Ocean Currents

Nothing Beats an Astronaut and Oceanographer for Next NOAA Chief

Kathryn Sullivan, President Obama’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The first American woman to walk in space. An oceanographer and acting NOAA administrator. Former president and CEO of Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry. These are just some of the highlights in the career of Kathryn Sullivan, President Obama’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Needless to say, she has some serious science cred.

This is great news for NOAA and all those who care about a healthy ocean. If confirmed, the agency will have strong leadership from someone who already has a good sense of the agency, its mission and its challenges.

With Sullivan’s background in both the ocean and satellites—which represent both NOAA’s “wet” and “dry” sides—she will provide the guidance needed to make the right decisions.

When it comes to funding and resources, at times these dual missions are pitted against each other. As I’ve previously written, Congress must maintain balanced investments across NOAA’s missions. Americans shouldn’t have to choose between weather satellites and ocean and coastal resources that support and protect our coastal economies and communities. NOAA’s “wet side” programs contribute to disaster preparedness and mitigation, and support severe storm tracking and weather forecasting systems.

With Sullivan’s background, we expect her to understand the importance of supporting both sides, while finding the right balance across NOAA’s missions.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Sullivan faces may be working in today’s political climate. Some lawmakers in Congress don’t have the best track record when it comes to supporting our ocean. Whether it’s working on fisheries, climate or satellites, these tasks take courage. This job won’t be easy, but who better to take that on than a woman who has already proven to be a pioneer?

We look forward to hearing more from Sullivan and urge Congress to swiftly approve her nomination. We need smart, savvy and tough leaders defending our ocean right now, and Sullivan is the right pick for the job.

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