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NOAA Administrator Visits Alaska, Outlines Priorities


The head of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration came to Alaska Tuesday.  She accompanied the Secretary of Commerce, who was carrying out an official visit.  In an interview with KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh, she discussed the administration’s current priorities.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Kathy Sullivan touched down in Anchorage on Tuesday for an official visit.  She was accompanying Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, in order to show the rapid pace of environmental change in Alaska, as well as to check in on local NOAA personnel.  KDLG got the chance to interview Sullivan, who said she was pleased to be back. 

“I’m delighted to be back up in Alaska. I’ve gotten to come into state episodically since the late 70s on different aspects of scientific work. It’s a place I love with great folks. We’ve got a fantastic NOAA team up here in state from down in the Aleutians all the way up to Barrow and it’s always a pleasure to get to be back in contact with them and get a close up look at what they’re doing and tell them how much we appreciate the great work that they do for Alaskans and the country.”

Sullivan has had a long career in science, having worked as an oceanographic officer in the US Navy and as a space shuttle astronaut, becoming the first American woman to carry out a spacewalk.  She was appointed deputy NOAA administrator in May 2011 and graduated from acting to full administrator in March of this year.  When asked about NOAA’s role, Sullivan said it was to act as an environmental intelligence agency, providing data and analysis about conditions in the oceans and atmosphere, as well as monitor larger issues such as global warming and ocean acidification.  As for her goals, she said two priorities were investing in more observation capacity, as well as improving NOAA’s weather services.  

“For us at NOAA, that means moving in a direction that ensures we are providing nationally consistant products and services and that we’re enabling and encouraging the changing innovations that make’s NOAA’s national weather service more nimble, more capable of continuous change and improvement, truly second to none in the twenty-first century.”

Together, Sullivan says these two components can help plan for, and even counter the effects of harmful weather conditions, as well as ocean and atmospheric phenomena. 

“We really aim to provide the information and services that help communities be more resilient, and I mean both ecologically, societally and economically resilient. All three of those dimensions together, you really can’t pull them apart. They’ve gotta be really intertwined carefully. That’s what the essence of resilience is. The question of our times is not if some next big event will happen, but as events of the last few years keep reminding us, it’s increasingly about when and what kind of a blow nature may deliver to our communities next and what effects that will have on our society and our economy.”

Sullivan said NOAA’s products aren’t necessarily prescriptive, but hopes the information within can help communities make appropriate policy decisions. 

“We don’t make Anchorage’s decisions. We don’t make Alaska’s decisions. Alaskans do, but the environmental intelligence that we can provide can be an important ingredient to you all making better and more timely decisions for your future.”

Sullivan will accompanying Pritzker as the Secretary meets with business and community leaders, native corporations, and NOAA personnel across the state, and getting a greater perspective on local ecologic, societal, and commercial issues.