I’ve been lucky enough to see our fragile planet from outer space and from the depths of the ocean floor. From these views, the intertwining between the sea, land, and atmosphere are clear — it’s a vast system of systems. And, thanks to technological and scientific advancements, we are the first generation of people to be able to view the Earth in this way — the first to live with a digital globe.
The planet we see today is very different than the one I saw from inside the Space Shuttle 30 years ago. Global sea levels have risen eight inches since 1880 and are expected to rise another one to four feet by 2100. The last two decades of the 20th century have been the hottest in the last 400 years. Water shortages will impact one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states by 2050. And the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
The Earth is changing and we must adapt and mitigate. The members of the American Planning Association know this all too well. Each day, planners are confronted with the challenges of designing communities capable of withstanding Mother Nature.
NOAA is proud to provide many of the science-based tools, information, data, and services planners, emergency managers, elected officials, and others need to reduce vulnerabilities and mitigate risk. Each day, we’re driving innovation across the agency to deliver better predictions, better forecasts, better products, and better accuracy so that communities can prepare for, respond to, and recover from the damage that weather-, water-, and climate-related events can cause.
All of these challenges present opportunities. With more advanced capacities in the way of instrumentation, sensing, analysis, communication, and integration into the fabric of our societies, to name a few, we have only just begun to make meaningful understanding of this planet; the type of understanding that provides this community a holistic understanding of the natural world, right into the palm of your hand.
Only through sustained engagement and continuous dialogue with all levels of the planning community — in venues ranging from international forums to small town meetings — can we continue to develop user inspired and user-oriented resources that provide the right insight, at the right time, for the right place, and ultimately provide the insights to spur resilience across our communities.
In the face of unprecedented challenges, I am proud of the groundwork we have laid to ensure that the relationship of our two organizations is one predicated on progress and sustained by a mutual desire to drive the needle forward.
About the Author
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. An accomplished oceanographer, she was appointed NOAA’s Chief Scientist in 1993. At NOAA her work has spanned weather and water services, climate science, integrated mapping, and more. Her impressive expertise reaches the frontiers of space as well as sea. In 1978 she became one of the first six women to join the NASA astronaut corps, and she was the first American woman to walk in space. During her 15-year tenure, she flew on three shuttle missions, including the one that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.
Image: View of Earth as captured by the NOAA’s GOES-East satellite. Courtesy NASA/NOAA/GOES Project.