Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the Oso landslide, a devastating event that, along with the historic Carlton Complex wildfires and disasters such as the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, continues to shape the conversation about what it means to be resilient in the face of more frequent and severe weather- and climate-related events.
In Washington, flooding and permanent inundation stress state, tribal and local infrastructure and can displace communities, disrupt economic production and interrupt transport. Declines in salmon populations and natural and human pressures on critical habitat challenge management and stewardship efforts.
Ocean acidification threatens marine life. Coastal communities grapple with sea level rise and erosion. The good news is that, increasingly, communities around the country, including those in Washington are preparing for change.
Supporting America’s communities to become resilient to present and evolving environmental challenges is at the core of NOAA’s commitment to protect lives and livelihoods, and improve long-term sustainability. Through public investments in our observing systems – from ships, planes and satellites to buoys and tide gauges – NOAA provides the environmental intelligence required to reduce uncertainty, make smart decisions and effectively target our efforts to address some of today’s most challenging issues.
NOAA’s 1,500 employees in Washington state work to provide communities here with products and services, based on the best available science, to better understand the current and future state of our environment.
In partnership with state, local and tribal governments, the academic community, nongovernmental organizations and others, NOAA is working to ensure that sound science informs the decisions essential to building social, economic and environmental resiliency.
Data and forecasts are helping public utilities and others anticipate water challenges arising from Washington’s warmest winter since the Dust Bowl era. Scientific research is supporting the state’s $107 million per year shellfish industry by enhancing early warnings about harmful algal blooms and strategies for mitigating the effects of ocean acidification. Detection and forecast tools are being refined for tsunami preparedness in the event of a Cascadia mega-quake. Habitat projects are providing refuge for young fish in rivers around Puget Sound where salmon are at-risk.
Information and services from NOAA’s National Weather Service mean that more than 40 communities in Washington are recognized as “Storm Ready.” And, with many partners, NOAA is fostering a comprehensive approach to floodplain management, “Floodplain by Design,” combining efforts developed previously as single-issue programs.
Demand for environmental intelligence and for data, tools, products and services is only increasing, especially as we see more changes to our planet happening at an alarming rate. At no time has it been more critical to be ready, responsive and resilient to natural disasters and long-term adverse environmental change.
Kathryn D. Sullivan, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is an oceanographer and was the first American woman to walk in space. She wrote this for The News Tribune.