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Making Waves: Episode 52 (May 27, 2010)

Making Waves - Episode 51

...nowCOAST is now available anywhere you happen to be
...a new NOAA ocean observing system is rolled out in Texas
...a new smart buoy is deployed in the Chesapeake Bay
...and where to go to get the latest Gulf of Maine red tide information

It’s Thursday, May 27th, and those stories are coming up today on Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

(nowCOAST)
Our first story today is about a free online service from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.  This office is best known as the nation’s source for nautical charts -- but what you may not know is that Coast Survey also serves up an interactive online mapping tool called nowCOAST. 

nowCOAST serves up near real-time weather forecasts and ocean surface observations for all of the United States on an interactive map that’s made up of layer upon layer of information. All you need to do is select a location in the U.S., pick out the kind of data you want to see, and select the time you want to know about, and there it is.

Want to see the latest surface winds, temperatures, and currents in the Gulf of Mexico? Or how about real-time air quality in Wisconsin near the Great Lakes? Or how about offshore marine weather in the Gulf of Maine? 

Knowing the current weather and ocean conditions along the coasts are a big concern to a lot of people … recreational boaters, commercial mariners, coastal managers, and people responding to maritime accidents or oil spills. But nowCOAST is freely available to anyone who wants to use it. The site offers “one-stop” access to all sorts of NOAA data: things like current conditions, air and water temperature, wind speed, visibility, precipitation, and wave height.

And you can view Doppler weather radar, cloud imagery, and weather warnings. 

What would make it more useful? Well, until now users could only access nowCOAST from nowcoast.noaa.gov on a desktop computer. Now, nowCOAST has been freed -- you can access the service from your smart phone, or you can take the layers of information that you’re interested in from nowCOAST and mix in background maps from other sources like Google Earth or Google Maps. 

I hope you go check out, because you really have to see this service to grasp just how much is available to you. And now, you can get nowCOAST a la carte ... and on the go. You’ll find it at nowcoast.noaa.gov. 

(New PORTS)
While nowCOAST serves up near real-time ocean and weather conditions around the country, our nation’s busy ports are places where we need instant, up-to-the-minute, real-time ocean and weather conditions in very fine-grained detail. That’s because these are places that have massive ships constantly on the move, so it’s critical to make sure that traffic flows in and out of these congested areas safely.

This is a big concern of NOAA’s Center for Operational Products and Services, or CO-OPS -- the office responsible for tide and current information around the country.  To help ensure safe passage in and out of busy ports, CO-OPS is rolling out new systems around the nation that are kind of like air traffic control systems for shipping ports. These systems, appropriately enough, are also called PORTS -- all uppercase -- it’s an acronym that stands for Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System. 

PORTS provides mariners ranging from casual boaters to oil tanker captains with real-time information so ships coming into and leaving busy waterways and ports know exactly what’s going on in the water and in the air.
 
Last week, the newest PORTS was dedicated in the Sabine-Neches Waterway of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas.

This new NOAA ocean observing system provides observations of tides, currents, water and air temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed, gusts and direction through an easy-to-use online portal or by calling a toll free number. 

The Sabine-Neches Waterway is a set of interlocking river channels and canals extending from the Gulf of Mexico to Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange, Texas. The main cargoes moving through the waterway’s ports are crude oil, petroleum products, and chemicals. 

This waterway is also home to one of the nation’s newest liquefied natural gas terminals and is the #1 crude tanker arrival port in the country.  The waterway holds 45 percent of the nation’s liquefied natural gas import capacity, and it supplies 20 percent of U.S. gasoline east of the Rockies. With PORTS now in place, this busy waterway will be better equipped to safely and efficiently move ships carrying goods and tankers carrying liquefied natural gas through its waterways.

