In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson founded the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey to provide nautical charts to the maritime community for safe passage into American ports and along the coastline. The Weather Bureau was founded in 1870 and one year later, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was founded. Individually, these organizations were America's first physical science agency, America's first agency dedicated specifically to the atmospheric sciences, and America's first conservation agency.

The three agencies were brought together in 1970 with the establishment of NOAA, an agency within the Department of Commerce.

From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration, and supporting marine commerce, NOAA's products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America's gross domestic product. NOAA scientists use cutting-edge research and high-tech instrumentation to provide citizens, planners, emergency managers, and other decision-makers with reliable information they need when they need it.

Science at NOAA is the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the ocean, atmosphere, and related ecosystems; integration of research and analysis; observations and monitoring; and environmental modeling. NOAA science includes discoveries and new understanding of the oceans and atmosphere and the application of this understanding to such issues as the causes and consequences of climate change, the physical dynamics of high-impact weather events, the dynamics of complex ecosystems and biodiversity, and the ability to model and predict the future states of these systems.

NOAA's core mission functions require satellite systems, ships, buoys, aircraft, research facilities, high-performance computing, and information management and distribution systems. The agency provides research-to-application capabilities that can recognize and apply new understanding to questions, develop research products and methods, and apply emerging science and technology to user needs.

NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters, and ocean areas. Each year, NWS collects 76 billion observations and issues approximately 1.5 million forecasts and 50,000 warnings. NWS has played a key role in protecting American lives and properties for over a century.


Joseph Cione, a NOAA meteorologist, holds the Coyote, a small drone that has flown in three hurricanes. The data collected can help scientists understand where the storm's strongest winds are, the radius of maximum winds, and other variables like temperature, moisture, and sea-level pressure that all affect storm strength. (Credit: Joe Cione/NOAA AOML)

NOAA's research laboratories conduct an integrated program of research, technology development, and services to improve the understanding of Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and inland waters and to describe and predict changes occurring to them. The laboratories and their field stations are located across the country and around the world.

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL)

NOAA's PMEL makes critical observations and conducts groundbreaking research to advance knowledge of the global ocean and its interactions with the Earth, atmosphere, ecosystems, and climate. Key research areas include ocean acidification, tsunami detection and forecasting, hydrothermal vent systems, fisheries oceanography, and long-term climate monitoring and analysis.

Engineers at PMEL support field systems with engineering services and foster technological innovation by pushing the limits of ocean and atmospheric observing platforms and sensors that advance NOAA research and operations.

The Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration (ITAE) program conceptualizes and builds effective research equipment for the assessment of the Arctic environment and ecosystem with the operation of high-resolution sensors on autonomous platforms near sea ice. PMEL has produced important data handling tools — such as the Scientific Graphics Toolkit, Ferret, and the Live Access Server — that are used extensively by the ocean research community.

Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL)

NOAA's compact, inexpensive sea temperature sensor measures sea temperature across multiple sites for the global Opuhala Coral Health project.

The ESRL pursues a broad and comprehensive understanding of the many physical, chemical, and biological processes that comprise the Earth system to better predict their behavior. Scientists study atmospheric and other dynamic processes that affect air quality, weather, and climate variability. ESRL researchers monitor the atmosphere, investigate the physical and chemical processes that comprise the Earth system, and integrate those findings into environmental information products.

ESRL's work improves critical weather and forecasting tools for the public and private sectors, from hourly forecasts, drought and air quality predictions, to international science assessments with policy-relevant findings.

National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

The miniature Scanning Aerosol Sun Photometer (miniSASP) measures vertical profile of atmospheric aerosols, which can affect air quality and exert direct and indirect effects on climate. The upward-looking radiometer (ULR) assembly with miniSASP is shown. For scale, the dome is about 5 cm in diameter. (Photo: D. Murphy, NOAA)

The NSSL provides accurate and timely forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather events through research to advance the understanding of weather processes, research to improve forecasting and warning techniques, and development of operational applications. NSSL transfers new scientific techniques and applications to the National Weather Service.

NSSL is NOAA's primary radar laboratory. From the original WSR-57 research project to Doppler radar, NEXRAD, and now dual-polarized and phased array radars, NSSL research has made radar one of the most valuable tools available to a forecaster. NSSL researchers work to develop new weather and water-related applications, and water resource management tools help NWS forecasters produce more accurate and timely warnings of flood events.

Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)

The AOML conducts research to understand the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics and processes of the ocean and the atmosphere, both separately and as a coupled system. The research portfolio encompasses ocean, coastal, and atmospheric studies, focusing on improving the prediction of hurricanes, learning about the ocean's role in climate and extreme weather events, understanding the global impacts of ocean acidification and pollution on coastal ecosystems and providing insights to help resource managers.

