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Historic Events: Honorable Mentions

Earth Observation Summit of 2003

The first Earth Observation Summit on July 31, 2003, in Washington, DC. marked an extraordinary milestone in developing a worldwide Earth observation system.  This first-of-its-kind summit led to formation of the Group on Earth Observations that would begin taking the steps necessary to implement a Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

During the Summit, 33 nations (developed and developing countries) and the European Commission adopted a declaration signifying a political commitment to move toward creating a observation system that would increase timely, quality, and long-term global earth observation information and serve as a basis for sound decision-making for the benefit of society worldwide.  NOAA played a pivotal role in organizing and executing the Summit. Represented by NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, NOAA continues to provide leadership for the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), now an intergovernmental body with representatives from nearly 60 countries and the European Commission. All NOAA line offices continue to be actively engaged in GEO and in implementating the Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

Fargo, North Dakota, F5 Tornado of June 20, 1957

On June 20, 1957, an F5 tornado passed through north Fargo, North Dakota, killing 13 people and injuring over 100. It traveled nine miles, badly damaging or destroying over 1,300 homes along the way. According to Dr. Ted Fujita of the University of Chicago, this tornado was filmed and photographed more than any other for its time. 

Dr. Fujita conducted a major investigation and did some of his groundbreaking work on the Fargo tornado that would allow meteorologists to classify tornado according to their level of severity–the F-Scale (Fujita scale).  In 1960, he published results of his investigation in a paper entitled “A Detailed Analysis of the Fargo Tornadoes of June 20, 1957.”  In addition, he was able to determine that the Fargo tornado was one in a family of five tornadoes, produced by a long-lived cyclic supercell. Fujita also analyzed photographs of the tornado, and computed both rotational velocities and other values of wind speed within the wall cloud and tornado. This had never been done before, and was possible from the more than 200 photographs and numerous films of the event that he studied. His pioneering work on this tornado was ground breaking, and is proof that the strongest tornadoes can occur in the Northern Plains. The data that Fujita gathered on the Fargo tornado allowed him to later quantify tornado damage on the F-Scale in 1971.

Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act

In December 2004, Congress enacted and the President signed into law the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Amendments Act of 2004. This Act, originally passed in 1998 to combat harmful algal blooms (HABs) and severe oxygen depletion (hypoxia) in coastal waters, reaffirms and expands NOAA’s mandate to advance the scientific understanding and ability to detect, monitor, assess, and predict HABs and hypoxic events.  The law also called for developing programs to research methods of preventing, controlling, and mitigating HABs.

Harmful algal blooms and hypoxic events are two of the most scientifically complex and economically damaging coastal issues that challenge our ability to safeguard the health of our coastal ecosystems. Virtually every coastal state has reported recurring major blooms, and a recent assessment revealed that over half of our nation's estuaries experience hypoxic conditions. Impacts have included the loss of economically and culturally vital shellfish resources, illness and death in populations of protected marine species, and serious threats to human health posed by algal toxins.

Since the passage of the original law in 1998, NOAA and its partners have made ground breaking and revolutionary progress in understanding, detecting, monitoring, assessing, and predicting harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in coastal ecosystems.  This has led to the developing and testing NOAA’s harmful algal bloom bulletins off the coast of Florida and expansion to the Texas continental shelf and other regions around the U.S. to forecast HABs; the ability to selectively open and close clamming beaches in the Pacific Northwest; and instrument probes capable of detecting different algal species.

Ocean Commission Reports, 1959–2004

Between 1957 and 2000, four high level panels were established to examine the state of U.S. ocean policy.  Creating these panels was generally based on the increasing need for oceanographic research and data, the lack of funds to carry out the research or gather the data, threats to ocean resources, or lack of governmental attention to adequately research, protect, and manage ocean resources.  Each of these efforts elevated the interest and attention given to oceans throughout government, academia, and industry.  All drew attention to the work and responsibilities of NOAA or its predecessor organizations.  The findings and recommendations of these bodies often played out as initiatives for increased federal spending for ocean uses, ocean research, and ocean conservation.  The findings from the first panel, a committee of the National Academy of Science, planted the early seeds for establishing an organization like NOAA; the second, the Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources, recommended that NOAA be established.

