Sea Condition Information Online - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

07/25/05

Sea Condition Information Online

R2, about 35 miles off the Georgia coast. R2, about 35 miles off the Georgia coast.

The dock was empty at Miss Judy Charters on a recent visit. The boats were out taking advantage of the nice weather.

"Perfect," is how the company's Deidra Helmey Jeffcoat described it. "Right now, with what it's showing and everything is great. We've got a west-southwest wind. The wind speed is four knots, and the wave height is two feet. That is a very pleasurable day."

She got all that information online, via the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography's South Atlantic Bight Synoptic Offshore Observational Network--or SABSOON--project. It's a network of scientific gear for studying the ocean housed on platforms the Navy installed on the continental shelf.

Jeffcoat accesses the data she needs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Data Buoy Center, which puts the SABSOON and other data online in one place in layman's, rather than scientific, terms.

"Just because it's sunny here or a light breeze, does not mean it's the same thing out on the ocean," said Jeffcoat. "You get 20 miles out there and it could be a nightmare."

"We're taking advantage of a pretty unique infrastructure out here in these Navy towers to get continuous time series measurements of meteorological and oceanographic properties," said Jim Nelson of the Skidaway Institute.

One of those facilities, R2, towers above just 90 feet of water halfway across the continental shelf, where SKIO researchers measure everything from wind speed to wave height with instruments above and below the surface.

"There are a number of challenges in maintaining systems out here," said Nelson. "It's a marine environment. We've had lightning strikes, there was a structural refurbishment by the Navy that shut us down a couple of summers ago...anything that was above water would have been sandblasted and painted yellow."

All the data that the project gathers comes through a computer on board R2, but how does it get on the web? The local broadband providers don't reach 35 miles out into the ocean. The US Navy, however, does. They transmit the information back to shore via microwave, so anyone with internet access can get a look at ocean conditions.

"There are times that all we have to do is pull it up and we know that it is way too dangerous to go out there," noted Jeffcoat.

Which is good to know, whether your goal is science or just a nice day of fishing.

The system might also be a help one day to people who do get in trouble on the water. They're working on a way to forecast ocean currents, which could be a great help to search-and-rescue personnel trying to find somebody drifting in a life raft or vest.

Reported by: Charles Gray, cgray@wtoc.com

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