NOAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems

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Message From the Under Secretary


August 24, 2007


NOAA Tsunami Program Beats 2008 Deadline
Well in advance of the deadline for the NOAA Tsunami Program, and in line with our goal of improving marine infrastructure, NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) has installed the last of 16 new tidal stations at Port Alexander, Alaska. Six of the new stations are in Alaska; four are on the West Coast; and six are in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. CO-OPS also upgraded equipment at 107 coastal stations of the National Water Level Observation Network. All 143 coastal stations are expected to be upgraded by the end of the fiscal year. Following the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy in December 2004, CO-OPS was charged with installing 16 new water level stations and upgrading equipment at 33 existing National Water Level Observation Network stations by March 31, 2008. Since water level data from these stations are transmitted every six minutes via Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, the recent installations and upgrades have made them an integral part of the Pacific and Atlantic tsunami detection and warning network. Tide data is reported in real-time to the National Weather Service’s Alaska and Pacific Tsunami Warning Centers, which monitor Alaskan waters, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean for seismic activity and potential tsunamis.

NOAA Shares in Endeavor's Success
In the first flight of Endeavor since 2002, and with former Idaho elementary school teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan on board, the space shuttle landed safely at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, one day earlier than originally scheduled. Prompted by Hurricane Dean, the early homecoming was guided at several steps by NWS National Hurricane Center forecasts and advice from the NWS Space Meteorology Group (SMG), led by Tim Garner with support from Richard Lafosse, Brian Hoeth and the SMG team. Tuesday's landing was the fourth time in space shuttle history that NASA scheduled an arly landing based on SMG guidance. As in all shuttle flights, NOAA expertise again played a key role right from the August 8 launch, when acceptable weather conditions were identified for both the return-to-launch- site landing and three overseas landing sites in the event an emergency abort was required. Throughout the 14-day flight, SMG performed dual operations by supporting space shuttle on-orbit operations and advising the Johnson Space Center facility emergency managers and center director about the path of Hurricane Dean.

Each of the astronauts' four space walks required enhanced Space Environment Center support. In total, the Space Environment Center team conducted 15 space weather briefings. SMG provided 10 pre-launch and pre-landing formal weather briefings to NASA's Mission Management Team; 35 written weather forecast packages to NASA prior to and during the mission; and 55 face-to-face weather briefings to NASA flight controllers and mission managers during the mission. Adding to NOAA's support, NWS WFO Melbourne Florida expedited a repair for the NEXRAD WSR-88D radar. Electronic technicians worked overtime to repair the radar Monday night, ensuring that it would be available to SMG and NASA on landing day. Many thanks to NOAA's entire crew for guiding yet another safe launch, flight and landing.,

Unmanned Aircraft Ready for Hurricane Test
Researchers from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) are ready to test an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in hurricanes that come within range of the launching site at Naval Air Station Key West. If proven successful in hurricane strength winds, the Aerosonde UAS could become an important operational and research tool for obtaining near-surface observations in tropical cyclones at altitudes much lower than traditional manned aircraft can fly safely. These critical data will be obtained in near-real time and used at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center for immediate use in public forecasts. The data, which are being collected as part of NOAA's growing efforts to explore the potential of UAS to meet critical mission needs, are expected to foster better understanding and prediction of hurricanes and tropical storms, especially storm intensity. Researchers are in a position to launch up to two Aerosondes on overlapping missions into each storm passing in the vicinity of Key West through October. First tested during Tropical Storm Ophelia in 2005, the Aerosonde UAS is a small unmanned aircraft that can fly slightly over 1,000 total miles, with a mission lasting up to 18 hours. It can be launched from the top of a truck or sport utility vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour. NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, National Weather Service and NASA are among the partners working with AOML.

Ocean Exploration Headlines Science Advisory Board Meeting
Ocean exploration was the headline at this week’s NOAA Science Advisory Board meeting in Mystic, Connecticut. On Wednesday and Thursday, I took part in discussions that included the merger of NOAA’s ocean exploration and undersea research programs, updates to climate observation and analysis activities, and reports on hurricane intensity research. There was particular focus on extended continental shelf exploration, exploration of New England seamounts, and planning for the maiden voyage of the Okeanos Explorer -- the only U.S. government ship dedicated to exploring little known and unknown reaches of the Earth’s oceans. Currently undergoing extensive conversion in Seattle, NOAA will commission the Okeanos Explorer next summer. One of the ship’s primary missions will be to map deep water to 6,000 m. The Okeanos Explorer will be NOAA’s only ship with a dedicated science-class deep-ocean robot, or remotely operated vehicle, and there will be real-time broadband satellite data transmission. Telepresence technology will allow scientists to manage expeditions “virtually” from shore.

