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Making Waves: Episode 61 (October 14, 2010)

… How to track historical hurricane paths where you live
... A new commission aims to make ocean travel safer in the Arctic
… And a new radar system boosts ocean observing in Hawaii.

Those stories are coming up today. But before we begin, I want to make sure you know about an event that’s going on right now through the 19th of October. It’s called Aquarius 2010, and it’s your chance to see what it’s like to live 60 feet under the sea on the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only underwater research lab in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Aquanauts in the lab are broadcasting live shows each day during this special 10-day mission in English and in Spanish. And you can chat with the underwater team, send them tweets, or just follow along with their research anytime of the day through the 19th. So head to for Aquarius 2010.  And don’t miss the next Making Waves episode, we’re going to talk with an Aquanaut from this mission, so be sure to join us for that in two weeks. Now let’s talk about the ocean.

It’s Thursday, October 14, and you’re listening to episode number 61 of Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

(Hurricane Tracks)
Do you live in a place where hurricanes are a threat? Moving to a place and want to know how many hurricanes have passed through the area?  Maybe you’re a city planner, a reporter, or a coastal manager and need to research hurricane activity? Well, there’s a tool for that. It’s called Historical Hurricane Tracks, it’s online for anyone to use, it’s free, and it was just updated to include 2009 storms.

Historical Hurricane Tracks is really cool and it’s easy to use. Once you enter a few search terms, you’re served up with customized, downloadable maps based on more than 150 years of Atlantic hurricane and tropical cyclone data. That’s right. You can find out what hurricanes passed through an area all the way back to 1851.

And there are many, many ways to search. To name a few you can search by U.S. zip code, state or county, storm name or year, or latitude and longitude points.

So, for example, you can check out how many category 1-5 hurricanes have passed within 65 kilometers of Wilmington, NC, between 1851-2009 ... and by the way, you can see an image of just what that looks like on our website – check the show notes for the link to our accompanying online story). Or you can pick out one storm and track its path to see exactly where it made landfall.
One thing you’ll notice with the tool is that if you select a wide range of years, the overlapping paths of decades hurricanes can be quite overwhelming. You can reduce the clutter by choosing fewer years, hone in on different types of storms, you can zoom in and out, and you can even toggle the names of  the hurricanes on your custom map off to help you better see the distinct paths of each hurricane.

Now, these historical “snapshots” are fascinating to see, but they’re for more than entertainment. This data helps community members and local emergency managers develop better plans for storm preparation and recovery.  In other words, it helps people visualize how vulnerable an area is over time to better prepare for what may be ahead.

And in addition to the customizable mapping tool, Historical Hurricane Tracks also features a searchable database of population changes versus hurricane strikes for U.S. coastal counties from 1900 to 2000. And it includes detailed reports on the life history and effects of U.S. tropical cyclones since 1958.  Why would you want to know this? Well, knowing how many people live, work, and vacation in a given coastal community is key for planning and conducting emergency response and recovery activities.

As populations increase in hazard-prone areas, the protection of people, property, and natural resources becomes more complex. Viewing population and storm data together will help minimize uncertainties and empower communities to become better prepared to deal with meteorological hazards.

Last, but not least, the site also offers a look at tropical cyclone reports written by hurricane specialists at the National Hurricane Center.
Again, it’s called Historical Hurricane Tracks, and it’s developed by NOAA’s Coastal Services Center in partnership with the National Hurricane Center. As always, the links are in our show notes.

(Arctic Mapping)
Now let’s head to the Arctic. Hurricanes aren’t a problem here, of course, but here’s what is: increased ocean traffic combined with poor nautical chart coverage.  This is a big safety issue for mariners transiting this vast region, and it’s a growing problem as sea ice  continues to shrink.

Last week at a meeting in Ottawa, representatives from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. established a new Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission to meet this challenge head on. The main goal is to work together to make better nautical charts.

According to U.S. reps at the meeting, less sea ice over longer periods of time has resulted in a doubling of vessel traffic in the Arctic since 2005 from sources like cargo vessels, ecotourism, and ships engaged in resource exploration in the region.

And this increased traffic can create real dangers.  According to Capt. John Lowell, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and U.S. national hydrographer, charting data in much of the Arctic is woefully out of date or nonexistent. And these inadequate charts pose a significant risk for marine safety, potentially leading to loss of life or environmental disaster.

But it’s not just about safety – making ocean transport safe through and within the Arctic is important to the U.S. economy, environment and national security.  

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey headed the U.S. delegation to Ottawa last week, which also included representatives from the Naval Oceanographic Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

And finally today, we’re going to head to a warmer place to tell you about   U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System that’s now available to users in Hawai‘i. 
Before we go there, though, do you know what the Integrated Ocean Observing System is?  It’s a bit of a mouthful, so it’s usually called IOOS for short. Well, to put you in the right frame of mind, here’s Jennie Lyons, a communications specialist from the program explaining what  IOOS is all about from a 2009 interview on our sister podcast, Diving Deeper.

JENNIE LYONS: Well, if you think about how people learn, we really do it by watching and taking in information. It’s the same thing with our oceans and coasts. We really need to observe them to understand what’s happening there. Once we understand, then we can increase the nation’s ability to keep our people safe, our economy secure, and our environment healthy and productive. You would not believe the amazing amount of data collection tools out there. I know I couldn’t quite grasp it when I started here with IOOS. I mean, there are satellites, buoys, tide gauges, radar stations, underwater vehicles, and the list goes on.  Some of the tools are in the water, as you might expect with ocean observations, but some are on land, and others still are all the way up in space. Most of the data collected is streamed to a database where IOOS partners are working to make it easier to access and understand. That way, scientists and decision makers can quickly find what they need.

We’ll have a link to that full episode in the show notes so you can learn more about IOOS. It’s a good one so be sure to check it out. Now let’s get back to Hawaii. So, IOOS partners in the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System began delivering data last month from a new high frequency radar system south of O‘ahu, and it’s the third such system installed in the region this summer.

What do these radars do? Together, the systems send surface current speed and direction in near real time to IOOS national data servers. This data helps scientists better understand where things like spilled oil, harmful algal blooms, or drifting ships might be traveling so responders can take appropriate action.

But’s that not all for IOOS news out of Hawaii. Last week, IOOS also launched a new website that serves up maps of real-time water conditions and recent alerts in the U.S. Pacific Islands. And regional partners are now delivering a nearshore water conditions map specifically for the Hawaii area. The map includes information on salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, turbidity, and oxygen along with recent warnings, advisories, and postings from weekly bacterial testing conducted by the Hawaii Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch. These data provide information that sailors, state and local agencies, and beachgoers need to make safe and informed decisions before heading out on the water and to the beach.  We’ll have a link to the site in our show notes.

And that’s all for this week. A brief programming note before we end: the feed to this podcast is now served up in two formats. The main format is .mp3, which most of you are likely familiar with.  That’ll work in pretty much any player you choose to play this back. The second format is for iTunes, which includes chapter markers, images, and links. And that, of course, only works if you subscribe through iTunes. If you want to do that, you can find the direct link to our iTunes page in the show notes. And while you’re there, leave a comment and tell us what you think about the podcast.

If you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean -- or if you have an ocean fact you’d like answered -- send us a note at And be sure to visit us online. We’re at

Now let’s listen to the ocean...

This is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.