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Explore: Tides and Currents

Tides and Water Levels Tutorial, NOS Education

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MEET: William Sweet

Oceanographer, Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

My time is split between two efforts.   I support the NOAA effort to collect bathymetric (water depth) data by computing the timing of the tidal cycle over an area that is being surveyed. The rise and fall of tides changes the level of water throughout the day, so my computations allow a single, normalized water-level value to be published on nautical charts.  I also analyze regional water-level patterns and the oceanographic conditions responsible for creating observed water levels that are much different than the tidal component, or “predicted values,” reported at NOS tide stations.

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What do you like most about working at NOS?

I am amazed by the variety of projects that I am involved with, the geographic extent of these projects, and the quality and quantity of data that I utilize.  I find it empowering to know that my efforts and findings impact an enormous population.

What is the hardest part of your job?

 I like to see all the components that contribute to the ‘big picture.’  However, in an operational setting, I often have to hand off the results of a particular study without seeing the final product come to fruition.

What is your educational background?

Bachelor’s degree in Physics from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Marine Sciences from North Carolina State University.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

Through spending time on the water as a youngster, I became aware and concerned about the factors affecting water quality that progressively worsened downstream within the rivers and bays in which I was recreating.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

I worked for years deploying real-time buoys under a NOAA contract, and during this time I became aware of the variety of important work that NOAA undertakes and supervises.  A few years later, I found an opening, applied, impressed, and the rest is history...

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

Read about the oceans, both the people studying them and important concepts and problems that we are facing in this world.  Ask questions and volunteer when possible to get some experiences in the field.  A hands-on understanding not only teaches you about the methods used to study the ocean environment and its creatures and processes, but also builds the confidence and experience to ask and answer your own questions.  Get your foot in the door by volunteering or working part-time with local groups, colleges, or universities that offer any ocean-related experiences.

What is the most interesting/important thing you've learned while working at NOAA?

Water levels change over many time periods, both long and short, driven by the tides, storm events, seasonal changes, year-to-year variability, and long-term changes ultimately driven by glacial cycles.   At NOS, we have water-level measurements from the 1800s to present from hundreds of stations that capture these changes and give clues about the processes responsible for the water-level variations.