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Port and harbor navigation and safety is of paramount importance to the environment, maritime commerce, and national security, as has been voiced recently in the news by public sentiment regarding foreign management of some of our nation’s port facilities.  One existing program that greatly improves port and harbor navigation safety is the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®), operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

PORTS® integrates an elaborate system of instruments specifically arranged to collect, telemeter, quality check and disseminate marine and meteorological information that the public can access via telephone, radio or on the Internet-every 6 minutes, 24 hours a day.   Marine vessel operators and port and harbor decision makers rely on PORTS® to make navigation decisions each year.  When a large, deep-draft vessel navigates the Port of New York/New Jersey, the pilot utilizes PORTS® tide data to help avoid groundings, as well as current and wind data to adjust course to ensure a safe path within the navigation channel.  Data also are available from the bottom of bridges to measure the distance between the bridge and the water surface (i.e., air gap) to help prevent collisions of ship superstructure with bridge infrastructure.  In addition to improving navigation safety, PORTS® data also help to prevent and improve response time to oil spills, support search and rescue missions, and provide data necessary for coastal engineering design and wetland restoration projects. 

PORTS® data also improve the efficiency of maritime commerce.  A report by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Marine Policy Center on the Tampa Bay PORTS® (1) system found that PORTS® produces an estimated savings between $4.4 and $7.0 million per year. These are “lower bound” estimates for a port, which is not considered a high commerce port.  NOAA has also estimated through its experience that each foot of draft a vessel can navigate equals roughly $3M in automobiles and $100K in coal; therefore, real-time accurate data can also improve the efficiency and economics of maritime shipping. 

Despite the clear benefits of PORTS® only thirty-eight of the 150 national ports and harbors that should be serviced by PORTS® are currently instrumented.  Lack of funding and legislative support have been the primary deterrents to expanding the program beyond the original PORTS® stations.   The success of PORTS® today is based upon its partnering collaborative efforts between NOAA’s National Ocean Service and local maritime communities to meet user requirements.  At a time when port and homeland security are so greatly valued, and when larger-scale investment into marine data collection systems is being contemplated (i.e., the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS)), it is critical that existing operational programs, such as PORTS®, and the National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON) are supported.  New funding is becoming available for PORTS® along the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest, but much work remains to achieve the 100% solution that the nation requires.  For additional detail about the PORTS® program, visit the PORTSŪ website.

Woods Hole Group’s Oceanography & Measurement Systems team has been awarded contracts to design, integrate, and install NOAA PORTS® components on the U.S. Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts as well as the Great Lakes.  Woods Hole Group also has contracts for the operation, maintenance, and 24/7 support of PORTS® in Narragansett Bay, New York/New Jersey, Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay.  To maintain Woods Hole Group’s capacity to serve PORTS® requirements, full-time staff and subcontractors are positioned strategically along the mid-Atlantic and northeast coast.  Woods Hole Group also is positioned to extend its support to the Gulf Coast through its fully staffed office in Houston, TX.

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Kite-Powell, Dr. Hauke; Estimating Economic Benefits from NOAA PORTS® Information: A Case Study of Tampa Bay; July 2005.
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