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NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System

Soo Locks PORTS

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National Water Level Observation Network

Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services


NOAA Data Helps Re-open Soo Locks and Soo PORTS

A Canadian tanker passes through Soo Locks early in the shipping season.

The M.T. Algosar, a 450-foot Canadian tanker, goes through the Poe Lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michuigan. The Algosar was the first ship to clear after the reopening of the locks March 25.

Mariners are once again able to travel the 74.5 miles along the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lake Huron via the Soo Locks. The locks were recently reopened following closure during the long, cold winter months. And, thanks to the water-level data delivered by the NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®), mariners have the information needed to help them safely navigate their way.

PORTS® is a decision-support tool that improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management through the integration of real-time environmental observations, forecasts, and other information.

All together, there are 18 active PORTS® locations, with two additional locations coming online this year. Within the system, there are currently 145 monitoring stations that collect data ranging from weather and water level data to information about currents and bridge clearance. Just like the communities that they support, PORTS® systems come in a variety of sizes and configurations, each designed to meet the needs of the local port.

PORTS® data are free and easily accessible online. A quick glance at the conditions for Soo Locks at 12:57 p.m. on April 20, 2009, lets us know that there are low-water conditions at S.W. Pier - St. Marys River and Point Iroquois, and water levels are rising at Rock Cut. It is breezy out there – with winds coming from the east and gusts up to 29 knots. Air temperatures are chilly – in the mid to high 30s (Fahrenheit) – and water temperatures are just above freezing.

This type of information, delivered from the Soo Locks PORTS® stations, is critical to the functioning of the locks. The Soo Locks form a passage around the rapids in the St. Marys River, which fall about 6.4 meters (21 feet) from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower Great Lakes. An average of 10,000 ships pass through the Soo Locks each year.

An aerial view of the Soo Locks.

An aerial view of the Soo Locks.

As part of efforts to ensure the safe passage for these vessels, on March 24, 2009, the Great Lakes navigation community was notified that the Soo Locks PORTS® system was ready to support the opening of the locks and the 2009 navigation season. The seven National Water Level Observation Network water level gauges supporting the Soo Locks PORTS® were verified as fully operational. Two of the seven stations were rebuilt within the last year, providing improved reliability and accuracy of water level and meteorological data for the navigation community.

PORTS® improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce. PORTS® data also support more effective marine oil spill response and tsunami and storm surge forecasting.  Marine resource managers, planners, emergency responders and researchers use PORTS® to augment their own capabilities and to improve decision making.