What was once unexplored, even unseen, can now be accessed with ease and shared an infinite number of times thanks to the NOAA Photo Library. As minute as Earth is to the universe, it can seem vast and infinite to its inhabitants. We simply cannot be everywhere at once and see every inch of the world within our lifetime. Photography brought us the closest way to share our knowledge and experience with someone else, someone unknown to us and perhaps hundreds of miles away. Photographs can travel the vast surface of the Earth in the time it takes to release the shutter of a camera. They help educate people on any facet of our environment—where words fail to capture the complexity of a coral reef, a photograph fills in the gaps. There are a myriad of resources for finding these images, yet few are as extensive and thorough as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Photo Library, which carries a treasure trove of copyright-free photographs. arct0040 After retiring from his position as a NOAA Corps Captain in 1995, Albert “Skip” Theberge began working as a member of its Library’s reference staff. In 1997, Janet Ward was responsible for designing the NOAA’s homepage and went to him looking for historic imagery. When she saw his personal archives, she realized the potential and worked with him to start the NOAA Photo Library. From Theberge’s original 4,000 photographs and documents, it evolved into the extensive stock agency it is today, with over 54,000 images of the natural world. The Library aims to make this information available free of charge to the public in order to educate, inspire, and amaze. fly00726 “Both myself and Janet Ward have always been firm believers in the good that NOAA does for the nation and world. The Photo Library is a way to help inform the public of that work and the insights into our environment gained by NOAA personnel and their partners,” explains Theberge. “All of these [images] should be shared with the citizens of our nation—particularly our students and teachers.” The NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and provides scientific, atmospheric, and marine biological information to other official agencies and the public at large. Its personnel include scientists, corps officers, technicians, and administrators. They work at over 200 facilities across the country, from observatories, environmental prediction centers, laboratories, to weather forecast offices. Their research covers all natural elements; for instance, the Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma is developing a more efficient Doppler radar system to better estimate rainfall, while the Michigan Great Lakes Laboratory is studying non-indigenous species thriving in the Lakes. wea02627 Theberge states that, “NOAA’s responsibilities extend from the surface of the sun to the bottom of the sea.“ Its mission is to inform anyone interested in the environment—something “NOAA works to understand and protect.” NOAA uses its findings to better lives—even save them. “Fisheries have been protected and better understood to assure sustainable yields. 98% of all U.S. cargo by weight comes through our ports on ships navigated by NOAA charts. The remarkable imagery from NOAA satellites helps track storms across the planet,” Theberge explains. Over 99% of the Library’s images comes from NOAA personnel’s private collections and efforts, official NOAA images taken during research projects, and private citizens. With access to images from the 1800s, the Library documents not only current advances in the environmental sciences, but the history of these sciences as well. This resource for scientific imagery has proved to be an educational cornucopia for teachers and students alike, here and abroad, with over 170 countries accessing the Library in June alone. Most of NOAA’s photographs are in the public domain, therefore free of charge to those who wish to use them. In fact, the Library has never paid a cent for an image, and never will, as Theberge asserts. So far, their only expenses are equipment and a $179 database program, which acts as the Library system’s backbone. Everything else is a labor of love and an adjunct to regular NOAA duties. What visitors of the Library find, Theberge states, is “the work of NOAA science and, to some degree, the beauty of our nation and the world about us.” wea02549 This article was written by Leslie Lasiter and first appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Resource Magazine, which is available online here.