A high-tech weather system known as PORTS at the Port of Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound is focused on improved navigation safety in the port area, but its benefits are expected to also benefit a variety of other maritime users. PORTS is an acronym for Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, a project in which NOAA has partnered with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, in Cordova.
The overall project will consist of an existing NOAA National Water Level Observation Network station at Valdez and two new meteorological-ocean buoys, which measure tidal currents, wind, air temperature, water temperature and barometric pressure. The buoys will be operated and maintained by the citizens advisory council.
“While the council’s sole purpose for installing these buoys is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers, we believe the integration of this metocean data into NOAA’s PORTS will benefit and improve safety for a variety of other maritime users,” said Donna Schantz, executive director of the regional citizens advisory council. “This is another excellent example of how collaborative science can have wide-ranging impacts for the betterment of all.”
Steve Thur, acting deputy director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, said that this new system, and others like it around the country, reduce ship accidents by more than 50 percent, increase the size of ships that can get in and out of seaports and reduce traffic delays. They also provide real time, resilience-ready data as coastal conditions rapidly change potentially threatening coastal communities, Thur said.
The Port of Valdez, the nation’s northernmost ice-free port, is projected to see a boost in commercial ship traffic and passenger cruise ships over the next 5 to 10 years. It is considered an ideal access point for goods shipped to Interior Alaska. The port is well known as the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, which happened when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Sound.
Data from buoys at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal and near the Valdez Duck Flats is already providing information to the Alaska Ocean Observing System, a regional association of the NOAA-led U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System.
The buoys were made possible through donations from Fairweather Science and partnerships with Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the city of Valdez and the Valdez Fisheries Development Association.
PORTS is a cost-shared partnership program with local port authorities, pilot associations, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Navy, academia and other stakeholders nationwide. The first PORTS was established at Tampa Bay in 1991, in the wake of a deadly 1981 collision in which an inbound freighter collided with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, causing the bridge to collapse and killing 35 people. Authorities said that tragedy underscored the need for integrated real-time information to provide comprehensive situational awareness to mariners making operational decisions.