Supporting Marine Transportation
Each year, the U.S. marine transportation system conveys 95 percent of U.S. foreign trade by volume, moves two billion tons of freight, transports millions of people, contributes over $700 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, and provides more than 13 million jobs. Yet America's ports – our lifelines for commerce, trade, and the economy – are highly congested, increasing the risk of accidents and environmental harm.
In fiscal year 2008, NOS continued to support the Nation's commerce with information for marine transportation. Highlights from the year include:
- Releasing a new version of the Online Positioning User Service (OPUS). By using as little as 15 minutes' worth of dual-frequency Global Positioning System (GPS) data, the new version, known as OPUS-Rapid Static (OPUS-RS), saves time and money relative to the standard OPUS, which requires at least two hours of GPS data. OPUS and OPUS-RS allow users to submit their GPS observations to NOAA, where the data are processed to determine corresponding three-dimensional positional coordinates. Each OPUS solution is estimated to save the user $600 over traditional positioning methods.
- Helping to organize and participating in an international workshop to develop a draft standard for displaying environmental information on electronic navigational charts (ENCs). Participants came to consensus on a draft proposal to display information on marine protected areas and coral reef ecosystems on ENCs that will be refined and submitted for approval to an International Hydrographic Organization committee. Such efforts are important in preventing ships from damaging delicate marine ecosystems.
- Releasing three new products that use data from the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®), including a Web site that delivers a brief paragraph capturing the conditions of an estuary, port, or harbor in real time; a Web site that allows users to customize their PORTS® displays to include plots from any station and data type; and an application that allows PORTS® users with Internet access on their mobile phones to view data products directly on these devices.
- Launching a new multimedia elementary educational program, Nautical Charts, to teach budding mariners in grades 3 through 5 about chart symbols, boating safety, and why nautical charts are important.
- Continuing work with Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize to improve surveying and charting capabilities in the face of increased shipping traffic through the Gulf of Honduras. The countries are also pursuing Particularly Sensitive Sea Area designations to bring international attention to the Gulf's unique resources, including the Mesoamerican Great Barrier Reef, and to facilitate safer, environmentally sensitive maritime commerce.
- Launching plans to replace existing surveying vessels and upgrade and modernize NOS's hydrographic data collection fleet. Two new vessels are currently under construction and the NOAA Ship Rainier added a new survey launch that features increased speed, expanded deck space, and an updated interior layout. The work of these vessels is central to collecting the hydrographic data needed to produce the Nation's nautical charts and ensure safe navigation.
- Advancing efforts to protect blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel, California, following the deaths of five blue whales within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary during 2007. NOS forwarded a draft emergency response plan to members of a special Subcommittee of the Sanctuary Advisory Council. The plan calls for increased surveillance, improved coordinated response to possible strandings, and the initiation of precautionary management actions.
- Beginning test flights of an airborne gravimeter in support of the Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum (GRAV-D) program. GRAV-D is an effort to use gravity data to redefine the vertical datum of the United States by 2017. The GRAV-D program will allow NOAA to increase the accuracy of the geoid model and, ultimately, give users the ability to use GPS to determine elevations relative to sea level.