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PORTS to Improve Maritime Safety and Efficiency in Valdez

by | Oct 15, 2020 | News, Science, Transportation

Buoy off Jackson Point in Port Valdez with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company Valdez Marine Terminal in the background.

Austin Love | PWSRCAC

A new Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, also known as PORTS, aims to improve maritime safety and efficiency off Valdez. NOAA and the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council partnered to establish the third new PORTS system this year, the 36th in the nationwide network.

The Valdez PORTS will consist of an existing NOAA National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON) station at Valdez and two new meteorological-ocean buoys, operated and maintained by the council, that measure tidal currents, wind, air temperature, water temperature, and barometric pressure.

One of the buoys is located off Jackson Point at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal. The other is near the Valdez Duck Flats. In addition to maritime commerce, this information also improves natural resource management by collecting environmental data.

“This new system, and the others like them 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,” said Steven Thur, acting deputy director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “They also provide real-time, resilience-ready data as coastal conditions rapidly change, potentially threatening our coastal communities.”

The Port of Valdez is projected to see an increase in commercial ship traffic and passenger cruise ships in the next five to ten years. It is known as the northernmost ice-free US port, where it does not freeze over in winter and is an ideal access point for goods shipped to interior Alaska locations. The Port of Valdez is located at the upper end of Prince William Sound, the site of the well known Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, which spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil.

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“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 for the council. “This is another excellent example of how collaborative science can have wide-ranging impacts for the betterment of all.”

Data from the buoys is already being provided to the Alaska Ocean Observing System, a regional association of the NOAA-led US Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS).  PORTS is leveraging that pathway to bring in the quality controlled buoy data and merge it with the Valdez NWLON data, enabling users to access all data in familiar PORTS products through one website.

The buoys were made possible through donations from Fairweather Science and partnerships with the Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the City of Valdez, and Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The installation has been permitted by several agencies, and cooperation with the US Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has allowed the council access into the marine security zone that borders the terminal.

PORTS is a cost-shared partnership program with local port authorities, pilot associations, the US Coast Guard, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Navy, academia, and other stakeholders across the nation. In addition to other noted benefits, these systems also improve hazardous spill response and enhance recreational activities.

The first PORTS was established in 1991 in Tampa Bay following a deadly collision that occurred in 1981; an inbound freighter collided with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, causing a bridge collapse that killed thirty-five people. The accident underscored the need for integrated real-time information to provide comprehensive situational awareness to mariners making safety and operational decisions.

NOAA is celebrating fifty years of science, service, and stewardship in fulfilling a mission to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources.

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One factor that contributes to successful business operations is the ability to adapt to new situations; rare is the organization that flourishes without changing at all. This year, as we are all acutely aware by now, will go down in history for many, many things including the wide range of methods implemented by businesses as they adapted to the new landscape presented to them by COVID-19.

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