The Science Advisory Board is the only federal advisory committee with responsibility to advise the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere on long- and short-range strategies for research, education and the application of science to resource management and environmental assessment and prediction. To interact directly with NOAA leadership, advise NOAA on critical issues, and learn about important science-related activities within NOAA, the Science Advisory Board meets three times each year.

Celebrate 20 Years of Aquarius
With A Virtual Dive to the Ocean Floor

Graphic showing a cross section of the Aquarius laboratory by Yancey Labat. Copyright Scholastic Inc., reprinted by permission.

Congratulations to everyone connected with NOAA’s Aquarius, our planet’s only undersea science laboratory. Via Google Earth, you can now celebrate two decades of outstanding service with a virtual dive to the ocean floor at You also can participate virtually in a number of missions from this unique laboratory, which operates 4.5 kilometers off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Deployed next to a deep coral reef, 20 meters beneath the surface, Aquarius provides life support systems to allow scientists to live and work undersea. Owned by NOAA, Aquarius is managed by NOAA's Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Missions include live coverage of two NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, three coral research missions, and live interactive teaching and education events. More details at:

Fisheries Research Facility Dedicated in Juneau
Celebrating a 15-year effort to create Alaska’s largest fisheries research facility, Dr. William T. Hogarth, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, represented NOAA at dedication ceremonies on Tuesday for the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau. Bill joined Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski and other dignitaries in dedicating the 69,000 square foot facility, which opens the door to expanded fisheries research and new capabilities to meet the growing information needs of NOAA’s ecosystem approach to managing fisheries. In contrast with past facilities, the new Institute’s laboratories are larger and safer and provide increased scientific capabilities. In addition to chemistry, genetics and biology laboratories, there is a large wet lab; a necropsy room equipped to handle small marine mammals, large fish and sharks; an ichthyology laboratory for sorting and identification of specimens; and two large walk-in freezers. With nearly 2,000 square feet of enclosed space and 4,000 square feet of outdoor space, the wet lab can receive 1,200 gallons per minute of filtered sea water. The facility’s more than $1.25 million in new equipment will provide for improved gene sequencing work that will help federal and state fisheries managers track migratory species, such as salmon and halibut.

NOAA Tackles Urban River Issues
I am pleased that the “One NOAA Anacostia Project” is bringing together offices throughout NOAA to help address serious pollution concerns in the Anacostia River, which begins in Maryland, then flows over the border into Washington, DC where it joins the Potomac River. Along with Jack Dunnigan, Assistant Administrator of the National Ocean Service, and Tom Brosman, of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, I met recently with representatives of the Anacostia Watershed Society to examine collaborative approaches to urban river issues affecting the river and the Chesapeake Bay. Specific goals include restoration of wetlands and fish passages, remediation of contaminated sediments, trash and marine debris clean-up, and strengthened stewardship. NOAA has a proud track record of working with the Society, including collaboration on NOAA's Marine Debris Program, which has conducted environmental education programs in schools and on the river. Thanks to everyone working to keep this important collaboration moving.

“Your Ocean, Your Health” Spotlights Opportunities/Hidden Threats
“Hidden Threats and Exciting Opportunities in Products from the Sea,” the final seminar in a four-part “Your Ocean, Your Health” series, will be hosted on September 10 in Charleston by the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Hollings Marine Laboratory in partnership with the South Carolina Aquarium. Marine and medical scientists will explore the links between coastal and human health with a focus on producing and eating healthy seafood and discovering sea products beneficial to human health. Prior seminars have examined the tie between South Carolina tidal creeks and the health of Low Country residents; the tracking of chemicals and pathogens in coastal waters; and the broader story revealed by marine organism health. South Carolina Sea Grant, a co-sponsor of the four seminars, has posted materials at: The Hollings Marine Laboratory is a partnership between NOAA, the Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, College of Charleston, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

conrad lautenbacher signature
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
This message was generated for the Under Secretary of Commerce for
Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator by the NOAA Information
Technology Center/Financial and Administrative Computing Division