Government agency shares latest weather, oceanic data at local event

On same day of new satellite launch, NOAA informs public about its studies at annual function

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
During the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 11th annual interactive event on Nov. 18 at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Justin Greenman, NOAA west-coast assistant California Stranding Network coordinator, and Marianne Rogers, NOAA intern specializing in whale entanglement data, provided information about endangered mammal species, such as the Sperm Whale and the Guadalupe Fur Seal.

In a quiet, early morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this past Saturday, the booming sound of the first Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) soaring for liftoff interrupted the silence at the site, marking the beginning of an era of advanced weather-forecasting technology.

The satellite is the first in a series of future polar-orbiting models that will streamline and improve the timeliness and accuracy of US weather forecasts to prepare for natural disasters or storms.

NASA launched the device at around 1am on Saturday, Nov. 18, for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a government agency that studies the conditions of the ocean and the atmosphere, according to the NOAA’s website.

That very same day marked the NOAA’s 11th annual interactive event at the Aquarium of the Pacific, where the public had the opportunity to discuss information with marine biologists and oceanographers about sea-habitat conservation, weather warnings, aquaculture, endangered species and other topics. The launch of the JPSS-1 is just one of the many recent advancements the NOAA has accomplished.

Jim Milbury, NOAA public affairs officer of its west-coast region fisheries service, told the Signal Tribune at the event Saturday that interacting with experts gives locals a better understanding of what the organization is studying.

“[…] it’s an opportunity for us to come together and show the public what services we provide to them on an annual basis,” Milbury said. “It’s real fun for us. […] There are so many branches of NOAA that it helps the public understand some of the issues that we’re working with as far as federal fisheries, the weather [and] satellite tracking for weather storms. It’s just a real effective way to deal one-on-one with people and let them know what we’re doing.”

Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist with the NOAA’s National Weather Service, said the agency utilizes advanced, hi-tech technology, such as the GOES-16 satellite that is orbiting outer space, to provide 24/7 imagery to retrieve data and utilize manpower to decipher the information and make educated decisions about the potency of certain storms.

“Our main mission is to save lives and property, and we do that by issuing weather forecasts through the next seven days and then any specific storm systems that are coming into Southern California, we are monitoring that,” Boldt said. “And, if it’s needed, we’ll issue warnings. That’s where we help people get out of those storms and prepare in advance. We’re here to provide information about how people can get prepared […] and how to get warnings to get them that information.”

The NOAA also has divisions dedicated to repairing coastal habitats and mitigating environmental damage.

Stacie Smith, NOAA west-coast region marine habitat resource specialist, said the NOAA Restoration Center works on restoring said coastal habitats, from headwaters to ocean, through permitting tools, strategic funding and other methods.

Matt Dorsey, data manager with the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration, said his division complements the restoration center’s goal of revitalizing the coast through responding to situations that involve oil spills or pollution emissions.

“[…] and, afterward, we do damage assessment and restoration to repair the ecosystem,” Dorsey said. “So, it’s all about sharing the coast and making sure everybody can enjoy [it] and holding those accountable for major pollution [damage].”’

Repairing the region also involves the preservation of wildlife, both on land and sea, that serve profound roles in the ecosystem.

Justin Greenman, NOAA west-coast assistant California Stranding Network coordinator, said the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), enacted by Congress in 1972, established a national policy to help prevent the extinction or depletion of marine-mammal populations from human activities.

During that time, marine mammals were the victims of bycatch– which means the animals are taken into fisheries and hunted in other areas concurrently. As a result, marine-mammal populations began decreasing drastically.

“What we’ve seen is many species have fantastic comebacks from that,” Greenman said of the protection act, citing gray whales and northern elephant seals as examples of mammals who have rebounded from near extinction. “[…] And the important part about that is that many of them as mammals are sentinels for ocean health. So, they can tell us about what’s going on in the ocean.”

Greenman explained that when a marine mammal consumes seafood and contracts some disease or experiences a health concern, it can be a telling sign that there is contaminated food in the ocean.

“They’re canary in the coal mines for ocean health in a way, because they’re mammals– what affects them would also affect us,” he said.

The MMPA also makes the importing or selling of goods of any marine mammal on the endangered species list illegal, which includes the sale of body parts. On display at the aquarium were confiscated goods derived from mammal remains.

Marine-mammal products, confiscated by officials throughout the country, were on display at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Nov. 18 during the 11th annual National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) interactive event. Justin Greenman, NOAA west-coast assistant California Stranding Network coordinator, said that, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, marine-mammal populations are protected from human activities.

The Southern California steelhead, a highly endangered species, is a fragile type of trout that Darren Brumback, NOAA fisheries biologist, discussed with the public that Saturday.

“[People] are more familiar with rainbow trout, which is the same species as the steelhead,” he said. “[…] Their demise has been due to urbanization and our existing infrastructure, as well as just the rugged nature in Southern California for this species. We more associate them with the cold-water streams in Northern California or Oregon or Washington, but they can and continue to persist in Southern California, albeit in very, very low numbers. So, part of my job is to promote the recovery and the protection of this species.”

For a rainbow trout to be categorized as a steelhead, they must migrate from their typical fresh-water environment and venture into the ocean and mature. The environment of the ocean, abundant with even more food resources, causes the trout to grow more rapidly, according to Brumback.

“[…] like many other things in nature, they have a role that may not be readily recognized, to the point of things that we may not even know or haven’t discovered about them,” he said. “But, they certainly play a role in the overall ecology, food for other animals […] and part of the overall cycle of life and contribution to the natural environment.”

Rainbow trout, on display at the Aquarium of the Pacific, is a species of fish that is genetically identical to the steelhead, according to Darren Brumback, fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At the NOAA’s annual interactive event at the aquarium on Nov. 18, Brumback explained that a steelhead is a form of rainbow trout that has returned to fresh water to reproduce after living away for a few years in the ocean. The cycle causes a slight change in the fish’s biology, primarily with its size.

Abalone, marine snails, play an important role in the ecosystem, as well, stabilizing kelp forests and rocky reefs, according to Eric Chavez, NOAA’s west-coast region marine habitat resource specialist.

“[…] They were used as jewelry by the Native Americans,” he said. “They are also a very important food resource, which is a part of the reason why the [white abalones] are so heavily hit over harvest.”

Chavez was also present at the event to discuss the importance of sustaining a healthy environment through the development of green-friendly habits, such as recycling.

“As important as recycling is, it’s really the last step in that process,” he said. “What you really want to do is use less. You want to get less disposable things. You want to reduce plastic bags and all that sort of thing. […] The similarity between a plastic bag and a jellyfish, a very important food resource for sea turtles […] when [the plastic bags] hit the ocean, sea turtles will think they’re fish, and they’ll eat them. […] It’s actually causing physical harm to our species.”

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