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Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

National Geodetic Survey

Office of Coast Survey

Project in Mobile Bay Explores Novel Uses of Data

NOAA's Navigation Services: Evolving Beyond Navigation

January 31, 2011
montage of NOAA in action in Mobile Bay

Data is being collected in Mobile Bay, Alabama, by ship, satellite, aircraft, and autonomous underwater vehicle. Additionally, high resolution coastal hydrodynamic models are being developed. This information, traditionally used for navigation, will provide an unprecedented, fine-grained view of the Bay's water and land—and may serve as a model for how NOAA navigation data is collected, repackaged, and reused to help coastal communities around the nation.

Making Waves podcast

Learn about the Mobile Bay project from National Geodetic Survey's Galen Scott, one of the team leaders behind the effort. [Making Waves podcast]

Potential uses of navigation data

  • Coastal and estuary circulation models can be used to forecast the fate of oil or the effect of hypoxia on fisheries and public health.
  • Shallow-water bathymetry (the depths and shapes of underwater terrain) may be used to map habitats of coastal plants and animals.
  • Current data may be used to aid in search and rescue, to map trajectories of hazardous material spills, to forecast harmful algal blooms and hypoxia zones, and to map sediment transport.
  • Sea level and coastal elevations may be used to help develop regional evacuation and threat-reduction plans when coastal storms strike.
  • Water level observations may be used for habitat restoration, coastal engineering, and flood plain mapping.
  • Conductivity, temperature, and salinity water measurements may be used for water quality monitoring, habitat restoration projects, and coastal use assessments.
  • Continuous GPS measurements may be used to model regional sea level rise and plan evacuation routes.

NOAA has traditionally supported U.S. navigation with tide and current data, nautical charts, exact positioning, and a host of other navigation services, including coastal models and forecasts. These services help to ensure safe and efficient commerce around the nation—a Congressional mandate. NOAA experts recognize that data supporting navigational services can also be used for a variety of coastal applications, including emergency management and response, coastal engineering, sea level rise mitigation, resource management, and ecosystem restoration.

And they're not alone. Regional experts such as coastal managers and academic researchers around the nation are increasingly turning to NOAA's navigation data and models to help solve local problems, such as forecasting potential impacts of sea level rise and better managing ecosystems.

Now, an ambitious project currently underway in Mobile Bay, Alabama, is exploring just how useful navigation data can be for other customers. For months, NOAA teams have been involved in an intensive effort to collect data in this region. They are measuring water levels; taking hydrographic and current surveys; measuring conductivity, temperature, and density at different points in the Bay; collecting continuous GPS measurements; calculating high-accuracy elevations along the coast; and developing coastal hydrodynamic models. Once the work is complete, teams will transform these data into useful tools and applications. Additional efforts will be made to meet stakeholder's needs in support of this valuable coastal community.

When combined, these data will provide an unprecedented, fine-grained view of the Bay's water and land—and may serve as a model for how NOAA navigation data is collected, repackaged, and reused to help coastal communities around the nation.