Protecting Coastal Communities

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So many of us call the coast our home. In fact, over half of all Americans live along the narrow fringe of our nation’s coast. Unfortunately, more people mean more vulnerability from increasing threats due to things such as storms and climate change. We must be increasingly vigilant in protecting the communities that call the coast home.

During fiscal year 2009, the diverse expertise, products, and services that are the hallmark of the National Ocean Service helped keep Americans along the coast safer. Highlights from the year include:

  • Serving as one of the lead authors on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program report Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region. The report assesses the effects of sea-level rise on coastal environments, finding that rising water levels are already negatively impacting coastal areas and that the effects of sea-level rise will be increased if the rate of rise accelerates in the future. Also presented in the report are some of the challenges that will need to be addressed to adapt to sea-level rise.
  • Continuing to deliver positioning services that provide billions of dollars in benefits. A report released in 2009 estimated the annual benefits of the National Spatial Reference System at $2.4 billion, the Continuously Operating Reference Station network at $758 million, and the completion of the Gravity for the Redefinition of the American Vertical Datum (GRAV-D) project at $282 million. These positioning activities are central to the spatial framework of our nation — the framework that provides the foundation for better commerce, a stronger economy, and safer communities.
  • Working with partners to develop the Hawaii Flood Response Tool to bolster Hawaii’s ability to respond to floods and flood threats. This geographic information system (GIS) application for emergency managers provides centralized access to real-time data such as satellite and radar imagery, precipitation levels, and streamflow information. This information can be easily paired with local GIS data to help emergency managers and first responders make critical decisions related to flood events.
  • Improving our ability to forecast the annual low-oxygen “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. The dead zone forms every summer and threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries by destroying critical habitat. Based on models utilizing data from the U.S. Geological Survey on river flows and nutrient concentrations, NOS-funded scientists predicted a larger-than-normal dead zone for 2009.
  • Providing ocean observing data to the U.S. Coast Guard’s operational Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System. The data, including information about the speed and direction of ocean surface currents in real time, enhances the ability to track the probable paths of those lost at sea and is expected to improve search and rescue efforts along the Mid-Atlantic U.S. coastline. The data can also be used to support other scientific work, such as oil spill response, harmful algal bloom monitoring, and water quality assessments.
  • Partnering with other federal agencies to update the Climate Change Toolkit: Wildlife and Wildlands, which provides resources for formal and informal educators to teach middle school students about how climate change is affecting our nation's wildlife and public lands, and how everyone, even students, can become “climate stewards.” NOAA science is highlighted in many areas of the kit, including how climate change is impacting estuaries, coral reefs, Chinook salmon, and monk seals, to name a few.
  • Working with the NOAA National Sea Grant Program, Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant to release guidance on how to adapt smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. This first-of-its-kind interagency guide and complimentary Web site offers 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines to help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality-of-life issues.
  • Updating nautical charts to show the location of the new $750 million Cameron Parish liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Hackberry, Louisiana. These newly updated charts played a pivotal role in the transit of the 155,000 cubic meter LNG tanker British Diamond to the new terminal along the Calcasieu Ship Channel. Pilots can now use NOAA’s Electronic Navigational Charts and data from the Lake Charles Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System to navigate near the terminal safely and more efficiently.
  • Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the grounding of the Exxon Valdez tanker in Prince William Sound, Alaska. NOAA was among the many organizations to provide immediate support during the assessment, response, and cleanup phases following the spill. This landmark event raised the public’s awareness of oil spills and led to the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which resulted in significant improvements in oil spill preparedness, response, and restoration.
  • Sponsoring the 2009 Ocean For Life program, which gathers high school students from 14 different Western and Middle Eastern nations to promote cultural understanding through ocean science. In 2009, 60 students participated in field studies and activities in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and California’s Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries. The goal of Ocean For Life is to bring better understanding of the diverse marine world and of the diverse peoples of the world.
  • Completing an aerial gravity survey along parts of the Gulf Coast to enhance VDatum in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. VDatum is a free software tool developed by NOS to allow users to convert their data from different horizontal/vertical references into a common system. Enhanced VDatum will benefit storm surge, tsunami, and sea-level impact modeling; coastal management; and hydrographic survey depth measurements.
  • Releasing a new version of the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO™) software, an integrated set of applications designed to assist first responders and emergency planners. With CAMEO™, users can access chemical property and response information, model potential chemical releases, display results on a map, and manage planning data. During a response to a chemical release, CAMEO™ can help decision makers quickly get the information they need for a safe, effective response.
  • Conducting a Coastal Community Planning and Development course to help participants to understand, plan, and guide efforts for better land-use planning and to implement alternative growth and development approaches in their coastal communities. This training provides participants with the examples, strategies, and background information needed to support alternative development efforts.

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