Collaborations under NOAA-Environment Canada MOU reaping mutual benefits

Date Posted: April 15, 2015

2014 EC/NOAA Marine workshop participants in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Now in its seventh year, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NOAA and Environment Canada (EC) is continuing to enhance the capabilities of both partners through a variety of innovative collaborations.

The goals of the MOU include improving the efficiency, compatibility, and effectiveness of the organizations’ operational programs under four priority themes — the Arctic, climate, marine, and hydrology — through the mutual sharing of knowledge, ideas, practices, and tools.

While it builds on efforts initiated through two earlier MOUs between the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) and NOAA’s weather and satellite services — and the theme leads are senior managers with MSC and NOAA — the broader scope of the current agreement has meant the addition of valuable expertise from across and outside EC and NOAA.

The steering committee that guides the work carried out under the MOU is composed of officials not only from EC but also from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada — which play an integral role in projects related to oceanic research and drought monitoring.

The strong working-level connections that have been forged between those involved on both sides of the border — and the evolution of an administrative process that focuses on projects rather than paperwork — have been major contributing factors to the initiative’s success so far.

Over the latest two-year project period, which ended in June 2014, a number of notable achievements were made in all four theme areas.

Laying the groundwork for improved services in the Arctic and other remote areas, EC and NOAA took part in several joint missions to test the capabilities of “unmanned aerial systems” (popularly referred to as drones) to collect meteorological data, map ice coverage, and track oil spills and icebergs. In addition to evaluating sensor and data-acquisition performance, the missions resulted in a greater understanding of the process and time required for airspace approvals.

Under the climate theme, a key success was the signing of the trilateral North American Climate Service Partnership by Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The ground-breaking agreement, which is aimed at promoting the sharing of data and best practices, will benefit a number of sub-projects in which the MSC and other arms of EC (such as Science and Technology Branch) are involved, including the North American Ensemble Forecast System. This will translate into forecasting improvements at the regional, national, and continental scales.

In the area of marine services, the MSC and the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) initiated a systematic process for regular personnel exchanges involving their marine forecasters. The first, which focused on the Great Lakes, saw one staff member from the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre and one from the Detroit Weather Office working shifts and shadowing staff at each other’s sites for three days. Future exchanges will expand into other border centres.

The visits aim to improve understanding of similarities and differences in operating procedures and share forecast techniques with an eye to eventually developing marine forecast “best practices”. Discussions were also initiated on ways to improve the consistency of marine forecasts and warnings through better cross-border coordination and potential joint training sessions. Plans have already been made for several NWS experts in near-shore marine forecasting to assist the Canadian team during the 2015 Pan Am and Paripan Am Games.

On the hydrology side, collaborations between EC and NOAA have focused on the sharing of methodologies and tools for monitoring and estimating snowpack, integrating data on snow-water equivalent, and modelling water levels in the Great Lakes. These efforts are ultimately aimed at improving the forecasting of water levels and availability for users of all kinds.

Many of the activities undertaken over the past two years are continuing in the current project period, which runs until June 2016. Priorities for this phase include providing ongoing support to the work of the Arctic Council — the chairmanship of which will transfer from Canada to the U.S. this year — implementing some of the sub-projects proposed under the trilateral climate partnership, and providing the most advanced and innovative services possible to participants, spectators, and organizers of the Pan Am and Paripan Am Games in Toronto this summer.