- Supporting U.S. Imports and Exports. Our marine transportation system includes 25,000 miles of navigable channels transited by more than two billion tons of freight each year. Waterborne cargo contributes more than \\$742 billion to the nation's economy and creates jobs for more than 13 million people in our country.The connection between the system and coastal communities and maritime industries is probably pretty obvious. But did you know that even communities located in our nation's heartland rely on the marine transportation system? For example, consider that, in 2009, the U.S. exported more than \\$100 billion worth of agricultural products. Whether it is wheat grown in Stanley, North Dakota, or cotton produced in Pinal County, Arizona, rural communities and family farms need efficient maritime highways to move their product to overseas markets. NOAA tools – such as nautical charts, accurate positioning services, and ocean and weather observations – play a key role in ensuring that shipments move swiftly and safely along our marine highways.
- Producing Nautical Charts. When planning a road trip, you probably grab a map. Mariners have their own special 'road maps' – nautical charts. NOAA updates and maintains a suite of over 1,000 of these charts using sonar, aerial photographs, and other remote sensing technologies. Much like road maps, nautical charts provide basic navigation information, such as water depths and the locations of hazards. Going beyond traditional charting products, NOAA is also using advanced technology to add more layers of data, for instance outlining sensitive marine sites and noting fisheries habitat. Using all of these tools, mariners plan efficient routes and avoid dangerous or ecologically sensitive areas.
- Delivering Real-Time Data. Today's massive ships push the depth limit of many ports and harbors. NOAA delivers tools and information to help mariners select the safest routes through shallow waterways. For example, the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, or 'PORTS,' operates in 20 ports around the country, providing up-to-the-minute information on tides, currents, salinity, water and air temperature, atmospheric pressure, and wind (speed, gusts, and direction). This information helps mariners time the movement of their vessels – from the smallest recreational craft to the most massive oil tankers – through more than 50 U.S. seaports and waterways. Port authorities, local officials, and marine pilot associations also use PORTS to determine if a waterway is open and safe for navigation.
- Building a Spatial Framework. When a ship is passing under a bridge or moving through a channel, it can be a pretty tight fit. To avoid collisions and ensure safe passage, mariners rely on NOAA positioning information. NOAA's National Spatial Reference System and National Water Level Observation Network provide a highly accurate, precise, and consistent geographic reference framework throughout our country. Such a framework is imperative to determining land and water elevations, to help mariners safely move around obstructions in our nation's busy waterways.
- Responding to Disasters. When disasters strike along the coast, movement in and out of ports can grind to a halt. Given that waterborne commerce is the lifeblood of our nation's economy, this is a bad thing. NOAA moves quickly to help reopen ports, getting goods and services moving again. Following a disaster such as a coastal storm, NOAA navigation response teams may be called in to survey ports and channels, searching for submerged debris and identifying alternative routes for commercial and military ships. NOAA aerial photography helps the public, decision makers, and insurance adjusters assess the extent of storm damage. Real-time NOAA data also helps federal, state, and local officials make post-disaster response decisions.
- Understanding the Land-Water Interface. Water rises and falls. And so does land. Planning the use of ports, protecting communities from flooding, and responding to human-made and natural disasters requires knowing the relationship between water levels and land features. NOAA provides geospatial and temporal information to help coastal managers better understand this land-water interface. This information includes geodetic data, seafloor surveys, and tide and current information. These tools are not just benefiting marine navigation; they are also helping to keep coastal communities safe.
- Locating and Removing Marine Debris. You might not think of a floating plastic bag as something that keeps a ship from reaching its destination. However, marine debris, such as plastic bags, lost fishing nets, and other trash, can in fact interfere with navigation safety. Marine debris can also harm shipping and coastal industries, clogging up and polluting waterways. Trash in the water is also a threat to our health and the health of critters that live in the marine environment. NOAA's Marine Debris Program works in the U.S. and around the world to research, reduce, and prevent debris in our oceans and coastal waterways.
Original article: Marine Navigation