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The 'Non-Navigation' Side of Navigation Services

The NOS scientists who provide Navigation Services are also steering the nation toward conscientious uses of the marine environment.

Guy with mobile geodetic-survey unit

Establishing and maintaining a consistent GPS coordinate system is only one of many ways in which NOS’s “navigation side” impacts Americans’ daily lives.

Within NOS, there are three offices that may be thought of most often as delivering products and services for the navigation community. And yes, some of the principal work of the Office of Coast Survey (OCS), National Geodetic Survey (NGS), and Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) includes making nautical charts and surveying the sea floor; establishing and maintaining a consistent geodetic (land-based) coordinate system; and recording water levels, coastal currents, and related meteorological and oceanographic data. These are indeed all things with a strong focus on transportation.

But you may be surprised to learn that the work of OCS, NGS, and CO-OPS does more than keep commercial shipping lanes open, ensure that your Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver points you in the right direction, and inform coastal weather reports. The work of these offices also helps protect the coasts and restore habitats, plays a major role in emergency and disaster preparedness, and is contributing to our knowledge in two areas of growing national concern – marine spatial planning and understanding the effects of climate change.

Marine Spatial Planning

Marine spatial planning is a public process that analyzes the distribution of human uses in a marine environment. Experts from all around NOS are involved in finding ways to use marine spatial planning to balance human uses with environmental protection. Within OCS, NGS, and CO-OPS, scientists study the maps and charts, models, monitoring, GPS data, and water-level information that provide the framework for this type of planning.

This information can play into a range of marine spatial planning efforts. For example, when planning for the use of alternative and renewable energy sources, such as hydrokinetic power and ocean thermal energy conversion, maps, models, and other ocean observation data from OCS, NGS, and CO-OPS will be instrumental in quantifying the opportunities and consequences of renewable energy production in the marine environment. Using oceanographic observations and circulation models based on hydrodynamics (the force of liquids in motion) developed by OCS, NOAA scientists can quantify energy potential, track and predict the fate (course) of pollutants, and evaluate the likely effects of certain activities on surrounding ecosystems.

Climate Change

map illustration

NOAA is developing circulation models that simulate the effects of climate change on coastal regions.

NOAA’s scientific exploration of the ocean, coupled with its expertise in land-based science, is leading to a deeper understanding of the potential changes in store for coastal areas in the face of a shifting climate. The foundational data from OCS, NGS, and CO-OPS, including sea-floor surveys, geodetic data on elevations, and sea-level information, will guide future strategies for adapting to rising sea levels and climate change.

For more than 150 years, the tide and water-level stations managed by CO-OPS have collected data that illustrate trends in both local and global sea-level rise, as well as long-term water-level fluctuations in the Great Lakes.  Obtaining accurate heights on land is equally important to differentiate changes in sea level from changes in land elevation, which can occur due to subsidence (land sinking) or uplift. Coastal zone managers depend on accurate heights from NGS, together with tide information and sea-floor surveys from OCS, to guide their decisions about how best to deal with rising sea levels and protect coastal communities.

A Far-sighted View

These are but a few of the ways in which the “navigation” side of NOS is helping us prepare to meet the natural, economic, and technological challenges of this century and beyond. Together with its partners in state and local government, federal and international agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations, NOS strives to secure your safety, foster your prosperity, and preserve your ocean and coasts for future generations.