National Ocean Service

The National Ocean Service (NOS), an office within the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is responsible for preserving and enhancing the nation's coastal resources and ecosystems along 95,000 miles (153,000 km) of shoreline bordering 3,500,000 square miles (9,100,000 km2) of coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean waters. Its mission is to "provide science-based solutions through collaborative partnerships to address evolving economic, environmental, and social pressures on our oceans and coasts." NOS works closely with many partner agencies to ensure that ocean and coastal areas are safe, healthy, and productive. National Ocean Service scientists, natural resource managers, and specialists ensure safe and efficient marine transportation, promote innovative solutions to protect coastal communities, and conserve marine and coastal places. NOS is a scientific and technical organization of 1,700 scientists, natural resource managers, and specialists in many different fields. NOS delivers a dynamic range of nationwide coastal and Great Lakes scientific, technical, and resource management services in support of safe, healthy, and productive oceans and coasts. NOS develops partnerships to integrate expertise and efforts across all levels of government and with other interests to protect, maintain, and sustain the viability of coastal communities, economies and ecosystems.

National Ocean Service
Agency overview
Formed1970 (1970)
JurisdictionFederal government of the United States
Headquarters1305 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
38°59′30″N 77°01′48″W
Employees1,259 (FY 2012)[1]
Annual budgetUS$559.6 million (FY 2012)[2]
Agency executive
  • Dr. Russell Callender[3], Assistant Administrator, National Ocean Service
Parent agencyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


As one of six NOAA Line Offices, NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) observes, studies, and manages the nation's coastal and marine resources. NOS measures and predicts coastal and ocean phenomena, protects large areas of the oceans, works to ensure safe navigation, and provides tools and information to protect and restore coastal and marine resources. NOAA's National Ocean Service is composed of seven program and two staff offices.

Program offices

Staff offices

Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) and its predecessors have gathered oceanographic data along our nation's coasts for over 200 years to protect life, property, and the environment. Serving both the public and other government agencies, CO-OPS is the authoritative source for accurate, reliable, and timely water-level and current measurements that support safe and efficient maritime commerce, sound coastal management, and recreation. The combined efforts, knowledge, and experience of CO-OPS's technicians, scientists, and engineers working to carry out a central mission has led to the development of a reliable center of expertise for coastal physical oceanography.[4] CO-OPS is composed of four divisions:

Field Operations Division

The Field Operations Division (FOD) operates and maintains all oceanographic and Great Lakes observing systems required to meet CO-OPS' mission objectives. The Division ensures the continuous operations of navigation and other real-time observing systems needed to support the protection of life and property. FOD also operates the Ocean Systems Test and Evaluation Facility (OSTEF) in order to support Requirements and Development Division (RDD), and Information Systems Division (ISD) development efforts. FOD operates equipment to test and evaluate new observing systems and software modules developed to support NOS mission objectives. The Division: installs, documents, operates and maintains CO-OPS measurement systems (e.g., NWLON, PORTS); conducts field reconnaissance and geodetic operations to include the establishment, leveling, documentation, and inspection of NOS benchmarks; and provides training in the installation, operation and maintenance of CO-OPS observing equipment.


Oceanographic Division

The Oceanographic Division ensures the quality of all data collected by CO-OPS, and produces/disseminates operational products from this data stream. The Division monitors the performance of all CO-OPS observing systems and reports discrepancies to appropriate Center personnel. The Division performs operational data quality control/data analysis; produces oceanographic products; manages the content of CO-OPS data/product delivery systems; develops web page services; distributes real-time data to CO-OPS customers; produces/distributes CD-ROM products; provides information for matters such as litigation and boundary disputes (e.g., certified water level and benchmark information); provides technical assistance to customers regarding the use of CO-OPS products and services; designs new products and services to meet user needs, and maintains customer lists, billing information and accounting procedures to ensure the accurate accounting of revenues collected through user fees.

Engineering Division

The Engineering Division establishes observation and analysis requirements for CO-OPS based on the assessment of user/customer needs. The Division also manages the Ocean Systems Test and Evaluation Program (OSTEP) and its associated test facilities. The Division develops new oceanographic measurement systems and techniques to improve the safety of marine navigation. The Division: develops and issues standard operating procedures, project instructions, and manuals, to guide the operation and maintenance of CO-OPS oceanographic and meteorological measurement systems; prepares measurement requirements (based on tidal zoning) for hydrographic or photogrammetric field surveys, and to support other NOS requirements needs for water level and current information; prepares and monitors interagency agreements, technology transfer agreements and work plans; prepares and administers contracts; provides technical assistance and guidance to other countries, agencies, and the public in the establishment and operation of water level and current measurement stations; and develops/integrates measurement and telemetry systems needed to support CO-OPS activities.

