Feature Stories

Within the stories exploring the past, present, and future of NOAA's major activities, presented in the Foundation, Transformation, and Vision sections of the site, are more specific tales of projects, programs, and people who have helped shape our organization. The Feature Stories captured here are an eclectic mix of articles, adding flavor and insight to the broader NOAA story.

These stories, developed by NOAA staff, explore the past, present, and/or future of a range of topics—from efforts to combat marine debris in the Pacific Ocean to the appearance of Kermit the Frog on the side of NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft.

We will add new stories to this section each month throughout 2007, so be sure to visit often to explore the intricacies of our organization...


Fifty Years of NOAA Hurricane Research
Learn how, for over 50 years, NOAA scientists have applied theoretical studies and computer models and have flown aircraft into hurricanes, all to better understand what makes these storms tick. This research has resulted in a much deeper scientific understanding of hurricanes and improved NOAA hurricane forecasts.

Tackling Marine Debris in the Middle of the Pacific
Each year, over 50 tons of marine debris from domestic and foreign sources wash ashore and snag on reefs across the Hawaiian island chain, presenting a hazard to marine habitat, navigation, and wildlife. Learn how NOAA and partners have been working together to prevent, identify, remove, and reduce marine debris in Hawaii.

Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo Go Flying with NOAA's Hurricane Hunter Aircraft
Since the 1970s, NOAA has been flying its own hurricane hunter aircraft directly into hurricanes to understand these dangerous storms. Read this first-hand account from Greg Bast, NOAA Aircraft Production Controller/Flight Engineer, of how the Muppets joined NOAA in taking these treacherous, but important, flights.

Technology and the Study of Coral Reefs: How a Handful of Students Changed the Way NOAA Does Business
Explore how a handful of motivated undergraduates at the United States Naval Academy spearheaded the creation of NOAA's now-vibrant Coral Reef Watch Program, which uses remote sensing and onsite tools to monitor, model, and report environmental conditions of coral reef ecosystems.

The Story of the Tide Observer
Before computers were able to regulate tide gauges and send data directly to NOAA headquarters via satellite radio, tide observers were needed to maintain gauges, adjust timers, and collect and send data for processing. Follow the tale of one such tide observer on a bleak winter morning.



The Coast and Geodetic Survey Disney Eagle
During World War II, several design studios, including the Walt Disney Studio, created shoulder patch designs for U.S. military units from all branches of the service. Disney created a design for the Coast and Geodetic Survey that shows an Eagle atop a globe, busy carrying out the work of the Survey – making nautical charts. The Eagle accompanied the brave men and women of the Survey on the exploits during the War and serves as a humorous and nostalgic reminder of the rich history and contributions of the agency.

Predicting Hurricanes: Times Have Changed
Learn how NOAA's investment in ocean and atmospheric research, coupled with technological advancements, has led to a remarkable transformation in hurricane monitoring and forecasting. Emerging from these combined factors has come intricate computer modeling, a vast network of ground- and ocean-based sensors, satellites, and Hurricane Hunter aircraft.

Preserving NOAA and the Nation's Heritage
NOAA has in its care a wealth of heritage resources that recall the agency’s proud history and legacy of science, service, and stewardship to the nation. NOAA is working to preserve, protect, and promote our heritage resources—from historic maps and charts to buildings and shipwrecks—and make them accessible to the public through innovative programs and partnerships.

Science All Around: NOAA's Science on a Sphere
Check out NOAA's Science On a Sphere®—an innovation that gives lets you gaze upon Earth as you suspended 22,000 miles above its surface. The Sphere is one way that NOAA is working to develop new means to capture the imagination of the public and to help everyone to explore our world.

Toxic Tides: The 2005 New England Harmful Algal Bloom
In the summer of 2005, the most severe harmful algal bloom in over 30 years spread from Maine to Massachusetts, resulting in fishery closures in areas that had not been impacted in previous outbreaks. Learn how NOAA's harmful algal bloom prediction and response capabilities were put to the test as this massive bloom spread along the New England coast.