Air Resources Laboratory (ARL)

ARL's research focus is on the surface of the Earth from one meter below the soil up to 2,000 meters in the atmosphere (aka the boundary layer). ARL studies the physical and chemical, short- and long-term processes that occur in the boundary layer. Primary applications include emergency response, homeland security, air quality, weather forecasts and climate outlooks, and commerce and transportation. The accidental or intentional release of chemical, biological, or nuclear agents, as well as ash associated with volcanic eruptions, can have significant health, safety, national security, economic, and ecological implications. ARL's Atmospheric Dispersion Research Program provides critical modeling and observation data to understand how, where, and when chemicals and materials are transported through the atmosphere.

The Man Overboard Recovery Device allows a single rescuer to attach a lifting sling to a person in the water without the need for a second rescuer to enter the water and without help from the victim, who may be unresponsive. (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Mark Dixon, NEFSC)

Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL)

GFDL is focused on long-lead-time research that is fundamental to advancing the scientific understanding of the physical, dynamical, chemical, and biogeochemical processes governing the behavior of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice components and their interactions with the ecosystem. Scientists at GFDL develop and use Earth system models and computer simulations to improve understanding and prediction of all aspects of the climate system. GFDL's research encompasses a variety of disciplines including meteorology, oceanography, hydrology, classical physics, fluid dynamics, chemistry, applied mathematics, and numerical analysis.


Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometers. These instruments, commonly used in analytical chemistry, contain a region where ions travel toward a detector. NOAA developed a new geometry that has improved performance over existing designs. The new innovation uses two successive sectors, with the second one reversed, in a geometry resembling an “s.” The result is that the entire geometry folds into a very compact volume.

NOAA's GOES satellites deliver data daily, powering forecast models, watches, and warnings for all types of weather and environmental conditions. This image shows Hurricane Dorian making landfall over Cape Hatteras, NC in September 2019. NOAA's GOES East captured this view of the Category 1 storm just 15 minutes before the center of the storm moved across the barrier islands.

Man Overboard Recovery Device. A man overboard (MOB) situation occurs when a person unintentionally enters the water from a boat. MOBs are either active and capable of physically assisting in their own rescue or those who are incapacitated and are unable to assist in their own rescue. NOAA developed a sling that allows a single rescuer to attach a lifting harness to an unresponsive victim who is unable to assist in their own rescue. The device does not require the rescuer to enter the water to assist the victim. A lifting sling, constructed of nylon webbing similar to automotive seatbelt material, and a section of rope are attached to a wishbone-shaped Y at the end of a long handle. During a rescue, the sling is attached to the victim and detached from the Y and handle. The rope is then attached to a lifting device on the rescue vessel, such as a block and tackle, to hoist the victim onto the vessel.

NOAA's DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft features excellent external visibility for harsh environments. (Photo: Ens. B.J. Bonner/NOAA)

Continuous Light Absorption Photometer. Absorption of sunlight by atmospheric aerosols is important to Earth's energy budget. There are several different types of instruments used for this measurement but none were optimized for making long-term, research-quality measurements. NOAA developed the Continuous Light Absorption Photometer (CLAP) that is temperature-stabilized to reduce sensitivity to changes in room temperature. In addition, the computer software running on the internal microprocessor is completely open on the CLAP. These features make the CLAP much better suited for long-term monitoring applications and currently, NOAA-built CLAPs are deployed at 23 stations around the globe.

ONav and GeoPixel™ Web-Based Navigation. ONav is a heads-up navigation display for pilots for coastal imagery acquisition. The system is built on the Linux operating system and uses open-source tools and data sources. The system combines a real-time Global Positioning System (GPS) and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) stream along with image collection metadata from the onboard cameras to generate vector overlays pilots can use to easily navigate, track progress, and ensure full coverage of the survey area.

The GeoPixel imaging system is used with ONav and displays a grid of Ground Control Points (GCP) over the visible image. GeoPixel tracks the movement of the cursor over the image to display the calculated position in three-dimensional space.

Oscillating/Tidal Biological Filtration System. This system is inexpensive, simple to set up, scalable, and self-cleaning. The biological treatment of wastewater is typically accomplished through a combination of mechanical filtration, which removes solid waste, and biological filtration, which uses bacteria to break down harmful ammonia. Separate aeration devices are also needed to introduce atmospheric oxygen into the system. Filtration and aeration systems currently on the market require frequent cleaning and maintenance to perform well. The NOAA Biological Filter uses the principles of hydrodynamics and biochemistry to create a single system to improve the water quality of any existing aqueous environment. This dual function eliminates the need for an additional aerator to complete the biochemical process.

Smart Module for Communications Processing and Interface. This data collection and reporting system is used on data buoys or similar ocean- or land-based platforms where environmental data are being collected. The module may be retrofitted to a data buoy, weather station, or other similar applications to add additional data acquisition capabilities or features without disturbing existing communications and data logging equipment at the location.

Technology Transfer

The Technology Transfer Program is responsible for NOAA's portfolio of innovations including patents, patent license agreements, and Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). The goal is to ensure a rapid and cost-effective transfer of NOAA's technologies from the lab to U.S. industry for direct use and/or commercialization.

Companies interested in licensing a NOAA technology may contact the NOAA Technology Partnerships Office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit here .

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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