What do you think of when someone says NOAA? In Hawaii, we may think ‘oooh, marine biology!’ because of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in our (watery) back yard. Most people not as enlightened as us would ask ‘How’s the weather?’ This would have been me until Tuesday 28 July, 2015, when AHA sponsored a site tour for its members. There is so much more to NOAA.
NOAA is composed of six departments, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; National Marine Fisheries Service; National Ocean Service; National Weather Service; Office of Marine and Aviation Operation; and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
Until very recently, the Hawaii components of these offices were scattered across the islands. By April 2014 all had been consolidated into the purpose built NOAA Daniel K. Inouye Regional Center based out on Ford Island. When we had gathered in the stunning atrium of the new center, our host, Librarian Ani Turner, introduced us to Wende Goo, communications director and public affairs, who gave us some background on Ford Island and the new center.
Mokuʻumeʻume was renamed Ford Island in the late 1800 for the island’s then owner, Dr. Seth Porter Ford. In 1916 it was sold to US Army for use as an air strip and for naval operations. In 1964 it was designated a National Historic Landmark for its witness to the start of World War II.
The photo at the top shows how two of the original airplane hangars were renovated and connected by new construction. Hangar facades and some features were historically preserved and house the research labs and offices. The new central atrium contains public areas, including the library and tsunami learning center which we visited later.
The building is LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) gold certified. One of the ‘coolest’ things about it is its solar powered passive cooling system where air is blown over cold deep-sea water to cool building. Quite a feat in a more than 40 foot high glass box! Wende said it cost $335,000.00 to construct the building and it is projected to save $50,000 a year in our tax payer dollars in operating costs.
After this introduction, Patty Miller, Outreach Coordinator, demonstrated Science on a Sphere (SOS) developed by NOAA as an outreach tool for their educational program.
SOS is a six foot diameter globe animated by computers and video projectors that can demonstrate an astounding array of information. Patty started us off with what you would expect, animated data of last week’s weather, showing cloud movement and current patterns. She then showed us wave amplitude and tracking of actual tsunamis, including the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.
But SOS can do so much more! She demonstrated tracking animal populations and their movements, the changing polar ice caps over the decades (the shrinkage is very scary), night lights over the globe (America has a LOT) and even airplane routes. We were a pretty good audience, as appreciative and enthusiastic as kids about the amazing things she showed us.
Ani then took us to the brand new library for the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. It took 8 years to plan the 5,700 square foot space and the library is a little gem. You enter from the main atrium through a glass door in the center of floor to ceiling glass walls. The counters and shelving in the reading area are made from Hawaiʻi Island ohiʻa wood and the seating area furnished with comfortable chairs.
This is all Ani’s doing. She has been the sole librarian for 14 years, caring for the collection and the taking care of the needs of the staff as well as the public.
NOAA has a network of about 20 libraries across the nation, most geared to the specific needs of their professional staff. This particular library focuses on Pacific marine sciences and fisheries. Because the scientists need to keep up with current research, the collection leans more towards scientific journals and articles than books.
Ani purchases based on staff requests and staff can borrow this material for as long as they need it. Those collections not currently in use are housed on shelves behind the reading area. She has a small climate controlled room for rare books and those that are in fragile condition.
Like most of us, she is trying to digitize the collection as time and resources allow. The question came up about what can be made public and what should not be. As an example, she has cruise reports- all correspondence and documentation as well as research results- dating back to 1949. The actual reports have been digitized and are on the web. Associated materials like memos and other correspondence are not. Hmmm…. A Collections Quandary! Perhaps there will be more discussion on this at the February 13, 2016 annual meeting- join us and see!
The question was asked about public access. Ani explained that as a federal institution, the collection is free and open to the public. NOAA maintains an on-line public catalogue of all their holdings. However, because of the high level of science carried out here, most of it is too arcane for your typical high school science project.
We then, reluctantly, had to leave the library to go up the glass fronted elevator (my favorite kind) to the third floor where the Tsunami Information Center is located. Terry Fukuji explained that they work with, but are separate from the Pacific Tsunami Center. The Tsunami Information Center focuses on outreach and training locally as well as nationally and internationally. Like the library, they had many pamphlets, maps and handouts that we were welcome to take. This library was mandated in 1965 and currently has five staff members plus a vacant office manager position.
They are also free and open to the public and while you can’t check out these materials, you are free to do on-site research as much as you like. This is a main stop for school group tours and one of the ‘funnest’ displays was an acrylic diorama with ACTUAL WATER where you could push down on a plunger to simulate tsunami wave action. One of our members created a wave big enough to knock down the plants at the top!
Our tour was completed by Chad Yoshinaga who told us more about the research side of NOAA. Chad has 22 years on the job as a Fisheries biologist. He gets to go out on the ships to gather science data that the resource managers will then use to determine national policies and procedures. One of the services they perform is to help injured animals, like monk seals that take hooks in their mouths or turtles tangled up in trash and fishing debris. Takeaway lesson: Let them know immediately if you see an injured animal and don’t try to help it. They have specific tools and procedures they use to track and capture the animals that we can easily mess up by ‘helping!’
He took us outside the building to see from afar two of the research vessels that were currently in port and the animal care facility. Interesting to note that the deep sea well that provides water to cool the building also fills the tanks in the animal care facility.
The Inouye Regional Center is an amazing place with even more impressive people working in it doing phenomenal research. If you have a chance, you should drop by or at least check out their web site.
By Linda Hee