In 1980, a shipping accident in Tampa, Florida, led to the collapse of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the loss of 35 lives. The accident underscored the need for integrated real-time information to provide comprehensive situational awareness for mariners. Enter NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real Time System, or PORTSⓇ, program. By 1991, the first PORTS was up and running in Tampa Bay.
This July, CO-OPS celebrates 30 years of PORTS. PORTS provides vessel operators with quality controlled real-time status of environmental parameters — including water levels, currents, waves, salinity, bridge clearance (air gap), winds, air and water temperature, and visibility — to enable the best safety of life and property decisions.
The U.S. maritime transportation system, which consists of over 25,000 miles of waterways, ports, and other navigable waters, is the backbone for moving goods, services, and people throughout the U.S. and abroad. Much of U.S. trade involves some form of maritime transport, and in 2020, nearly $1.65 trillion worth of goods in international cargo was moved in and out of U.S. seaports.
Vessel and port operators across the globe rely on accurate information about ocean conditions from NOAA to plan efficient shipping routes and transit schedules, navigate congested shipping lanes, and optimize cargo loads. PORTS is an integral part of this system. Just one additional inch of usable draft can translate into millions of dollars of additional cargo per vessel transit.
Today, the PORTS program operates 36 of these systems around the U.S. serving 80 seaports, through which over 90% of cargo by tonnage and value are shipped, with more in progress. CO-OPS is celebrating this milestone anniversary with the release of an all-staff congressional briefing, web and social media campaigns on NOS’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and the release of a new PORTS outreach video, featuring many of our partners.