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Making Waves: Episode 34 (Sept. 2, 2009)

(INTRO)

… a high-water mystery on the Atlantic Coast.
… how you can track coastal conditions online using NOAA’s nowCOAST.
… and restoring in wetlands in Texas.

It’s Wednesday, Sep. 2nd, 2009. Those stories are coming up today on Making Waves, your source for news from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

(High Water Event)

We’re going to start today with a mystery. Back in June, the NOS Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services -- better known as NOAA’s Tides and Currents office -- started getting reports from people all along the Atlantic Coast that tide predictions were way off -– in some places by as much as two feet.

While it isn’t unusual for tide predictions to be off in small regions or estuaries along the East Coast, it’s really unusual to see higher tides along the entire coast. These elevated tides were happening from Maine all the way down to the East Coast of Florida. Not only was this tidal anomaly huge, it was also unusually intense and long lasting.

While the tidal surge is mostly over now, the search into the possible causes of the higher tides is still being investigated.

According to Mike Szabados, the director of the tides and current office, it’s still too early to know the exact causes of this event, but two main factors seem to have contributed. One of those factors was that the ocean current that flows up the east coast from Florida was weaker than usual. Since the current was weaker, less water was being carried away from the coasts. At the same time, there were steady, prolonged winds from the northeast, which would effectively push water towards the coasts.

Later this month, tides and currents will release a report with details of their initial findings, but Szabados cautioned that more study is needed before we know the exact causes of the high tides, if it was a one-time thing, part of a cycle in ocean water movement, or if it might be tied to longer-term global ocean trend.

That report will be available at tidesandcurrents – that’s all one word – .NOAA.gov.

Not sure what the difference is between tides and currents? Want to know a bit more about how currents are measured and used? Well, then you should definitely check out the August 12th episode of the NOS Diving Deeper podcast at oceanservice.noaa.gov. The episode features an interview with Lau ra Rear, an oceanographer with the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services who manages the National Current Observation Program.

(nowCOAST)

Now, since we’re talking about ocean conditions, I want to take a few minutes to let you know about a Web resource from the NOS Office of Coast Survey called nowCOAST, which you can find at nowcoast.noaa.gov.

This is something that really has to be seen to be appreciated. What it is is an online interactive map that provides a mind-blowing amount of near real-time weather forecasts and ocean surface observations for all of the U.S.

As you can imagine, knowing the current weather and ocean conditions along the coasts are a big concern to a lot of people … people like recreational boaters, commercial mariners, coastal managers, or people who respond to things like oil spills and other maritime accidents.

Well, nowCOAST is a great place to get this information. The site offers “one-stop” access to all sorts of 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. And that’s just some of what you can get on this site.

If you’ve ever used Google Earth, you’ll feel at home with the application. It’s an interactive map of the U.S. that’s made up layer upon 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.

And NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is adding more capabilities to nowCOAST all the time. They most recently released a new version that will show you the latest forecasts for all active tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific Ocean.

Again, it’s best seen to be appreciated, and it’s at nowcoast.noaa.gov.

(Texas Restoration)

And finally today, we’re going down to Texas to talk about major coastal wetlands restoration project –- over 2,500 acres of wetlands -- that was just completed around Port Arthur.

The NOS Office of Response and Restoration’s Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program served as the principal trustee for project.

This program focuses on restoring coastal natural resources, restoring habitats and communities that have been harmed by oil spills, and cleaning up hazardous substance releases and ship groundings. Through the program, NOAA works with other agencies, industry, and communities to protect and restore these coastal and marine resources.

In this case, program staff worked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Texas General Land Office worked with the Chevron Corporation to restore habitats that were injured by releases from refinery operations that took place decades ago.

This project was really important not only because coastal wetlands are really valuable habitats for many creatures, but the restored wetlands will improve area water quality and – importantly to this part of the U.S. – healthy wetlands help to serve as a buffer as tropical storms and hurricanes move onshore.

The wetlands were restored to compensate the public for the natural resources that were harmed by historical releases of hazardous substances like gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, and petrochemicals from the original Clark Chevron refinery in Port Arthur.

Since its inception in 1992, Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program program has helped to protect and restore natural resources at more than 500 waste sites. As of 2008, the program had settled almost 200 natural resource damage assessment cases, generating almost $450 million for restoration projects.

And if you want to know more about NOAA’s role in these types of projects, head on over to www.darrp.noaa.gov. That’s D-A-R-R-P.

(CLOSING)

Well, that’s all for this week’s episode. Head over to oceanservice.noaa.gov for links to the stories we discussed today.

And while you’re there, check out a new feature on our site called ‘People of NOS.’

This section features 'interviews' (text-based) with folks from around NOS -- representing all of the different types of work options available around the organization. We asked questions about each person's job at NOAA, what they enjoy about the job, how they ended up at the National Ocean Service, and advice for folks aspiring to work at NOAA.

If you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean, send us a note. We’re at nos.info@noaa.gov.

Let’s bring in the ocean....

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

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