Disaster Response: NOAA Ships, Planes, and Officers Offer Valuable Capabilities
NOAA's fleet of 19 ships and 11 aircraft and NOAA Corps officers work year-round to support the agency's environmental and scientific missions. NOAA vessels and aircraft have also increasingly been called on to apply their unique capabilities in response to a range of disasters, from the Gulf War to the 9/11 attacks and others described in this article.

O'Dark-Thirty: Flying into Nature's Most Turbulent Storms
Many people wonder what it is like to fly directly into the eye of a hurricane aboard one of NOAA's two WP-3D Orion turboprop research aircraft. This story is an account by Greg Bast, NOAA Aircraft Production Controller/WP-3D Flight Engineer. Bast paints a vivid picture of what it takes before, during, and after one of these turbulent flights to safely "enter the beast," so hurricane forecasters can get the data they need to make accurate forecasts.

Protecting Coral from Oil Spills and Other Hazards
NOAA works in many ways to protect coral reefs, primarily through the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. Learn how NOAA works to protect and restore reefs from the potentially devastating impacts associated with oil and chemical spills and physical damage from ships.

The Recovery
The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) and its predecessor agencies have set permanent survey marks throughout the United States. Relive this story, told by NGS surveyor George Leigh, recounting in his own words his experience in recovering a survey mark in 1987, in preparation for a resurvey of a portion of Oklahoma.

Rockets, Radar, and Computers: The International Geophysical Year
The 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY) was an international effort to coordinate the collection of geophysical data from around the World. It marked the beginning of a new era of scientific discovery at a time when many innovative technologies were appearing. The IGY still lives today in many NOAA programs, databases, and NOAA has continued participation in international collaborations. Not only does 2007 mark NOAA's 200th anniversary, it is also the 50th anniversary of the IGY.



NOAA: At the Forefront of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation
Though seemingly innocuous, the irregular pulse of the Pacific ocean-atmosphere system known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has profound implications worldwide, ranging from an increased flood risk in some regions of the United States to drought conditions in others. Over the past several decades, NOAA's leadership in detecting, predicting, and understanding the impacts of ENSO have enhanced seasonal climate outlooks and have resulted in timely assessments used by various scientific communities and the general public.

NOAAmads: Life on a Hydrographic Field Party
The nomadic lifestyle has been a foundation of many civilizations throughout the centuries. That lifestyle continues today in the form of the National Ocean Service's hydrographic field parties, who conduct near-shore surveys of U.S. coastal waters to maintain and update nautical charts. The chariots and chuck wagons of the past have been replaced by technologically advanced survey vessels and office trailers. Catch a first-hand glimpse into life as part of a survey party, as a "NOAAmad."

Shape-shifting Nereus to Explore Deepest Ocean
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, with support from the National Science Foundation, NOAA, and the U.S. Navy, is currently developing an exciting new underwater explorer called Nereus. The new Nereus will be a next-generation ocean exploration system, one that can change its shape as it explores 35,000 feet (11,000 meters) deep.

Understanding How Future Ocean Climates Will Affect Fisheries
When people who harvest fish reel in lines or haul in nets, their catches reflect the interactions among marine species and the habitats and environmental factors where these species live. Learn how NOAA, through a program known as GLOBEC, is conducting and sponsoring research on global ocean ecosystem dynamics to understand how climate change affects marine ecosystems.

Wave Power: Looking to the Ocean for Electricity in Oregon
With the U.S. breaking record highs for power use, many researchers and utilities are looking to alternative power sources to add to our nation's electrical grid. Some are eyeing the ocean as a new, potent source of renewable energy. NOAA, through the Sea Grant program, is supporting Oregon State University in exploring wave energy as one of the promising sources of ocean energy for the U.S. coastline, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.



Katrina: Forecasting the Nation's Most Destructive Storm
Hurricane Katrina will be forever synonymous with catastrophe. Screaming winds and a raging surge of water towering to heights of a three-story building were among the storm’s extreme elements that decimated a vast area of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. As devastating as Katrina was, the situation actually could have been far worse had it not been for NOAA’s accurate forecasts and dedicated team.

