Marine Science Faculty Publications

Real Time Observations of Oceanographic and Meteorological Parameters for Maritime Transportation: Origins and Novel Applications

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The first NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS ® ) was established in Tampa Bay, Florida, becoming operational in 1991 ( In April 2018, the Miami Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System was dedicated as the 30th such system in the US, followed closely by Port Everglades PORTS ® in June 2018 as the 31st. PORTS ® collects and disseminates real time meteorological and oceanographic data within major harbors around the US. PORTS ® data are an essential component for maintaining the safety and efficiency of maritime operations. Before the advent of PORTS ® , knowledge of environmental conditions relevant to ship operations in US harbors was generally limited to wind and precipitation sensors at the local airports and similar shipboard instrumentation. Water levels were inferred from standard tide tables even though surface winds were known to produce significant deviations from predicted values. This incomplete knowledge often led to navigational errors and to accidents. This paper will review the history of PORTS ® development, highlighting recent advances in sensor technologies and novel uses of PORTS ® data. On May 9, 1980, the 580 foot, 20,000 ton bulk carrier Summit Venture was approaching a critical turn toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay, Florida and was overtaken by a violent, blinding thunderstorm. The ship veered off course and crashed into a main support pier of the bridge, collapsing the southbound span. Thirty-six people in vehicles fell into the water; 35 did not survive. The main ship channel into Tampa Bay port facilities was closed for 6 weeks, causing severe disruption to supplies of fuel and other commodities to the entire central Florida region. In the wake of the disaster, the local maritime community, led by the Tampa Bay Pilots Association and the Tampa Port Authority, petitioned the US Congress for funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve environmental monitoring capabilities in the bay. Nearly a decade later, the Tampa Bay Oceanography Project (TOP) began in 1990 as part of NOAA's Coastal Ocean Circulation Program (COCP). This included a 15 month study of currents, water levels, water temperatures, salinity, winds, and other meteorological/oceanographic parameters. By the end of the project, TOP had collected the largest number of circulation measurements in one estuary in the 100-year history of COCP. Successful completion of TOP was followed by permanent deployment of real-time telemetered sensors measuring winds, currents, and water levels at critical locations in the bay - the first official NOAA PORTS ® installation. Since 1991, local operations and maintenance of the system have been directed by the Greater Tampa Bay Marine Advisory Council-PORTS, Inc., a non-profit consortium of maritime interests, through cooperative agreements with the NOAA National Ocean Service Center for Operational Products and Services and the University of South Florida Center for Maritime and Port Studies. The success of TB-PORTS made it a prototype for a national program. Within three years of TB-PORTS becoming operational, San Francisco Bay and Houston/Galveston Bay implemented their own PORTS ® networks. Today PORTS ® operates 24 hours a day/7 days a week in 31 locations around the coasts and Great Lakes of the United States and is a component of the Integrated Ocean Observing System national backbone. The local operation and maintenance of PORTS ® facilities in each port remains funded by local maritime interests under the direction of NOAA/NOS/CO-OPS, who sets operational standards and manages the data quality control and dissemination through the Continuous Operational Real-Time Monitoring System (CORMS). PORTS ® data are provided to the public through the NOAA website A prototype project in Tampa Bay provides PORTS ® data to pilots aboard ships over the Automatic Identification System (AIS), now required on all commercial vessels over 20 m in length, in collaboration with the US Coast Guard R&D Center. The long time series observations of winds, currents, water levels, and other parameters in Tampa Bay from PORTS ® has fueled numerous scientific studies on the dynamics of the estuary. New sensor technologies have been incorporated into the PORTS ® data stream in recent years, including wave height, period, and direction, atmospheric visibility, and most recently, current measurements from sensors mounted on standard US Coast Guard aids to navigation buoys.

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OCEANS 2018 MTS/IEEE Charleston, art. 18374451