Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report:
Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) collects and distributes oceanographic observations and predictions to ensure safe, efficient, and environmentally sound maritime commerce. CO-OPS provides water level and coastal current oceanographic products, measures and predicts tides throughout the nation, and is responsible for disseminating this information to the public.



New Tools Available to Manage Sea-Level Rise along the Coast

screen capture of NOAA's Inundation Analysis Tool

NOAA's Inundation Analysis Tool provided statistical summaries of NOAA tide station data to help guide this marsh restoration project at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md. Inundation analyses are available for more than 120 tide gauge stations around the nation and can help coastal officials better understand the consequences of sea-level rise.

Storms and other meteorological phenomena can rapidly and radically affect sea levels along the coast—putting people, property, and ecosystems at risk. To help address the consequences of extreme changes in sea level, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) recently released two new tools for coastal managers and planners.

Using statistical analyses of historical NOAA tide gauge data, the Inundation Analysis Tool allows coastal managers to estimate the frequency and duration of observed high waters. The tool captures normal changes in water levels from gravitational forces exerted by the moon, sun, and rotation of the Earth, as well as anomalous changes associated with coastal storms and other meteorological events, to determine how high water levels can be expected to rise and how often a coastal area can be expected to inundate. Originally developed to support marsh restoration activities, this tool has evolved to inform decisions concerning climate change and sea-level rise.

The Exceedance Probability Statistics Tool is used to identify the likelihood that water levels will exceed a given elevation based on historic values. The tool can generate these probability statistics for most U.S. water level stations with at least 30 years of data and can help coastal managers determine when a rare event has occurred.

When used with real-time data, these new tools can help coastal officials better understand the risks and vulnerabilities associated with a rising sea.

First Regional Operational Forecast System Available for Northern Gulf of Mexico

Screen capture from the Northern Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecast System

Surface water level animation from the Northern Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecast System.

For decades, mariners in the United States have depended on NOAA's tide tables for the best estimate of expected water levels. These tables provide accurate predictions of the astronomical tide—the change in water level due to the gravitational effects of the moon and the sun and the rotation of the Earth—but they cannot predict water-level changes due to wind, atmospheric pressure, and river flow, which are often significant.

In response, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services developed the Northern Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecast System (NGOFS) to provide mariners with short-term predictions of wind, water levels, water currents, water temperatures, and salinity in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Developed in partnership with the Office of Coast Survey, the National Weather Service, and the University of Massachusetts, NGOFS uses a hydrodynamic model to generate nowcast (past few days to the present) and forecast information for the continental shelf and coastal areas between Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

NOAA Helps Vessel Carrying Giant Cranes Pass Safely Under Chesapeake Bay Bridge

On June 20, four giant container cranes were transported by the M/V Zhen Hua 13 under the Chesapeake Bay and Francis Scott Key Bridges en route to the Port of Baltimore. The cranes are the biggest of their kind in the maritime industry and are designed to handle the containers of larger vessels soon to arrive when the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014.

Giant cranes pass under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) provided bridge clearance and oceanographic data to assist the vessel in the final leg of its two-month journey from China. An air gap sensor on the Bay Bridge measured the distance from the bottom of the bridge to the surface of the water, providing an accurate clearance measurement to ensure safe passage for the cranes. CO-OPS also operates a hydrodynamic model that provided a forecast of water levels, currents, winds, and other environmental parameters that were crucial to deciding when the vessel would travel to the port. Actual clearance from the bottom of the bridge to the top of the cranes was nearly 10 feet, more than twice the minimum clearance of four feet needed by the vessel.

Currents in Cook Inlet, Alaska Measured for Potential Renewable Energy Project

Photo of NOAA Scientists recovering an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler

NOAA scientists in Cook Inlet, Alaska recover a streamlined mooring holding an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), used to measure the speed of the current. Data from several ADCPs deployed will be used to assess the distribution of hydrokinetic energy in the inlet for potential turbine placement.

In the summer of 2012, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services measured water currents in Cook Inlet, Alaska to validate a new, Office of Coast Survey hydrodynamic model that will assess hydrokinetic energy potential throughout the Inlet. Cook Inlet has some of the highest velocity water currents in the United States, with flows as fast as 3.5 meters per second. Also, due to the length of the inlet, second only to Chesapeake Bay, some part of the inlet is always experiencing near maximum flood or ebb flows, conditions which favor round-the-clock energy production.

The Alaska Energy Authority approached NOAA about assisting with the Cook Inlet project. Energy delivery in Alaska is costly and the state is interested in using renewable sources to support Alaska's energy needs. Initial data suggest conditions at Cook Inlet are ideal for harvesting renewable energy. Additionally, new hydrokinetic power generation at Cook Inlet could serve many remote villages around the inlet currently cut off from traditional power transmission lines.

Record Breaking Harmful Algal Bloom in Texas Finally Bites the Dust

Photo of a Harmful Algal Bloom taking place

HABs occur when colonies of algae—simple plants that live in the sea—grow out of control while producing toxins harmful to people and animals. Over the last several decades, HABs have caused an estimated $1 billion in losses to U.S. coastal economies that rely on recreation, tourism, and seafood harvesting—all of which can be negatively affected by HABs. (Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department).

Harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecasters at the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) issued a final forecast in mid-February for a HAB that severely affected the Texas coast and coastal bays over the previous five months. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Karenia brevis bloom or "red tide" which began on Sept. 14 may have been the longest lasting on record and one of the largest, extending roughly 300 miles from the southern tip of Texas to Galveston Bay. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, preliminary costs to the Texas shellfish industry alone are estimated to be at least $7 million due to this past season's HAB-related closures.

Fortunately, HAB forecasts for Texas, developed by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, became an integral part of operations at CO-OPS just one year prior to the onset of this devastating bloom. HAB forecasts help coastal communities prepare for and potentially mitigate the impacts of HAB events.