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The NOAA-Exploratorium Partnership

The NOAA-Exploratorium Partnership

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Exploratorium began an exciting long-term alliance in 2009 to present climate and ocean sciences to the public. NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, and coasts using cutting-edge research and high-tech instrumentation, and to share its knowledge with others. Teaming up with the Exploratorium enables NOAA to explore new methods of communicating its work using the creativity and educational expertise of the museum. The partnership involves codeveloping exhibits, online media, public programs, and research about learning, and it also provides professional development opportunities for NOAA scientists. The following are notable examples of our partnership projects.

Scientists-in-Residence Program

The Exploratorium invited teams of NOAA scientists from four research areas to be in residence at the museum. During this two-year project, the scientists trained our Explainers and collaborated with other museum staff to create exhibits and to develop and participate in public programs. Weather researchers, for example, presented Severe Storm Day so visitors could discover how scientists chase tornados, extreme hail, and thunderstorms. A highly instrumented “storm-chasing” vehicle, considerably dented from its time in severe weather, was part of the experience.

Deep collaborations between NOAA scientists and Exploratorium staff developed through the residency program; staff exchanges are at the heart of our partnership. Exploratorium staff have visited a number of NOAA research labs, and scientist residencies will continue at our new home on the Embarcadero. At Pier 15, NOAA scientists and museum staff will develop new visitor experiences that will be prototyped and refined in view of the public.

The Wired Pier Project

Our new waterfront location provides an exceptional opportunity to engage the public with the environmental sciences. Working with NOAA, we’re placing state-of-the-art sensors and scientific instruments that will gather data about the water, atmosphere, weather, and biological communities of San Francisco Bay. In the museum, an Environmental Station will display Bay conditions, weather, and air quality information from our instruments, exposing visitors to authentic data from the local environment. NOAA scientists will help interpret the data we collect, and NOAA will also connect the Exploratorium to broader networks included in their worldwide Ocean Observing Systems and the atmospheric observatories of their Global Monitoring Division. (NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which has been monitoring atmospheric change—especially in carbon dioxide levels—since the 1950s, also hosted the Exploratorium for our webcast of the 2012 transit of Venus.)

In addition to NOAA, the Wired Pier project involves a collaborative network of science institutions locally and along the West Coast. We offer scientists the opportunity to use our location for data collection and research, while the museum has access to the data to share with the public, providing an educational window into the research world.

Deep-Water Dock at the Piers

The Exploratorium provides docking facilities for NOAA research vessels and serves as an “educational port of opportunity.” Scientists from the ships are invited to use the museum’s life sciences lab to work on their sample collections and to give talks to the public about their research. There may also be opportunities for the public to tour the ships.

Okeanos Explorer

The Exploratorium transformed its webcast studio into an exhibit about deep sea exploration and the Okeanos Explorer, a NOAA ship dedicated to investigating largely unknown regions of the oceans. Spectacular video and live webcasts connected the ship in the Pacific with audiences at the Exploratorium and web viewers throughout the world as underwater volcanoes, hydrothermal vents, and strange and wondrous creatures from the bottom of the sea delighted and informed the public.