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) provides research, scientific information and tools to help balance the nation's ecological, social and economic goals. The research and tools provided are central to addressing coastal issues raised in legislation and NOAA's priorities.[5] NCCOS was formed within the National Ocean Service (NOS) in March 1999 as the focal point for coastal ocean science. Research areas and strategy were selected in response to Federal legislation, stakeholder input, and in concert with scientific expertise and capabilities. NCCOS has five centers with specific capabilities and research expertise in coastal and ocean issues. Three of the centers are dedicated research laboratories, another conducts research through analyses of field data, and one funds research with competitive grants.

Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research (CCEHBR)[13]

Answers questions about the impacts of environmental stress and change on the function ecosystems and health of coastal resources and people.

Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research (CCFHR)[14]

Conducts research on the effects of coastal habitat change and restoration on living marine resources such as seagrasses, marshes, reefs, and fish.

Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA)[15]

Conducts field research and data analysis to support marine resource management at local, regional, and national levels.

Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR)[16]

Administers NCCOS Extramural Research - a portfolio of 11 programs consisting of 73 multi-year awards held by over 370 university, state and government scientists and managers.

Cooperative Oxford Laboratory (COL)[17]

The Cooperative Oxford Laboratory (COL) research mission is to combine the unique scientific, response, and management capabilities of NOAA, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Coast Guard to identify and evaluate actions and policies that will protect, restore, and secure the health of the Chesapeake Bay and other threatened coastal marine ecosystems.

Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML)[18]

The Hollings Marine Laboratory studies the complex interaction between marine environments, aquatic organisms and their connections to human health. The research required to address the interactions requires an interdisciplinary approach that our partnership fosters.

Office of Coast Survey

Provides navigation products and services that ensure safe and efficient maritime commerce on America's oceans and coastal waters, and in the Great Lakes.[6] OCS consists of the following offices:

  • Marine Chart Division
  • Hydrographic Surveys Division
  • Navigation Services Division
  • Coast Survey Development Lab

Office for Coastal Management

Established in 2014 when NOAA combined two offices: the Coastal Services Center and the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. In addition to implementing specific initiatives, a top priority for NOAA's Office for Coastal Management is to unify efforts to make communities more resilient. Many organizations are involved, including the private sector, nonprofits, the scientific community, and all levels of government. The Office for Coastal Management works to be a unifying force in these efforts, providing unbiased NOAA data and tools and providing opportunities for the community to come together to define common goals and find ways to work smarter by working together. Issues run the gamut from protecting endangered species to erosion to generating better building codes for storm-resistant buildings.[7] The OCM has four programs:

Coastal Zone Management

The National Coastal Zone Management Program comprehensively addresses the nation's coastal issues through a voluntary partnership between the federal government and coastal and Great Lakes states and territories. Authorized by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, the program provides the basis for protecting, restoring, and responsibly developing our nation's diverse coastal communities and resources. Currently 34 coastal states participate. While state partners must follow basic requirements, the program also gives states the flexibility to design unique programs that best address their coastal challenges and regulations. By leveraging both federal and state expertise and resources, the program strengthens the capabilities of each to address coastal issues.[19]

Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP)

NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) is a cross-cutting program that brings together expertise from a wide array of NOAA programs and offices in the National Ocean Service (NOS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). The CRCP was established in 2000 to help fulfill NOAA's responsibilities under the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 (CRCA) and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (established by Presidential Executive Order 13089 on Coral Reef Protection). The mission of the CRCP is to protect, conserve, and restore coral reef resources by maintaining healthy ecosystem function. CRCP focuses on four main pillars of work: increase resilience to climate change, reduce land-based sources of pollution, improve fisheries' sustainability, and restore viable coral populations. In strong partnership with local managers, CRCP addresses strategic coral reef management needs in a targeted, cost-effective, and efficient manner.

