NOAA launches online climate portal

Site would combine and correlate information from Earth observation and modeling

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a prototype Web portal for scientific climate data at www.climate.gov, a one-stop source of data and services for policy-makers, scientists, educators, businesses and the public.

The Web site would serve as the public outlet for the proposed NOAA Climate Service, a new line office within the Commerce Department that would supply a growing demand for research and data on climate change.

“If we are able to form the new line office, the portal will be one of the channels for providing information to the public,” said David Herring, communications director for the NOAA Climate Program Office.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke launched the portal and announced the proposal for the new Climate Service on Monday, as Washington was cleaning up from one major snowstorm and preparing for a second that began battering the Mid-Atlantic the next day, leaving record snowfalls in the nation’s capital.

“Working closely with federal, regional, academic and other state and local government and private-sector partners, the new NOAA Climate Service will build on our success transforming science into usable climate services,” Lubchenco said.

“Final approval is made by Congress,” Herring said of the proposal. “It’s in their hands.”

The hope is to establish the new office in fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1. In the meantime the portal has begun integrating data from a number of other offices.

“It is still in prototype form,” Herring said. “It is still not a very deep or wide build. It really is only a beginning.”

The beginning has been a year in the making and is an effort by the National Weather Service; National Ocean Service, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Office; and the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.

“Each of these offices does have its own Web site,” Herring said. “The thinking was that there should be a way for the public to see integrated data on climate.”

The current version of the site actually is the third iteration, and NOAA invites feedback on it so that it can be further developed. “Our aim is to evolve it and built it out in a way that is responsive to requests.”

The site is hosted on the same servers that host other NOAA Web sites, and most of the development work was done in-house, although some outside experts were consulted. So far it is an unfunded project, supported by the donated time and personnel from the four contributing services. Data is organized under four tabs:

  • ClimateWatch Magazine: A popular, broad-based offering with videos and articles intended for the general public.
  • Data & Services: Intended for people who want to use NOAA climate data, such as resource managers, scientists and business people.
  • Understanding Climate: A synoptic digest of research to which NOAA has contributed for decision-makers and policy leaders.
  • Education: Targeted at educators who want to incorporate climate into the classroom.

There also is a Climate Dashboard with trend information on global temperatures, carbon dioxide levels, incoming sunlight, sea level and Arctic Sea ice.

Plans call for automating regular updates of this data, Herring said. “Right now there are a couple of datasets that don’t run right up to the present.” There also are plans for adding more vital signs to the dashboard, he said. “This is only a beginning.”

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