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New PORTS® Dedicated in Charleston, S.C.

NOAA system enhances economy, safety for boaters and commercial shippers

June 27, 2013
An employee from NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) installs an air gap sensor which measures bridge clearance on the Don Holt Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina.

A CO-OPS employee installs an air gap sensor 160 feet above the water on the Don Holt Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina. The sensor, part of the Charleston Harbor Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (or PORTS®), is critical for under bridge clearance, as ships continue to maximize channel depths and widths while, at the same time, push the bounds of bridge heights.

Charleston harbor, South Carolina, is home to the nation's 23rd Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®). This NOAA system provides real-time information that determines bridge clearance measurements from special air gap sensors, as well as water level and meteorological information from long-term tide stations, providing users with critical data when transiting the harbor.

Officials from NOS's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) and the South Carolina State Ports Authority dedicated the new system on June 27.

Tailored to the specific requirements of each seaport, PORTS is a decision support tool that improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management through the integration of real-time environmental observations, forecasts, and other geospatial information.

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 can increase profit per transit depending on the type of cargo transported.

The Port of Charleston is the fourth largest port on the East Coast handling commerce valued at more than $58 billion a year. It is a major economic driver of the region and state, facilitating 260,800 jobs in South Carolina. More than 20,000 companies in two dozen states use the Port of Charleston, including major global brands like Michelin, BMW, Adidas, Starbucks, and Boeing.

In addition to providing useful information for maritime transportation, the use of the water temperature and tidal data can be used by fishers to improve their catch, while recreational boating excursions can occur more often and be safer through better real-time information available through PORTS.


Two major studies of the economic benefits of the PORTS system have shown that it can provide both cost-savings and higher direct income. A 2007 study of PORTS operations in the Houston/Galveston area showed benefits ranging between $14.1 and $15.6 million annually. An earlier study for the system operated in Tampa/St.Petersburg showed that the Tampa Bay economy receives more than $7 million a year in savings and direct income from NOAA PORTS.