NOAA Reveals History in...The Great Ocean Museum
NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, NOAA's Undersea Research Program, and NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program work to discover lost shipwreck “museums” and other submerged cultural and historic resources. Learn about NOAA's quest to locate, identify, and survey submerged cultural resources to better understand our maritime heritage.

NOAA's Teacher at Sea Program: Past, Present, and Future
Learn about the growth of NOAA's Teacher at Sea program, which since 1990, has enabled qualified teachers from kindergarten through college to go to sea aboard NOAA research and survey vessels and work side-by-side with scientists, officers, and crew. By gaining such rich, first-hand experience, teachers can then incorporate their new knowledge into classroom curricula, while passing along their enthusiasm and kindling their students’ interest in science.

Signals: Flags, Banners, Cones, and Lights Help Direct Surveys
Since the early 1800s, the National Geodetic Survey and its predecessor organizations have used signals to obtain the high-quality angle measurements needed to establish a consistent and accurate framework from which to conduct land and coastal surveys in the United States. Read this article to learn about some of the early signals used to help surveyors sight on distant survey marks.

There and Back Again: Old Tsunami Data Come Full Circle
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest in recorded history, created an urgent need to expand tsunami warning capabilities to every coastal nation. Scientists all over the world were asked to assess tsunami risk in their regions. See how NOAA scientists combed through valuable historic documents, searching for clues about tsunami events several centuries old and how this record of past tsunami behavior is essential to making predictions about the future.




International Efforts to Protect the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities
Human activities on land—in coastal areas and further inland—are threatening the health, productivity, and biodiversity of the marine environment. Degradation of the marine environment could threaten coastal and marine activities, such as fishing and tourism, upon which coastal populations depend. In response, NOAA has joined forces with the United Nations Environment Programme Global Programme of Action to establish a unique plan for cooperation to reduce marine pollution in the wider Caribbean region and Central America.

It Takes an Ecosystem to Sustain Fisheries: Developing Ecosystem-based Management at the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office
The Chesapeake Bay is North America’s largest estuary, and its biological diversity is remarkable. In recent decades, the populations of many of important fish and shellfish have declined dramatically. To turn the situation around, scientists and policy specialists at the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office are helping to develop new science and innovative management methods to protect and restore the Bay’s living resources and habitats.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—For Six Months!
Many researchers have made it to one or both Poles during their careers, but Antarctica in particular draws men and women looking for adventure and challenge in one of the last wild, untamed places on the planet. Read the recollections of two NOAA scientists who have "wintered over" at the South Pole Station, revealing that the experience is unforgettable – mostly as a treasured memory, but also in the sense of "Whew, I made it through!"

Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Meteorological Observers in the American West
In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began an expedition of discovery that would become one of the epic sagas in American history. Although the drama of their adventures achieved legendary proportions, it is less well known that they made numerous contributions to diverse areas of science. See how a review of the historical records and journals of the era revealed that meteorology can be added to the list of pioneering achievements associated with the 1804-1806 expedition of Lewis and Clark.

Partnering to Restore an Urban Estuary—The Anacostia
Along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, the healthy green of restored wetlands contrasts with industrial shorelines and large quantities of trash and debris in the tidal portion of the river. Learn how, through ongoing cooperative partnerships with the public, industry, and other parties, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration has led a comprehensive approach involving and coordinating with programs throughout NOAA to improve the health and integrity of the this urban watershed.



Bilby Towers
Over the years, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey used and developed several innovative survey towers to raise the level of surveys and obtain clear lines-of-sight while stabilizing equipment. Take a look at the Bilby Tower—one of the most famous and most widely used survey towers, developed by Jasper S. Bilby in 1926.

Exploring the South Pacific: Witnessing the Birth of an Undersea Mountain
In the summer of 2005, the Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory, NOAA's Undersea Research Program, and NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration conducted the most extensive diving expedition ever undertaken in the South Pacific. This pioneering mission looked at some of the greatest undersea volcanoes and associated ecosystems between Hawai‘i and New Zealand, including Nafanua, Fagatele Bay, and Rose Atoll. What these scientists discovered was truly amazing…

Forecasting Fire Weather
Since the early 1900s, NOAA National Weather Service Incident Meteorologists—a group of scientists specially trained to go to wildfires and other incidents—have provided weather briefings and forecasts to incident responders and command staff.  These forecasts ensure the safety of operations, allowing responders to take into account of the most changeable aspects of any incident—the weather.

