Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

our current capabilities in computing, telecommunications, satellites, and all kinds of automatic and unattended instrumentation. I didn't realize when I started out as a post-doc in oceanography that I would spend considerable time using microelectronics to develop low-powered instruments for unattended long-term observations in the ocean. This new technology has allowed us to learn much more about nature.

As we look to the future, we're looking toward a world where this new information allows us to connect societal decisions and environmental decisions. We would like to see a world where economic growth is coupled with the sustainable use of natural resources. We recognize that these must go hand-in-hand if we want to provide an increasing standard of living for everyone in both the developing and the developed world. We all know that it's very important to have a healthy economy. At the same time, we know that a healthy economy depends on having a healthy environment. Probably the best contrary example of that link now is the situation in Russia, where there was an attempt to have massive development without worrying about the environment. And now they are paying the price.

In NOAA, our mission is to describe and forecast changes in the environment and to manage and conserve natural resources. Our goal is to make those measurements and then provide decision-makers with that information. We've had many important technical advances in the last 25 years, which have allowed us to do a much better job of forecasting and understanding the problems. Let me just give you a few examples. First, we are responsible for providing information on the natural changes in the atmosphere on short time scales, otherwise known as weather forecasting. This activity requires about half of NOAA's budget, if we include both weather forecasting and the cost of operating weather satellites. Short-term weather events can have huge impacts. About 85% of the presidentially declared disasters every year are weather related. Hurricanes, tornados, and flash floods are major issues. We see the economic impacts of these events through insurance companies, which are increasingly having to pay more because of the vulnerability of growing populations in regions where natural disaster are likely to occur.

The second major issue for us is to sustain marine fisheries. Marine fisheries are a major source of protein to the world today. And yet in the last couple of years we have seen the total fish catch in the world start to decline. We haven't seen this before. In past years, when particular fish species were depleted, we could always move to another species. But now we've seen the total fish catch start to decline. Even in the United States about half of our fisheries resources are currently overfished. So we have a real challenge if we are to maintain those fishery populations and have both a healthy fishery and a healthy fishery industry.

In terms of longer-term forecasts we have been very successful in the last few years in predicting El Niñ o, the tropical warming that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and has global impacts. The warming is associated with weakening of the

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement