A NOAA Website Offers Free Tools, Data, and Trainings—and Provides Millions of Dollars in Societal Value

An RFF report examines ways in which the Digital Coast, an online platform run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, creates societal value through better-informed decisionmaking on coastal issues.


Feb. 9, 2021

News Type

Press Release

The Digital Coast, an online platform operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), offers thousands of datasets and hundreds of tools and trainings to the public for free. New research from Resources for the Future (RFF) finds that Digital Coast tools and trainings can create millions of dollars in benefits to society.

Because the products are free of charge, it is difficult to quantify the value the platform provides to its users. And as the platform is too large to conduct a full analysis of its benefits, the researchers focused on two case studies: one regarding wastewater plants in Jackson, Mississippi, and another on two in-person coastal management workshops offered through the Digital Coast Academy.

By comparing the outcomes for society with and without the tools, the researchers came to the following conclusions:

  • NOAA Digital Coast tools helped Jackson County wastewater managers avoid up to an estimated $2.2 million in potential hurricane and storm surge–related damages when relocating wastewater plants to safer locations.
  • A typical in-person Digital Coast training is worth approximately $150,000 per year.

“Our case studies illustrate that this platform is valuable to its users and society,” says coauthor Kathryne Cleary, senior research associate at RFF. “Our study estimates the value of only a few uses of Digital Coast products and a few trainings, but based on the many visits to the website and the number of available tools, datasets, and trainings available through the platform, the high value of the platform to society is abundantly clear.”

The researchers also conducted web content analysis that illustrates the types of tools and datasets available through the platform, the geographic focus of the tools, and the numerous partnerships and collaborations that support the development of these resources. They also found opportunities for improving the platform’s functionality, which are detailed in their paper.

The research was done in collaboration with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, which sponsored the research and provided support to the authors.

Read the report, The Societal Value of NOAA’s Digital Coast, by RFF Senior Research Associate Kathryne Cleary, Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick, Research Analyst Seth Villanueva, and Senior Research Associate Alexandra Thompson, on RFF’s website. Additionally, read a blog post about the study here.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.

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