NOAA History is an intrinsic part of the history of the United States and the development of its science and commercial infrastructure. The ancestor agencies of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration include the United States Coast Survey established in 1807, the United States Weather Bureau established in 1870, and the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries established in 1871.
These organizations were the first physical science agency in the United States, the first agency formed specifically for observation and study of the atmosphere, and the first agency formed to study and conserve natural resources. Under these agencies and their descendants the United States has become recognized as a world leader in the sciences of geodesy, geophysics, metrology, oceanography, meteorology, climatology, marine biology, and marine ecology. Additionally, the impetus given to various types of engineering and the advancement of the mathematical sciences by these organizations was and still is a major contribution to the welfare and well-being of our Nation.
Besides the science that has grown up in these organizations, they have also been great humanitarian agencies concerned with the saving of life both on our shores and within the interior of the United States. Millions of passengers and trillions of tons of cargo have safely come to our shores while guided by the charts of the Coast Survey and its descendant organizations. The American citizens whose lives have been saved by the warnings of the Weather Bureau and its descendants and the dollars saved by our national economy as a result of better forecasting are beyond measure. And the fight to save our fisheries for future generations has been led by the Fish and Fisheries Commission and its descendants.
The personnel of these organizations served in peace and war; worked in the remote and frontier regions of our Nation; and experienced rough seas, violent weather, various and sundry hardships in accomplishing their mission, and separation from family and friends. But through all of this they persevered with quiet courage and a fierce loyalty to their organization and the Nation. Within the NOAA History Site you will find the stories of many of these dedicated public servants, the stories of their agencies, and the stories of the development of a major segment of American science.
NOAA was formed in 1970, the agencies that came together at that time are among the oldest in the Federal Government.
National Ocean Service: NOS is one of five offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). It is a scientific and technical organization of more than 1,700 individuals whose mission is to preserve and enhance the nation’s coastal resources and ecosystems along 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.5 million square miles of coastal ocean. At the same time, it works to support economic growth for the long-term benefit of the nation. This theme is central to the sustainable development agenda of both NOAA and DOC.
NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS) performs response, assessment and restoration activities for oil and chemical spills under the authority of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1990 (CERCLA), the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) identifies the Department of Commerce as the primary federal trustee for protecting and restoring coastal resources under the CWA, CERCLA, and OPA. The NCP also describes NOAA’s role in providing scientific support for participating in domestic and international planning and response activities.
NOS’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific expertise for successful incident response and restoration, helping to reduce harm to people, the environment and the economy. NOS scientists are experts in oceanography, biology, economics, ocean modeling, chemistry and geology. Regional NOAA Scientific Support Coordinators organize NOAA resources in support of federal and state response efforts, and work with scientists from other public agencies, academia, and the private sector to support operations when an oil or chemical spill occurs.
A primary task of NOS scientists is to develop and use a variety of modeling software to forecast where the spill might go and its potential effects on the coastal environment.
To help in planning and responding to spills, NOS scientists have created environmental sensitivity index (ESI) maps. These maps are created to serve as quick reference guides to the characteristics and uses of a shoreline. First responders also have access to numerous other tools and information provided by NOS scientists. These include job aids for use during oil spills and chemical spills to determine amounts of oil spilled and best response guidelines. Specific aids have been created for sensitive habitats such as coral reefs as well.
NOS is responsible for assessing damage to coastal and marine resources caused by oil and chemical spills. Through a process known as natural resource damage assessment, NOS scientists determine the nature and extent of injuries to natural resources from spills, and the restoration actions needed to reverse these losses. NOS experts also use scientific and economic studies to determine the level of restoration necessary to restore the natural resources and services they provide. The Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, which is a collaborative effort among NOS, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and the Office of General Council, fulfills NOAA's natural resources damage assessment responsibilities.
Office of Response & Restoration
The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) works to prevent and mitigate harm to coastal resources. OR&R is the primary NOAA office that responds to oil spills and hazardous material releases. It provides scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard for spills and technical assistance to other agencies for hazardous material releases. It also works with federal, state and tribal natural resource trustees to restore damaged coastal resources.
OR&R maintains an interdisciplinary team to respond to oil and chemical spills, and other hazards threatening coastal environments and communities. It provides and coordinates advice on scientific and environmental issues. The Office forecasts the movement and behavior of spilled oil and chemicals, evaluates the risk to resources, and recommends protective and cleanup actions. OR&R also provides training, prepares and tests spill response contingency plans, and conducts research to improve response capabilities.
OR&R experts work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other waste cleanup agencies and parties responsible for release of hazardous materials to insure that appropriate measures are implemented to evaluate and address contaminant threats, and restore coastal resources. OR&R scientists provide advice on ecological risk, contaminated sediments and remedial issues at more than 350 coastal waste sites that have been affected by chronic, long-term contamination.
OR&R scientists also work with other agencies, co-trustees, and coastal communities to resolve cleanup and liability settlements. In addition to working cooperatively with responsible parties, OR&R leads NOAA’s efforts to clean up and restore the Pribilof Islands, Alaska.
OR&R also conducts natural resource damage assessments when oil or hazardous substances injure coastal resources. NOAA scientists, economists and lawyers collaborate with other federal, state and tribal trustees to determine the level of harm to coastal resources and what measures should be taken to restore the injured resources. OR&R also develops new and innovative techniques and procedures for improving damage assessment and restoration activities. This knowledge is shared through training and technical assistance programs with natural resource trustees, coastal managers and other decisionmakers.
OR&R also administers NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, ensuring that all NOAA planning and budget activities related to coral reefs are coordinated. Finally, it supports NOAA’s role as the co-chair of the inter-agency Coral Reef Task Force.