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Learn more about these OCEAN and COASTAL RESEARCH areas...

Ecological Observing and Forecasting

For many years, NOAA has continuously improved its ability to provide timely and accurate forecasts of the conditions of Earth's environment. With advancements in observing and forecasting technology, NOAA is developing its capability to observe entire ecosystems and to predict ecosystem-wide changes before they occur.

What are ecosystems and why does NOAA forecast changes in them?

An ecosystem is a system in the environment formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with its environment. The distribution of organisms living in an ecosystem is determined by the conditions within the ecosystem. Changes in these conditions can alter the distribution and, ultimately, the health of the entire ecosystem. NOAA forecasts changes that may occur in ecosystems to promote a healthy environment.

Ecological Observations

Observations of current conditions in an ecosystem form the basis of all forecasts. Observations can be used to understand the Earth's climate system, global carbon cycle, global water cycle, nutrient pollution cycle, the multiplying effect of many stresses on an ecosystem, and the impacts of increased land use around coastal regions. These are among the many issues for which management and response activities will benefit from improved observations.

Vision for a Global Observing System:

NOAA Research is a leader in the effort to consolidate many existing systems with multiple uses and purposes into a more efficient, coordinated system, to meet the observing needs of climate, weather, and ocean/coastal user groups. The consolidated system is called a sustained global observing system. NOAA Research develops, maintains, and continually improves a number of critical systems that are part of the global network on behalf of the United States.

Observations to meet an ecosystem approach to management:

More than ever, the data collected from multiple systems can be applied to a variety of purposes. The most significant application of data is for input into forecast models used to predict changes in global weather, climate, or ocean, and now whole-ecosystem, patterns.

Data from NOAA Research observing systems, platforms, and research programs contribute to ecological forecasting. These systems, platforms, and programs include:

Ecological Forecasts

Rather than simply forecast physical conditions such as temperature or precipitation; now, biological, chemical, or physical data are being integrated to produce whole ecosystem forecasts to predict outbreaks of potentially damaging environmental conditions before they occur. Multidisciplinary research teams with expertise in biology, ecology, chemistry, oceanography, physics, hydrology, and even engineering, are essential to produce an accurate ecological prediction. NOAA has initiated a suite of ecological forecasts available to resource managers to support ecosystem management.

Examples of ecological predictions that are currently, or may soon be, produced by NOAA include:



NOAA Research programs that study Ecological Observing and Forecasting:

Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory
Earth System Research Laboratory
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
National Sea Grant Program



Additional Related Information:

NOAA article "Ecological Forecasting"
OAR Coral Reef Activities
NOAA National Ocean Service Ecological Forecasting page


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