New Radar Technology Can Increase Tornado Warning Lead Times: Navy's Phased Array Radar Being Adapted for Weather Use
While technology has greatly enhanced the ability of NOAA’s National Weather Service to provide advance notice of approaching severe weather such as tornadoes, researchers are always looking for ways to do their jobs better. Learn how a new technology, phased array radar, is being tested at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. This new technology may help forecasters of the future provide earlier warnings for tornadoes and other types of severe and hazardous weather.

Outdoor Recreation and Restoring Injured Resources
Use of the coastal environment for outdoor recreation is an important part of the value of marine resources. Following pollution incidents such as oil or chemical spills, activities like swimming, fishing, and boating can be adversely impacted. Read this article to learn how NOAA assesses the impacts from oil or chemical spills in the marine environment and works with partners to restore the benefits of marine recreation activities.




Argo Floats
Argo is an international ocean-observing program with a goal of deploying 3,000 drifting floats that gather temperature and salinity profiles in the upper 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans. In conjunction with satellite observations, the profiles gathered by these instruments have allowed scientists to make significant advances in their quest to better understand the role of the oceans in world climate.

Expanding the Use of Navigational Tools and Products for Coastal Resource Management: Applying Tidal and Geodetic Datums to Wetland Restoration and Emergency Management
Learn about the Coastal Oceanographic Applications and Services of Tides And Lakes (COASTAL) product line, which applies water-level and datum information in non-traditional ways, providing tools to coastal managers concerned with issues such as coastal planning, beneficial use of dredged material, storm-tide monitoring, emergency management, the effects of sea-level rise/subsidence, inundation (flooding), and wetland restoration.

The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900
On September 8, 1900, the Great Galveston Hurricane roared ashore, devastating the island city with winds of 130 to 140 miles per hour and a storm surge in excess of 15 feet. When its fury finally abated, at least 8,000 people were dead, 3,600 buildings were destroyed, and damage estimates exceeded $20 million ($700 million in today’s dollars). To this day, the 1900 Galveston hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in the nation’s history.

The High-precision Transcontinental Traverse: Improving the Scale of the U.S. Survey Network
The Transcontinental Traverse, commonly known as the “TCT,” grew out of smaller surveying projects that the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey conducted for the U.S. Air Force missile-tracking program. Read this article to learn how the historic TCT, a 15-year survey traverse that spanned the nation, increased the accuracy of the existing U.S. survey network.

Working Cooperatively to Achieve Habitat Restoration of Coastal Areas
As a federal trustee for coastal and marine natural resources, NOAA works with lead cleanup agencies, co-trustees, responsible parties, and the public to address natural resource injuries caused by the release of oil and hazardous substances. Learn how a cooperative approach to restoring coastal areas is ensuring that resources are efficiently and cost effectively protected from future harm, recovery is accelerated, and coastal habitats are restored for the benefit of coastal communities.



Again to Galapagos
Over the past few decades, we have significantly increased our understanding of, and ability to explore, the ocean. In 1977, ocean scientists traveled to the Galapagos Spreading Center where they made an alien discovery—new animals that relied not on sunlight, but on chemicals from hot springs that flowed from cracks in lava on the sea floor. Travel with scientists as they return to the site of this discovery, to uncover new and exciting scientific marvels.

A Brief History of the NOAA Very Long Baseline Interferometry Program
Starting in the mid 1970s, researchers from NOAA's National Geodetic Survey played a leading role in developing Very Long Baseline Interferometry stations and collecting observations that resulted in more accurate celestial and terrestrial reference frames. This pioneering work played an important role in increasing the fundamental understanding of our planet.

Directions to the Party
Have you ever had trouble preparing clear and complete directions to a birthday party or backyard BBQ? Take a look at how U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey surveyors have been preparing directions for 200 years and pick up some pointers for developing your own party directions.

