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A Mid-Atlantic coastal ocean monitoring system designed to boost the accuracy of storm tracking and many other forecasts and warnings will be developed with an $8.7 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Experts in coastal oceanography from Massachusetts to North Carolina, including faculty members of Old Dominion University, will be involved in the project.

Existing initiatives of the Mid-Atlantic Coast Ocean Observing Regional Association (MACOORA) will be pulled together and expanded to provide a flood of data for this new project, which is titled Mid-Atlantic Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System. Sophisticated computing will translate the data into real-time models of surface and subsurface ocean conditions, and the models will be the basis of forecasts in fields ranging from climatology to ecology.

The coordinated monitoring system, which was announced in August, is expected to improve the predicting and/or tracking of major storms, flooding, riptides, algal blooms, water pollution, oil and chemical spills, conditions affecting coastal maritime navigation, water quality, beach erosion and conditions favorable to commercial and recreational fishing. Coast Guard rescue efforts should be bolstered by the up-to-the-minute information about winds and currents that the system will provide. The system also will analyze data to detect evidence of climate change.

"Already this summer, we started using the CODAR high-frequency radar in the lower Chesapeake Bay to measure surface currents and near-shore waves," said Larry Atkinson, the ODU eminent professor who holds the Samuel A. and Fay M. Slover Professorship in Oceanography and who is the Chesapeake Bay sub-regional coordinator for MACOORA. "CODAR will be part of the new system, as will the recently announced glider consortium, which will operate unmanned undersea robotic devices to gather data all along the Mid-Atlantic coast."

CODAR antennae have been installed by ODU oceanographers at an Ocean View beach site and on the northernmost island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The overall administrator of the antennae project and other NOAA-sponsored observing initiatives in the Chesapeake Bay is Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology.

The first of many planned Mid-Atlantic coast glider missions concluded in Virginia Beach in mid-August and the glider was on display for a few days afterwards at Nauticus, the marine science and technology center on the downtown Norfolk waterfront.

Another project that will be a component of the new system is the recently announced Chesapeake Bay Inundation Prediction System (CIPS), which is funded by NOAA and operated by the Chesapeake Bay Observing System (CBOS) as part of the Chesapeake Research Consortium (CRC). Elizabeth Smith, research assistant professor with ODU's Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography, is project coordinator for CIPS and executive director of CBOS. Smith gained extensive experience with ocean observing while at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California.

CIPS will employ state-of-the-art, high-resolution atmospheric models to predict storm development, movement and intensity. These atmospheric models will be coupled with high-resolution oceanographic models and visualizations that combine the effects of wind-driven ocean storm surges, waves, tides and river discharge to project inundation overland rather than just estimate water height at the shore.

Data for CIPS comes from instruments attached to stationary buoys and lighthouses and other structures in coastal waters, research missions of vessels such as ODU's 55-foot RV Fay Slover and various drifting sensors tracked by universities and government agencies. Sophisticated computer models can assimilate and project the data into a real-time re-construction of the waters and weather in thousands of square miles of the Mid-Atlantic area.

The information will be available to the public, educators, academic researchers and business and industry users via nowcasts and forecasts from NOAA's National Weather Service and other sources, including services that will be operated by private vendors in cooperation with MACOORA, according to Atkinson.

MACOORA, whose coverage area stretches from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, includes five subregions: Massachusetts and Rhode Island Bay, Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and New York Bight, Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. The association encompasses nine states, 66 million people, the nation's political and financial capitals, and the world's largest naval base in Norfolk. Ports in the MACOORA territory handle nearly one-fourth of all waterborne commerce in the United States.

NOAA supports 10 other associations similar to MACOORA in other coastal areas of the country. The new coordinated systems spring from the national 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.

This article was posted on: September 12, 2007

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