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A radar system installed by Old Dominion University oceanographers in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the state's Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) will generate continuous mapping of the surface currents in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

The CODAR monitoring units will help authorities track pollutants or find victims of boat wrecks, and the information they collect also could be useful to fishermen, boaters and coastal erosion scientists and engineers, said Larry Atkinson, Slover Ocean Professor and eminent professor in ODU's Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Antennae units that send and receive high-frequency radio signals have been installed by ODU researchers at Community Beach in Ocean View and on the northernmost island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. NOAA is funding the monitoring work of the oceanographers, which is part of a greater Mid-Atlantic Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System.

The monitoring units, manufactured by CODAROS Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., broadcast radio signals and then receive back-scattering from waves on the water's surface. Computers turn the radar information into current maps that are updated every hour.

ODU oceanographers for more than a decade have been taking monthly measurements of currents across the mouth of the bay and have contributed their data to computer models and databases. But broad-sweeping radar units that operate around the clock can record more data and provide more timely current maps than occasional measurements taken by ODU's research boat, the RV Fay Slover, and other in-water instrumentation, Atkinson said.

The lower bay project also is part of a national surface-current monitoring initiative of the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). Atkinson served a term-funded by the National Science Foundation-as a member of the interagency Ocean.US team that helped to develop IOOS.

About 90 antennae units have been erected in United States coastal zones so far, many of them in California, where the state legislature has pumped about $40 million into the effort. "California is fairly saturated," Atkinson said. "For instance, they have some around San Diego that they use to track pollutants from the Tijuana Rivera. They've had problems with beach closings and they want to know when the pollutants are coming."

With the new units installed this year, the lower bay will be even more saturated than any area of California, Atkinson said. "We're the best covered area in the country."

The Coast Guard will be a prime user of the continuous current monitoring, Atkinson said. "Up until now, they get the mayday from such and such a location and the only thing they know about the current is the wind speed and direction and predicted tidal currents. An aircraft can fly over and drop a buoy, which they monitor in order to define a search pattern. But we are usually talking about a pretty large search area. With continuous monitoring, we can shrink the search area. Hopefully, it will save the lives of water accident victims and put rescue teams at less risk."

Researchers and authorities interested in subjects ranging from fisheries to algal blooms will also be steady users of the data from the antennae units, Atkinson said. One reason the city of Norfolk provided a location at Community Beach for one of the antenna is to get surface-current information pertaining to beach erosion, he added.

In addition, the data is available to the public and for use in commercial applications. An entrepreneur, for example, may use the data to create a specific commercial service for fishermen or sailing enthusiasts. "For sailing, it could really give you an edge," Atkinson said.

CCPO researchers working with Atkinson on the project include Jose Blanco, Teresa Gardner and Chris Powell.

This article was posted on: June 25, 2007

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