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Home » NOAA Science Report features new data-gathering drones, advances in wind, weather and water forecasts

NOAA Science Report features new data-gathering drones, advances in wind, weather and water forecasts


Discovering a 207-year-old whaling ship, advancing air-quality forecasts, improving storm surge and wind forecasts, and deploying the first-ever drone-based tagging of endangered whales. These are a few of NOAA’s many notable scientific accomplishments from the past year that are featured in the 2022 NOAA Science Report, which emphasizes a wide range of impacts that NOAA science advancements have on the lives of Americans.

The newly released report includes more than 60 stories about NOAA’s 2022 research and development accomplishments across NOAA’s mission. Here are some key examples.

NOAA uncovers American  History in the Gulf of Mexico through telepresence

On February 25, 2022, NOAA Ocean Exploration, partners from SEARCH Inc., and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management discovered the remains of a 207-year-old whaling ship at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Discovery of the remains of brig Industry, the 64-foot long, two-masted wooden ship, has opened a window into a little-known chapter of American history when free descendants of enslaved Africans and Native Americans served as essential crew for the whaling industry. The discovery also demonstrated NOAA’s increasing ability to use telepresence to explore the mysteries of  the ocean. Using satellite communication, partner scientists on shore hundreds of miles from the Gulf helped the team on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer pilot a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the seafloor at a suspected location to discover the ship that had been lost for two centuries.

Advancing air-quality forecasts for public health

Poor air quality causes over 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S., exacerbates existing illness in vulnerable populations, and disproportionately affects underserved communities. NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to expand air quality observations taken by the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Advanced Baseline Imager to help serve millions of Americans in underserved rural areas. These hourly observations are now part of the EPA’s air quality information portal called AirNow designed to give Americans timely air quality information to protect public health.

To address the growing need for information on air quality impacts from increased wildfires exacerbated by climate change, NOAA’s National Weather Service, working with NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) and NESDIS, is leading an effort to build a new regional online air quality prediction system that will provide more accurate forecasts to local, state and national air quality forecasters and the general public.

Researchers climb mountains to improve weather and water forecasting tools

The Colorado River Basin is a primary water source for six states and 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles. But a 20-year drought and warming, exacerbated by climate change, have threatened the availability of water. With growing population, predictions of continuing drought, and an estimated 10-50% further reductions in Colorado River flow by mid-century, there’s a need for careful water resource management. To help address this, NOAA and partners are conducting a two-year Study of Precipitation, the Lower Atmosphere and Surface for Hydrometeorology, or SPLASH. A driving motivation for SPLASH is to gain a better understanding of the physical processes impacting the watershed to inform water managers and communities.

Improving forecasts for hurricanes, storm surge and wind

NOAA is putting into place a new three-dimensional component to enhance the Surge and Tide Operational Forecast System, which is the world’s highest resolution global ocean modeling system that provides forecast guidance for water levels caused by storm surge and tides. Developed by NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS), NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and academic partners, it is a key tool to protect lives and property and enable greater coastal resilience and navigation safety.

Another new observing capability provided by NESDIS is helping improve wind forecasts using synthetic aperture radar imagery to produce detailed wind speed estimates, which can be integrated into hurricane forecasts by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, the U.S. Military Joint Typhoon Warning Center and the U.S. Central Pacific Hurricane Center. And at a time when the electric industry is adding new renewable energy to power grids, research shows the improving accuracy of NOAA’s wind forecasts have resulted in an estimated $150 million annual energy savings for consumers.

NOAA deploys successful drone-based whale tagging

NOAA continues to advance uncrewed systems across its missions to gather data. One example is the work by NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, that have partnered with Syracuse University, Ocean Alliance and the University of Michigan to attach digital acoustic recording tags to sei whales using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones. This technique for monitoring endangered marine species provides benefits not possible with the traditional approach of scientists, which has been to travel by small boat to get close enough to a whale to attach a tag on its back with a long pole.  Use of the drone means tags can be attached from greater distance, making it safer for animals and people, and more efficient. Data collected from the tags will shed light on how whales respond to noise, which researchers will use to inform strategies to protect endangered whales from the potential impacts of offshore wind energy and other human activities.

NOAA leads in federal weather, oceanography, marine and freshwater biology, and fisheries research

The report also includes updates on NOAA’s peer-reviewed contributions to science. Between 2017 and 2021, NOAA authored or co-authored 10,551 publications about weather, water, and climate science. NOAA authors collaborated with authors at more than 6,000 institutions in 169 countries and territories. This reflects the long-term record of research that has increased our scientific understanding of Earth systems.

Copies of the full report may be downloaded or viewed on the NOAA Science Council website at:

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, NOAA  Communications, at

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