2008 Annual Report
Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Spotlight on Science

NERACOOS: Providing real-time ocean data to just about anyone

Mariners here in New England need accurate weather forecasts. Whether it’s a surfer on a 7 ft. board, a commercial lobsterman on a 30 ft. boat or an oil tanker captain on a 500 ft. ship, they rely on up-to-date ocean condition reports in order to make crucial decisions about their day. Many fishermen, on their steam out to sea, listen to the all-familiar robot-like voice of the weather forecasts on VHF Channel 2, spooling information about tide, wave action, seawater and air temperature, and wind speed.

The data used for these reports comes from the Northeast Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS). NERACOOS uses a network of buoys (locations shown at right) to collect real-time data and put it online for public use. Anyone that needs access to ocean conditions from Long Island Sound to the Canadian Maritimes can visit www.neracoos.org and quickly obtain the information they need.

Tom ShykaThe Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s (GMRI) Ocean Data Products Team (formerly known as GoMOOS) launched the website for NERACOOS in 2009. “For anyone who works or plays on the water, the data is really helpful,” says Tom Shyka (pictured right), Program Manager for Ocean Data Products at GMRI. “We developed the website with the user in mind, and it accommodates the needs of many different audiences.” GMRI’s Ocean Data Products Team creates the avenues through which users can access the information they need.

The NERACOOS website provides other services for mariners outside of simple observations. A model forecast viewer (below left) allows the user to generate predictions about water level and wave height over the course of the following two days. The user can select the region and the closest observing station, and the model will generate a chart that shows predictions against actual observations for that area.

High Frequency Surface Current Radar does just as the name suggests. It maps surface currents around the area of the observation buoy and the direction in which they flow. This is an important application for recreational boaters, commercial fishers, researchers, and rescue personnel.

Another service of the NERACOOS website is Coastal Flooding and Erosion Forecasts. The tool predicts flooding and splash-over events based on the relationship between wave height and water level using real-time data and animates it on a graph over time (below right). This information is helpful for managers, coastal homeowners, and others concerned about erosion from large storms.

“The NERACOOS website is a great portal for people to get to these products,” says Shyka. “We’ve been getting great feedback from our clients and its users.”

The launch of the NERACOOS website led to an opportunity for GMRI to develop a similar website in the southeast with the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA). SECOORA serves areas from North Carolina to the Georgia Coast, and has been providing updates and information on the recent BP oil spill.

NERACOOS and SECOORA are both part of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). IOOS coordinates the nation’s regional ocean observing systems from the East and West coasts to Alaska, Hawaii, and the Great Lakes. All are dedicated to providing maritime users with streaming ocean information.

Having up-to-date ocean data is important for many, from natural resource managers and fishermen to the owners of beachfront cottages. It is Shyka’s hope to someday see a global observing network where every region’s data is in the same format and is accessible all over the world. “The philosophy is to bring everything together under the same standards,” he explained. “So if someone needs access to ocean data from another part of the world, they can obtain it easily.”

Check out the NERACOOS online database at www.neracoos.org.

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