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May 4, 2007

Contact: David Hall
(301) 713-3066, ext. 191

Study Shows Big Economic Benefits of NOAA PORTS® Ocean Observing System in Houston/Galveston

The Galveston Bay area receives an estimated annual economic benefit of $14.1 to $15.6 million in savings and direct income from the operation of the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System®, according a NOAA sponsored study released this week. The report details the economic benefits of the navigational decision support system, which is in operation at 13 major seaports across the United States. Four additional systems are slated to be added this year in ports along the Gulf of Mexico.

Economic benefits result from greater draft allowance, reduced transit delays, reduced risk of groundings, improved environmental/ecological planning, and improved recreational opportunities. The report also documents a correlation between a significant decrease in vessel groundings, 50 percent for ships and 60 percent for tug/tows, since PORTS® was established in Houston/Galveston in 1996. PORTS® is operated by NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services in cooperation with local ports.

“This study validated what we have been hearing for some time,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “It quantified the benefits as being far greater than the cost of the system and demonstrates that the system provides valuable support for the safe and efficient movement of maritime commerce. Just as weather observations enable the smooth movement of goods in flight, this example highlights the benefits of an operational ocean observing system to the health of our economy. Whether in the air, on the ground or on the sea, our nation’s commerce moves faster and safer with NOAA products.”

Knowledge of the currents, water levels, winds, and density of the water can increase the amount of cargo moved through a port and harbor by enabling mariners to safely utilize every inch of dredged channel depth. One additional foot of draft may account for between $36,000 and $288,000 of increased profit per transit depending on the type of cargo transported.

The single largest benefit is associated with the reduced risk of commercial ship groundings. Combining the U.S. Coast Guard’s 1991 Ports Needs Study approach to estimate the cost of groundings with the average number of ship transits, the reduction in grounding risk due to PORTS® data availability results in an avoided cost of $10.5 million annually. PORTS® real-time data are also used to decide whether it is necessary to offload oil tankers to reduce their draft before entering the port. Eliminating three such oil transfer, or “lightering,” operations a year can result in an estimated savings of approximately $250,000.

“Houston/Galveston PORTS® has become one of the most important tools available to our mariners,” said Tom Kornegay, executive director of the Port of Houston Authority. “Our community relies on PORTS® information to safely transport cargo within the Houston/Galveston system, particularly during less than ideal weather.”

PORTS® data are used to enhance area weather and coastal marine forecasts, particularly coastal flooding. The Galveston Bay area's large coastal population is vulnerable to storm surge damage because of its low-lying geography. The estimated annual benefit from improved weather forecasting is between $1.5 and $3 million. Recreational boaters, using better real-time information available through PORTS®, may make more excursions, bringing an estimated $624,000 additional to the economy each year. The value of water temperature and tidal data used by fisherman to improve their catch is estimated to be $30,000 per year.

The report was authored by Hauke Kite-Powell, Ph.D., of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Marine Policy Center, who designed the method of identifying as well as collecting and quantifying the data. Dr. Kite-Powell worked extensively with the local user community to gather the required data. The methodology was first applied to Tampa Bay. In that study PORTS® showed that the Tampa Bay economy receives more than $7 million a year in savings and direct income from the NOAA system.

NOAA plans to evaluate the New York/New Jersey PORTS® in 2007. PORTS® systems also operate in San Francisco Bay, California; Chesapeake Bay, which serves Delaware, Maryland and Virginia; Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island; Soo Locks, Michigan; Los Angeles/Long Beach, California; Delaware River and Bay; Tacoma, Washington; Port of Anchorage, Alaska; New Haven, Connecticut and the Lower Columbia River, bordering Oregon and Washington.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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