March 6, 2017

What NOAA means to me, and how to “make it matter” to others

Posted by Laura Guertin

On Friday, March 3, my husband and I went to the Philadelphia 76ers game. The basketball team with the battle cry of “trust the process” (they are in a rebuilding period) had just beaten the New York Knicks. We came home that evening, thrilled with the victory – only to be met with news that left us feeling defeated. My Twitter feed had exploded with this update:

The overall proposed budget cut to “America’s environmental intelligence agency” is $990 million (17%). Immediately, the facts start streaming about the important role NOAA plays in all of our lives, from climate monitoring and weather hazards, to applied coastal environmental science and safety in navigating through the air and across our seas. More articles and blog posts quickly appeared, from Dr. Marshall Shepherd’s Forbes article on “Four Ways NOAA Benefits Your Life Today” to the Union of Concern Scientists’ blog post “Two Surprising Facts about NOAA.” Climate Central has an article titled “NOAA Cuts Could Stymie Research, Put Lives at Risk“, Ocean Conservancy posted about “A NOAA Budget that Cuts to the Bone“, and AGU’s Executive Director/CEO Chris McEntee wrote a column for the AGU Leaders Blog on “Proposed Agency Cuts Threaten Critical Lines of Defense for Public Safety, Economy and Security.”

From the Sea Grant Program to the National Weather Service, NOAA has certainly played a role throughout my life in ways I was too young to realize or remember. My PhD is in marine geology & geophysics, and I would never have pursued this degree or continued with my explorations and teaching without NOAA. While pursuing my undergraduate degree in geology, I was an intern with the NOAA/National Ocean Service/Field Photogrammetry Unit for two summers in Norfolk, Virginia. Those summers of fieldwork and learning about nautical charts were so critical in generating an even bigger spark for studying oceanography. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to travel back to the NOAA Marine Operations Center in Norfolk in 2014 to join the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson for a hydrographic survey in the North Atlantic.

And NOAA’s datasets – where would faculty be without using NOAA data for teaching, research, and outreach? NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) website is a foundation for so many of my in-class activities and undergraduate research projects with students. These data are essential for helping students understand weather and climate science over spatial and temporal scales. My introductory-level Earth science/geoscience/geography courses are all aimed at improving the scientific literacy of these non-science majors through data.

So, what are we to do to help share what NOAA means to scientists and society (in addition to contacting our elected officials)? And how can I “pay it forward” to an organization that has done so much and continues to be there for my professional and personal life?

I had the privilege of seeing former NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan speak at the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting. I blogged about her talk, and here were some of my final reflections on her speech:

Dr. Sullivan’s take-home messages were clear and had the audience silently nodding their heads in agreement. NOAA must put environmental information in the hands of people who need it, and those communications need to be clear in “making it matter,” that what matters is people acting wisely with this information. Dr. Sullivan ended with the statement: “I can’t think of a better time to be an Earth scientist. Your talents and energies are needed desperately.”  — GeoEd Trek blog post (December 19, 2014)

And here is her entire speech from the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting:


Each of us can play a role in “making it matter,” from information dissemination to moving forward with action. Former Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell spoke at AGU 2014 and 2016 (video archive of her 2016 speech), and she made these relevant comments:

“If we speak the language of business, this will help the next administration understand that our science matters. We/government cannot make investments without sound science… We need to think about translating our science to dollars and cents.” Secretary Jewell also encouraged us to stay the course and keep doing the work, while working to make our voices heard and relevant. Most importantly, we should treat people with different points of view with respect… she [also spoke about] The Weather Channel. The weather data are from NASA and NOAA satellites that TWC uses to interpret for forecasts. She said “let’s give credit to federal data.” Interestingly, she said this same exact statement during her AGU 2014 Union Agency lecture. — GeoEd Trek blog post (December 15, 2016)

It is time to take up the challenge and utilize the recommendations from Sullivan and Jewell. In the end, even non-scientists realize what the budget cuts would mean (and not mean…)

My heart still aches as I wait with others to hear how Congress will move forward. I have to now “trust the process,” that enough people speaking up for NOAA and the value of its services to the physical and societal health, safety, and well-being of Planet Earth will be enough to “make it matter.”