Ocean advocate dives into data

Henry Frey the new director of the National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) has managed to dovetail his personal interests with his professional life. As an oceanographer diver and former professor of oceanography his passion for the ocean overlaps on a daily basis with his job of managing the largest repository of oceanographic data in the world.

Water has always held a fascination for Frey who served as deputy director of the Office of Oceanic Research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) before assuming his new post. When he was three and a half he took a running leap off a pier into a lake while his father was busy pointing out the scenery to him. After he jumped in a second time his father decided it was probably time to teach him how to swim.

While in the Marine Corps Frey went through underwater swimmers' school at Key West Fla. and worked as a diver laying cables in rivers. He still dives enough to keep up his certification. That diving experience allows Frey to comprehend and experience small bits of the ocean first-hand. His work with the data center will help scientists fishermen and even laymen better understand the seas that take up the majority of the Earth's surface.

NODC is one of three data centers operated by NOAA. It is the single largest oceanographic data center in the world and is the nation's repository and dissemination center for global oceanographic data. The data archives amassed by NODC and other centers provide a record of environmental change on Earth and support numerous research and operational applications.

NODC disseminates its data on CD-ROM through the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service. It also is developing one-stop shopping for NOAA data over the Internet through the creation of a virtual data center. This center will make it possible for users to tap into and then meld data from NODC and the National Climatic and National Geophysical data centers without having to search each one separately Frey said. "The boundaries between the three data centers will be seamless to users in the virtual center " he said. "We see NODC as the central focus and manager for oceanographic data. We see ourselves as the designer and manager of a larger system that includes information nodes on oceanographic data at other locations."

Frey said his main goal is to "ensure we put into place user-oriented management strategies. We [want to] do business in a way that makes our data easily accessible by the user community which includes academic researchers engineering consulting firms state and local government organizations and other federal agencies and countries. Our purpose is to serve a user clientele."

He added that NODC will renew its emphasis on coastal data. "There are so many implications to fisheries maritime navigation safety recreational boating and fishing and to hazards such as the effects of hurricanes " Frey said. "There has been a tremendous amount of data collected in coastal areas over the last few decades. We have a fraction of that in our databases and we want to improve that. Computers are the vehicle that gets us from the data to the users."

Typically NODC adopts only proven technology Frey said. "We have people in NODC who look at unfolding technologies and who network themselves with others in NOAA who are also looking at the emerging technologies. They look at these and decide what the benefits would be in adopting them and what time would be an appropriate time to do so."

Frey said he sees his job as a ministry of sorts.

"It's the ministry of being part of the stewardship of the ocean. We're generally not supposed to mix religion and politics but that's the thought I often have."

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