant stage in it's development. In 1986, the State of Virginia became the twenty-ninth state or territory to develop Federally-approved coastal zone management programs. Ninety percent of the U.S. coastline is now covered by state operated coastal programs designed to ensure the protection and rational development of the Nation's vital shorelines.


Increasingly, we turn to the oceans for food, and U.S. fishermen take a larger share of the total catch within the 200-mile U.S. zone created by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Currently, thirty-three (33) management plans developed pursuant to the MFCMA now cover most of the commercial stocks of edible and industrial fish and shellfish. American fishermen are taking increasingly larger shares of fish, with a steadily growing lead over catches by the formerly dominant foreign nations.

Joint venture harvests by American fishermen, who sell their catches at sea to foreign processing vessels, continued to grow in the 1980's. Such harvests in 1984 involved nearly 1.5 billion pounds of fish, valued at $79 million.

The U.S. traditionally has been in the forefront of marine mammal protection. Careful regulation has sheltered the stocks of sea turtles, seals and porpoises under NOAA's protection, and, thanks in large part to the efforts of the U.S. Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission -- NOAA's Administrator -- commercial whaling, worldwide, soon will be a thing of the past.

Closely allied to the conservation of fish stocks and marine mammals is the protection of their habitats. NOAA took a major step forward in 1983 when close alliances were forged with the Army Corps of Engineers, the coastal states, and regional fishery management councils to improve cooperation and research related to fishery habitats. Since then, the habitat program has signed agreements with oil companies, developers and city governments to create habitat "mitigation banks" -- allowing undeveloped land to be used as "credit" to trade off elsewhere. In October 1985, NOAA and the Corps of Engineers announced a plan to collaborate on a three-year pilot study of restoring and creating habitat in the southeast and southwest. The Fisheries Service envisions a system that will create and improve marshes, upgrade water circulation, rehabilitate marine vegetation and shellfish beds, and create artificial reefs.

Fish is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds as a dinner-table delicacy-- just witness the blackened redfish craze, which threatened the redfish stock before the Commerce Department stepped in. Underlying this burgeoning popularity is an increasing evidence that fish--especially the oil-rich fish once shunned by dieticians--are good for the heart. In cooperation with the National Institutes of Health, National Marine Fisheries Service researchers are studying the possibility that the unique oils in seafood may not only reduce heart disease but some inflammatory ailments as well.

NOAA works vigorously and continuously to expand the export of fish as well as promoting its consumption at home. The Fisheries Service has collaborated with the International Trade Administration to expand exports and develop joint procedures for marketing activity.

Satellite and Information Services

In August 1980, the National Earth Satellite Service (NESS) was removed from the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Services and became a principal agency line organization with an Assistant Administrator who reported directly to the Administrator. This move reflected the increasing importance of satellite observations to NOAA's environmental science and service responsibilities. The move was largely precipitated by a decision in November 1979 to assign NOAA management responsibility for all civil operational remote sensing from space -- including the development of an operational land remote sensing program now known as LANDSAT. The fulfillment of NOAA's responsibility for operational weather and earth sensing satellite systems remains a major focus of agency attention in the 1980's.

At NESDIS, a new generation of geostationary orbiting satellites is being developed to provide more frequent and higher resolution imagery simultaneous with improved atmospheric soundings. Called GOES-NEXT, the first of three such satellites will be available by mid-1989. This procurement will ensure continuity of the hurricane-spotting GOES system through the 1990's. The timeliness and quality of the combined polar and geostationary satellite data have been greatly improved by computer installations, upgraded ground facilities, and data sharing agreements with military weather services. They beam over 2 ½ billion bits of information to earth daily--information vital to weather forecasters.

A boon to pilots and mariners in distress the world over, the international COSPAS/SARSAT search-and rescue satellite system has nearly 600 "saves" to its credit. In the 1980's, NOAA took over management of SARSAT operations from NASA, and intensive efforts are underway to reduce a high incidence of false alarms, caused by improper handling of the system's radio beacons. These highlights demonstrate that the 25th anniversary of weather satellites in 1985 was celebrated with a commitment to the future.


As these few examples attest, the goals, responsibilities and programs of NOAA today reflect a continued commitment to the philosophy that created it. Recognizing that the oceans and the atmosphere are closely-linked, interactive components of a global earth system, NOAA's primary mission and the ultimate goal of all its activities remains the prediction of environmental change to protect life and property, and provide industry and decision makers with a reliable base of scientific information on the world in which we live.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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