Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Report:
Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) collects and distributes oceanographic observations and predictions to ensure safe, efficient, and environmentally sound maritime commerce. CO-OPS provides water level and coastal current oceanographic products, measures and predicts tides throughout the nation, and is responsible for disseminating this information to the public.



Observation Systems Provide Support for NOAA Tsunami Warning System

tsunami wave propogation graphic

On March 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm local time, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 81 miles (130 kilometes) off the east coast of Sendai, Honshu, Japan, triggering a massive tsunami. This graphic shows how tsunami waves propograted from the earthquake source.

During fiscal year 2011, CO-OPS continued and improved support for National Weather Service tsunami warning forecasts by providing real-time data from the National Water Level Observation Network.  CO-OPS coastal tide stations collect and disseminate one-minute water level data that have the resolution required to detect tsunami signals.  CO-OPS coastal tide stations also collect high-rate, 15-second data that is stored locally and downloaded post event to support tsunami-related research and modeling.  These data are a critical component of the U.S. National Tsunami Warning System and enable accurate warnings, effective models of tsunami arrival times, and timely evacuation orders. 

Following the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, real-time water level data from 72 CO-OPS coastal tide stations positioned in U.S. coastal areas throughout the Pacific provided NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Center with critical up-to-the-minute tsunami detection and warning information for at-risk states and territories. These data assisted NOAA watch standers and modelers, as well as other federal and state scientists and emergency managers, determine which U.S. coastal areas were most at risk to flooding, surges, and wave action.

NOAA Air Gap Information Saves Cruise Traffic in Jacksonville, Florida

A cruise ship approaches the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville, Fla

A cruise ship approaches the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville, Fla. In the foreground is an air gap system, a tool that measures the clearance between the water surface and the bridge.

In January, NOAA was contacted by the Jacksonville Marine Exchange, on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), to install an air gap measuring system on the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. Cruise traffic that enters the St. John’s River on route to port must pass under the Dames Point Bridge.  Due to the size of these cruise ships, the clearance under this bridge is very small.  With the installation of equipment beneath the bridge for an ongoing maintenance project, this clearance margin will be even less. 

Carnival Cruise Lines expressed concerns about this reduction in clearance, and considered moving their business unless there was an accurate measurement of the clearance.  NOAA and FDOT worked together to install an air gap system in record time and are now providing crucial bridge clearance information to Carnival and other large vessels transiting under the Dames Point Bridge.   The response to this request will support the cruise ship business, which generates $3.4 million in revenue for the Port of Jacksonville and has a significant economic impact on the local community.

New Storm Surge Monitoring Network in Mobile County, Alabama

In summer 2011, the first three water level stations in the Mobile Bay Storm Surge Monitoring Network were completed in Mobile County, Alabama.  This accomplishment involved CO-OPS’s first operational installation of microwave radar water level sensors.
Ultimately, CO-OPS will install a state-of-the-art water level network consisting of five new strategically located stations to provide real-time storm surge data to Mobile County’s emergency managers, the Weather Forecast Office, and others. The network will provide better spatial coverage of water level observations throughout Alabama’s complicated and flood-prone coasts. Data will be extremely valuable in supporting local storm surge warnings and related decision making, as well as continuing development of new and improved storm surge forecast models.  To ensure sustainability of the systems, measurement equipment is located high enough above the water to survive Category 5 storm surge levels. 

CO-OPS Expands and Improves Suite of Operational Forecast Models

Delaware Bay Operational Forecast System

Oceanographic nowcasts and forecast guidance are scientific predictions about the present and future states of a water body (generally including water levels, currents, water temperature and salinity). These predictions rely on either observed data or forecasts from large-scale numerical models.

In fiscal year, CO-OPS unveiled three new Operational Forecasts Systems developed in a joint project with the Office of Coast Survey's Coast Survey Development Laboratory. The systems are based on Rutgers University's three-dimensional Regional Ocean Modeling System and are used to forecast water levels, currents, temperature, and salinity for Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and Tampa Bay. The models run on NOAA's high-performance computers in a new Coastal Ocean Modeling Framework. The forecasts support the maritime user communities in navigation, emergency response, and ecological forecasts with present and future conditions of water levels, currents, temperature, and salinity.

In December, the Great Lakes Operational Forecast System (GLOFS) was transitioned to a central computer system. GLOFS provides nowcasts and short-term forecast guidance of the physical conditions of the five Great Lakes, including two-dimensional water levels and three-dimensional water currents, and water temperature.  This information, combined with wind and wave forecasts, provides users with a complete forecast package of marine conditions in the Great Lakes.

CO-OPS Continues to Provide Information and Guidance on Sea Level Change

Sediment Core sampling

Fifty-three percent of our nation's total population currently lives in coastal counties and by 2020, the population in those areas is expected to increase by eight percent. Given our affinity for the coast, it is important that we are prepared for potential coastal hazards.

Accurate local sea level information is critical for informed coastal planning, management, and decision making.  In fiscal year 2011, CO-OPS issued a new sea level publication, “Sea Level Variations of the United States, 1854-2006,” with updated local sea level trends for 128 locations in the United States.  The updated report includes seven additional years of data and presents results for 12 additional stations.  Also provided in the updated report is a key recommendation to more frequently update datums in areas where sea level has changed rapidly over a five-year period and recommendations for improvement of NOAA tide prediction products by incorporating analysis of seasonal variations over the long-term record. 

CO-OPS also published a new study finding that coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast may be at risk to higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges in future El Niño years.  And, in a collaborative project with the Office of Coast Survey and National Geodetic Survey, CO-OPS published a new sea level change guidance document, leveraging National Ocean Service expertise and technical standards in bathymetry, topography, sea level monitoring, and vertical control, to support multiple climate applications.  The document compiles the most up-to-date and useful information from NOAA and others to provide readers with access to a wide range of potential solutions to assist with planning for sea level change.