CRCP funds and equips reef conservation activities by NOAA and its partners in the seven U.S. states and jurisdictions containing coral reefs (American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands), uninhabited islands including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Pacific Remote Island Areas, and the Pacific Freely Associated States (Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau).[20] CRCP supports multiple cross-cutting activities and associated products including the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program[21] and Coral Reef Watch.[22]

Digital Coast

This NOAA-sponsored website is focused on helping communities address coastal issues and has become one of the most-used resources in the coastal management community. The dynamic Digital Coast Partnership, whose members represent the website's primary user groups, keeps the effort focused on customer needs.[23]

National Estuarine Research Reserves

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 28 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Established through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the reserves represent a partnership program between NOAA and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding and national guidance, and each site is managed on a daily basis by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.[24]

Office of National Geodetic Survey

The Office of National Geodetic Survey (NGS) provides the framework for all positioning activities in the Nation. The foundational elements - latitude, longitude, elevation, shoreline information and their changes over time - contribute to informed decision making and impact a wide range of important activities including mapping and charting, navigation, flood risk determination, transportation, land use and ecosystem management. NGS' authoritative spatial data, models, and tools are vital for the protection and management of natural and manmade resources and support the economic prosperity and environmental health of the Nation.[8] The NGS consists of six divisions:

  • Geodetic Services: provides a direct relationship between NGS and its customers through the state advisor program, geodetic equipment testing and evaluation, product evaluation, marketing, distribution, and various training programs.
  • Spatial Reference Systems: maintains the Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) network and plans, coordinates and provides technical guidance for geodetic field projects and products required to preserve and develop the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS).
  • Remote Sensing: involves all aspects of airport charting and shoreline mapping using traditional methods while exploring more efficient technologies to complement current practices.[25]
  • Observations & Analysis: conducts geodetic surveys to support the National Spatial Reference System, the production of airport obstruction charts, the location of aeronautical aids to navigation, and the production of coastal maps, charts, and special products in the coastal zone. The Division also conducts field surveys required to support photogrammetric and hydrographic surveys.
  • Systems Development: administers the central processing units, disk and storage systems, telecommunications and network systems, and peripheral input and output systems for NGS. The Division also researches, designs, develops, implements, and conveys the operational use of computer-assisted systems for the acquisition, reduction, analyses, display, and transmission of geodetic, photogrammetric, and remote sensing source data.
  • Geosciences Research: coordinates the research,development and management of new geodetic data products. The Division also designs and programs scientific and geodetic software applications and procedures.[26]

Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 13 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.[9] These monuments are:

Office of Response and Restoration

NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) is a center of expertise in preparing for, evaluating, and responding to threats to coastal environments, including oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, and marine debris. To fulfill its mission of protecting and restoring NOAA trust resources, the Office of Response and Restoration:[10]

  • Provides scientific and technical support to prepare for and respond to oil and chemical releases.
  • Determines damage to natural resources from these releases.
  • Protects and restores marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs.
  • Works with communities to address critical local and regional coastal challenges.

OR&R has three divisions:

Emergency Response Division

The Emergency Response Division (ERD) of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific expertise to support an incident response. Under the National Contingency Plan, NOAA has responsibility for providing scientific support to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) for oil and hazardous material spills. To support this mandate, ERD provides 24-hour, 7 day a week response to spill events. Find out more about ERD's work with oil and chemical spills.[29]

Assessment and Restoration Division

The Assessment and Restoration Division (ARD), formerly Coastal Protection and Restoration Division (CPRD), is responsible for evaluating and restoring coastal and estuarine habitats damaged by hazardous waste releases, oil spills, and vessel groundings. To fully accomplish this mission, ARD joined with NOAA's General Counsel for Natural Resources and Office of Habitat Conservation to create the Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP). This successful NOAA partnership tackles the challenges of environmental damages to ensure marine natural resources are protected and restored. The Assessment and Restoration Division comprises NOAA biologists, toxicologists, ecologists, policy analysts, information specialists, attorneys, geologists, environmental engineers, and economists. Together, they help assess ecological risk and environmental and economic injury from contamination and ship groundings. In particular, ARD has developed specific expertise in aquatic risk assessment techniques, contaminated sediment issues, and data interpretation.[30]

The ARD publishes the Screening Quick Reference Tables (SQuiRT cards), for rapid evaluation of water, sediment and soil contamination.[31]

Marine Debris Division

Since 2005, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has served as a centralized program within NOAA, coordinating, strengthening, and promoting marine debris activities within the agency and among its partners and the public. The NOAA Marine Debris Program undertakes national and international efforts focused on researching, reducing, and preventing debris in the marine environment. The program continues to support and work closely with various partners across the U.S. to fulfill its mission.[32]

Integrated Ocean Observing System Program

The Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) is a national-regional partnership working to provide new tools and forecasts to improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect our environment. Integrated ocean information is now available in near real time, as well as retrospectively. Easier and better access to this information is improving our ability to understand and predict coastal events - such as storms, wave heights, and sea level change. Such knowledge is needed for everything from retail to development planning.[11]

See also


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