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This Earth Day, explore how NOAA science informs environmental policy
Katie Valentine
/ Categories: Research Headlines, Climate

This Earth Day, explore how NOAA science informs environmental policy

April 22nd is Earth Day, and here at NOAA, we know a few things about the Earth. This year NOAA is celebrating the 50 year anniversary of several conservation acts, and also gearing up to support the new America the Beautiful initiative which aims to preserve and conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030. 

Having a better understanding of our changing ocean and atmosphere is key to taking actions that create real impact. Every day, the people of NOAA are supporting and conducting research that helps inform policy and educate decisionmakers about the state of the Earth. This research goes into models that help improve weather and climate forecasts, data products like maps showing global ocean carbon, and international reports, like the annual State of the Climate report.

Here are three ways our science helps inform environmental policy:

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Scientists deployed this biogeochemical Argo float named Europa in 2021.

Identifying changes through ocean observations and data

NOAA’s Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing (GOMO) Program plays a critical role in NOAA’s ocean research, supporting over one million ocean observations per day. These observations and data come from a variety of tools and instruments, such as Argo floats, drifting buoys, gliders, moored buoys, and research cruises. With more than two decades of data and a current fleet of about 4,000 robotic floats, the Argo Program has provided a baseline of temperature and salinity measurements of the upper ocean - nearly four times the ocean information as all other observing tools combined. Each year, about 500 scientific papers are published using Argo data, when this research makes news, decisionmakers can take note. In a 2020 paper published in Nature Climate Change, NOAA scientist Gregory Johnson and his colleague found that over the past 52 years, ocean warming trends dwarfs cooling trends. “Ocean warming is tightly linked to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, so global ocean temperature trends are an important yardstick for measuring climate change,” said Johnson. More specifically, ocean warming impacts marine ecosystems, fish populations, coral reef health - which can also impact the seafood and tourism industries. A better understanding of ocean trends like this can also help pinpoint appropriate solutions.

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Found at 1,875 meters (6,150 feet) depth on the slopes of Davidson Seamount during the 2006 Davidson Seamount: Exploring Ancient Coral Gardens expedition, this unidentified anemone resembles a Venus flytrap. Image courtesy of NOAA/MBARI.

Ocean exploration informs ocean protection

For over 20 years, NOAA Ocean Exploration has collected critical data from the ocean’s surface to its floor – information that has been used in conservation decisions surrounding some of our nation’s most important marine ecosystems.

For instance, expeditions supported by NOAA Ocean Exploration in the early 2000s revealed that the Davidson Seamount, an undersea mountain habitat off the coast of central California, was home to large coral forests, vast sponge fields, crabs, deep-sea fish, shrimp, basket stars, and high numbers of rare and unidentified species. This huge array of biodiversity illustrated the need to protect the seamount, and in 2008, the boundary of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was expanded to protect this fascinating and important habitat.

Find out more about the wonders NOAA Ocean Exploration uncovers in the deep sea - and how their work is used in conservation efforts.

Methane research helps lead to landfill policy

A 2018 study from NOAA’s Air Resources Lab and partners looked at methane emissions in the Washington, DC-Baltimore, MD region and found that landfills in Maryland were emitting more methane than previously thought. The lead researcher of the study, Xinrong Ren, shared the study’s findings with the Maryland Department of Environment, and Maryland began making policy changes regarding the landfills. Learn more about NOAA ARL’s atmospheric research.

Looking for more ways NOAA research is helping answer big questions about our environment? Check out our Earth Day coverage from 2021, 2020 and 2019. And learn how NOAA invests in our planet - and how you can get involved this Earth Day - from NOAA.gov.

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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.

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