NOAA Installs System to Improve Safety & Efficiency

Monday, November 23, 2009
Photo coutesy NOAA

Ship captains and pleasure boaters can now get free real-time information on water and weather conditions for Cherry Point, Wash., from a newly installed NOAA ocean observing system that makes piloting a ship safer and more efficient.

The NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) at Cherry Point provides observations of tides, currents, water and air temperature, barometric pressure and winds. Collected from a variety of sensors in and around the port, the data is available online and by phone: 888-817-7794 (toll-free).

“NOAA is committed to providing quality tools and services like PORTS which support the nation’s maritime economy,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Roughly two-thirds of all the goods we buy in the U.S. arrive by ship, contributing millions of jobs and roughly $1 trillion annually to the national economy.”

Administered by the NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, PORTS can significantly reduce the risk of vessel groundings and increase the amount of cargo moved through the port by enabling mariners to safely utilize dredged channel depths. The system also allows large ships to time their arrivals and departures more efficiently.

The BP Cherry Point Refinery, the largest petroleum refinery in Wash., partnered with NOAA to install the PORTS sensors and communications systems. The Cherry Point Refinery is a major producer of transportation fuels on the West Coast and the Cherry Point area is also home to a variety of other marine-dependent commercial entities including a second oil refinery, an aluminum smelter, a liquefied natural gas storage and transfer facility, and a proposed bulk shipping terminal.

“The availability ofreal-time, accurate PORTS data at Cherry Point will help our dock operations personnel and all the vessels that call at Cherry Point to make the best decisions possible regarding docking and cargo transfer safety,” said Scott McCreery, environmental manager for marine issues at the BP Cherry Point Refinery. “In the event of an oil spill, the data will also be very helpful in predicting the movement of oil on the water, increasing our ability to respond quickly and effectively.”

The system will also be used as a means of providing a public service to the local maritime community, making valuable environmental data available to recreational and small commercial vessels in the Southeast Strait of Georgia, as well as making real-time, validated, local environmental data available to U.S. Coast Guard Station Bellingham and U.S. Coast Guard Sector Seattle to assist in their marine safety and vessel traffic management missions.

Nineteen other PORTS are located throughout the nation. Estimates of economic benefits attributed the system range from $7m per year for Tampa Bay to $16m per year for Houston-Galveston, according to studies conducted in those regions.

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