The newly installed PORTS at Sabine-Neches has already shown its value as a decision support tool. Data from the PORTS allowed an early reopening of the waterway following an oil spill in January. More recently, during a low tide event at the waterway in March, real-time water level data alerted mariners of extremely low water levels. This information led to the decision to keep some vessels offshore until water level were higher, preventing potential groundings. 

In addition to the Sabine-Neches PORTS, 19 other PORTS are located throughout the nation, providing over 50 major seaports with real-time ocean information. Estimates of economic benefits attributed to the systems range from $7 million per year for Tampa Bay to $16 million per year for Houston-Galveston, according to studies conducted in those regions.
You can learn more about PORTS -- and take a look at the ocean and weather data these systems generate -- at tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov.

(CBIBS: New Buoy)
The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office deployed a new “smart buoy” last week in the Potomac River, just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge near Washington, DC. This buoy is the newest in NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System, a network that provides scientists, boaters, and educators with real-time data about the Bay.

This network of buoys collect weather, oceanographic and water-quality observations and transmits this data wirelessly in near-real time. The buoys in the system also mark points along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the first water trail in the National Park Service’s National Trail System. 

Anyone can access these measurements at any time, and also get historical information about the area, by visiting www.buoybay.org
Or, if you’re lucky enough to be out in a kayak or canoe along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, you can pull out your cell phone and dial, toll-free, 877-BUOY-BAY to tap into the interpretive buoy closest to your location. You can get real-time weather and environmental information like wind speed, temperature, and wave height right from your phone. And as an added bonus, you can access recorded narrations of natural and cultural history for the area you're traveling through on the trail.

Sounds like a pretty good activity for the Memorial Day weekend if you live in the Chesapeake Bay region. 
This is the eighth buoy in the Chesapeake Bay system. Buoys deployed earlier are located at the mouths of the Susquehanna, Patapsco, Severn, Potomac, and Rappahannock Rivers, in the James River near Jamestown, and the Elizabeth River off Norfolk. The next buoy to hit the water will be deployed in the Bay off the mouth of the Little Choptank River at Gooses Reef in late June.
Again, you can find out more about the interpretative system or access buoy data at www.bouybay.org or by calling 877-BUOY-BAY. We’ll have this info in our online show notes, so don’t worry about writing it down.

(New Gulf of Maine Red Tide Resource)
And finally today, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science launched a new website recently that offers updates on the location and extent of the 2010 Gulf of Maine “red tide.” The site provides updated information and links to help you understand what a red tide is, where the closed shellfish harvesting areas are, and how NOAA and its partners are responding to the situation.

Scientists prefer the to use the term ‘harmful algal bloom’ instead of the more popular ‘red tide’ because the toxic blooms of algae that cause ‘red tide’ come in many forms and many colors, and some have no color at all.

Harmful algal blooms occur when algae—simple plants that live in the sea—grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds. While the human illnesses caused by these blooms can be debilitating or even fatal, states have well-established, rigorous shellfish monitoring programs to protect human health to make sure that shellfish we consume is safe to eat.
In the Gulf of Maine, one of the most damaging harmful algal bloom varieties is caused by a type of algae called Alexandrium fundyense. Although these algae pose no direct threat to humans, the toxins produced by Alexandrium can accumulate in creatures like mussels and clams that feed on these tiny plants, and this can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans who eat these shellfish.

This year's bloom of this organism could be similar to major blooms in the Gulf that occurred in 2005 and 2008. The 2005 bloom shut down shellfish beds from Maine to Martha's Vineyard for several months and caused an estimated $20 million in losses to the Massachusetts shellfish industry alone.

You can get the full link to the Gulf of Maine red tide website in the show notes for this podcast.

(Closing)

That’s all for this week.

A reminder that if you’re following the developments of the ongoing oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, you can get the latest information about NOAA’s involvement in the effort at deepwaterhorizon.noaa.gov.

If you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean -- or if you have an ocean fact you’d like answered -- send us a note at  nos.info@noaa.gov.

Now let’s bring in the ocean…

This is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

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