Isaac Monroe Cline: 1861 - 1955
This article looks back on the life of Isaac Monroe Cline, one of the most accomplished and respected meteorologists of his time. While serving in the nation's weather service as part of the Army Signal Corps and the U.S. Weather Bureau, Cline's accomplishments ranged from establishing a new weather station and organizing the U.S. Weather Service's Texas Section to increasing our understanding of tropical cyclones and enhancing flood prediction techniques.

Watershed Mapping and Data Sharing for the Next Generation
Coastal managers use Watershed Database and Mapping Projects—decision-support tools developed by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration—to resolve a broad range of coastal problems. These projects help to address the challenge of evaluating multiple environmental issues by combining scientific data and watershed characteristics into a geographic information system.



Bringing Tsunami Forecasting into the 21st Century with Models and DARTS
For nearly 60 years, NOAA has been the federal agency responsible for tsunami warnings in the United States and its territories. Read this article to see how, since the mid-1990s, NOAA has been modernizing tsunami-warning technologies and developing inundation forecast models in order to vastly improve tsunami forecast and warning capabilities that save lives and protect property from the extensive devastation that tsunamis can bring.

History of Tornado Forecasting
Forecasting of tornadoes and other severe storms by NOAA scientists has had varying levels of success throughout the years. NOAA's National Weather Service and its predecessors have predicted and warned communities of these severe weather threats with ever-increasing accuracy, saving countless lives and billions of dollars. Read this article to learn how, over the years, our understanding of and ability to forecast tornadoes has dramatically increased.

"The Plotter" - Mr. Lloyd "Shorty" Gilden
Read this first-hand recollection from Navigation Response Team 2, NOAA hydrographer David B. Elliott of his mentor and friend, cartographer, and plotter extraordinaire—Mr. Lloyd "Shorty" Gilden.

Sea Grant International: Extending the Model of Applied Research, Outreach, and Education to Other Countries
Since Sea Grant was founded in 1966, there have been — and continue to be — many international activities involving collaboration on scientific research and cooperative agreements between individual Sea Grant colleges and foreign institutions. This article highlights the efforts of NOAA Research's Office of International Activities and the National Sea Grant Office in supporting the development of three Sea Grant programs, focused on institutional development activities at the national level.

Vertically Challenged: The Progression of Vertical Datums
Vertical datums are used as a reference against which to base height measurements in order to know that all measurements start from the same “zero” and can therefore be compared. Read this article to learn how NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey has been in the business of establishing national vertical datums throughout the history of the organization.



The Experience of a Lifetime: NOAA Marine Scientists Help Protect Red Sea Coral as Part of the Middle East Peace Process
Beginning in September 1994, NOAA suddenly found itself in the midst of the Middle East Peace Process when Israel and Jordan signed a treaty that called for ways to establish peace between the two nations. One measure for extending the olive branch was creating a bi-national marine park adjacent to the countries’ common border in the Red Sea. Three individuals from NOAA—Stephen Jameson, Michael Crosby, and Ben Mieremet—soon became closely involved in working with both countries to establish the park and manage its coral reefs.

Life of an Air Flask
Read this first “person” travelogue of "flask 3331" to learn about the air sampling that enables NOAA to explain global climate and air quality as well some of the mundane, but necessary, “shipping and handling” considerations for running a worldwide atmospheric monitoring program.

The Seaward Deflection of the Gulf Stream at the Charleston Bump
Read this article to learn how the entrapment of a free-drifting, manned submersible in an eddy near the ocean bottom off Charleston, South Carolina, helped lead to the develoment of the NOAA CoastWatch Program.

Understanding Climate through Modeling
Climate models use mathematical formulas run by computers to simulate the Earth's climate. Such tools allow scientists to manipulate and thus better understand the physical, chemical, and biological processes that influence climate. NOAA has been at the forefront of climate modeling, developing the first-ever model that coupled oceanic and atmospheric parameters into a single model. Since then, NOAA has continued to lead the way in developing models needed to understand our Earth system.