The work of each of these four groups is summarized below:

National Academy of Science Committee on Oceanography (NASCO). On November 10, 1957, the National Academy of Science (NAS) appointed its third committee on oceanography to examine the state of U.S. ocean science. (An earlier NAS committee formed in 1927 to examine the deficiencies in oceanographic research and to suggest remedies; the Academy also issued reports in 1949 and 1956 to generate support for oceanographic research from the federal government.)  Establishing a committee on oceanography in 1957 marked the beginning of a 10-year period of increased interest in U.S. ocean exploration.  Prior to this period, industry, mariners, fishermen and the political community mostly ignored marine science.  On February 15, 1959, NASCO delivered its report, Oceanography 1960–1970. The report offered five general and 20 specific recommendations, urging that funding for basic research and ocean-wide surveys be doubled along with expanded support for applied marine science.  National defense, improved fisheries productivity, and protecting the environment from radioactive waste disposal motivated the panel's recommendations. 

Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources, also known as “The Stratton Commission.” The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 authorized this commission, directing it to conduct the nation’s first review of ocean policy. Its 1969 report, Our Nation and the Sea, made recommendations in three areas: the ocean as a new frontier for resource development and how best to develop them; the threat to the coastal environment from overexploitation and pollution; and reorganization plans for federal ocean and coastal programs. The report recommended "the creation of a major new civilian agency, which might be called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, to be the principal instrumentality within the Federal Government for administration of the Nation's civil marine and atmospheric programs."  This was a defining moment that formalized a recommendation for a single national ocean agency, something that the ocean community began calling for with increased intensity in the 10 years following the 1959 NASCO report as fragmented ocean responsibilities among various federal agencies obstructed any sort of a cohesive national ocean policy.

Pew Oceans Commission.  The Pew Oceans Commission was created to chart a new course for the nation’s ocean policy” brought on, in part, by the hodgepodge of laws dealing with ocean resources that were enacted one-by-one on a sector-by-sector basis.  Citing continuing damage to coastal resources brought on by coastal development, coastal rivers and bays degraded by nutrient runoff, overfishing of ecologically and commercially significant fish stocks, and coastal habitat alterations attributed to invasive species, the Commission sought to identify policies and practices to restore and protect living marine resources.  Its report, America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change (2003) offered five priority objectives to reform how the nation manages it marine resources.  The objectives center around declaring a unified national ocean policy based on protecting ecosystem health and sustainable use of ocean resources; encouraging comprehensive and coordinated governance of ocean resources; restructuring fishery management institutions and reorienting fisheries policy; protecting important habitat and managing coastal development; and controlling sources of pollution.

U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.  In the 35 years since the Stratton Commission, an additional 37 million people and 19 million homes have been added to our coastal area, drastically changing this narrow strip of land.  Marine transportation and coastal recreation and tourism have become two of the top segments of the national economy. However, experts agree that this expanding use of oceans and coasts puts marine resources in serious jeopardy.

The Oceans Act of 2000 authorized a new ocean commission to take a fresh look at national ocean policy and to make recommendations that will promote:

  • protecting life and property;
  • stewardship of ocean and coastal resources;
  • protecting the marine environment and preventing marine pollution;
  • enhancing maritime commerce;
  • expanding human knowledge of the marine environment;
  • investing in technologies to promote energy and food security;
  • close cooperation among government agencies; and
  • U.S. leadership in ocean and coastal activities.

The Commission’s final report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century (2004), issued 13 key recommendations in five categories, urging the nation to:

1. Improved Governance

  • establish a National Ocean Council in the Executive Office of the President;
  • create a non-federal President’s Council of Advisors on Ocean Policy;
  • improve the federal agency structure by strengthening NOAA and consolidating federal agency programs;
  • develop a voluntary process for creating regional ocean councils;
  • create a coordinated management regime of federal offshore waters;

2. Sound Science

  • double the nation’s investment in ocean research, launching a new area of ocean exploration, and creating advanced technologies to support them;
  • implement the Integrated Ocean Observing System and a national monitoring network;

3. Education

  • improve ocean-related education through formal and informal efforts;

4. Specific Management Challenges

  • strengthen coastal and watershed management and the links between them;
  • set measurable goals for reducing water pollution, particularly for nonpoint sources;
  • reform fisheries management, improving the system of regional fishery management councils, and exploring the use of dedicated fishery access privileges;
  • accede to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;

5. Implementation

  • establish an Ocean Policy Trust Fund based on unallocated revenues from offshore oil and gas development and new offshore activities that is dedicated to improved ocean and coastal management.