OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU, NOAA Collaborate on New Ocean Temperature Forecast Service

10/14/2008

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Using 10 years of coastal measurements and a sophisticated computer modeling system, scientists from Oregon State University have created a new service that forecasts ocean temperatures and currents for three days.

Supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the service already is helping tuna fishermen locate their catch.

But helping fishermen target tuna – and save costly fuel while prowling the sea looking for tuna-friendly water temperatures – may be the tip of the iceberg of this collaborative effort, which is part of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS (NANOOS), according to Mike Kosro, a professor of physical oceanography at OSU.

“This coordinated effort on a national integrated ocean observing system will pay huge dividends in the future,” Kosro said. “In addition to helping scientists learn about the impacts of climate change, this continual monitoring – and the associated modeling that goes with it – will have numerous societal benefits, from national security to the safety and efficiency of recreational boaters.

“Using our new knowledge of currents and ocean temperatures, for example, we also will be able to better predict how far and in what direction a person may drift when a boat sinks or someone falls overboard, improving the chances that they can be rescued.”

Kosro and his OSU colleagues have collected data from radio transmitters at 11 sites along the Oregon coast. By measuring the “backscatter” from the transmitters, they have created hourly maps over the past 10 years that provide a picture of ocean temperatures and wind-induced surface currents.

Alexander Kurapov, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, led an effort to create a computer model that predicts the present state of the ocean and how it will respond to current and predicted wind conditions. Right now, Kurapov says, they can predict what currents and water temperatures will be at different locations for the next 2-3 days. In the near future, the model will assimilate the measured data to further improve its predictions.

“It can be complex and some parts of the system respond to change more quickly than others,” Kurapov said. “When the wind blows to the south and pushes near-shore water offshore, it triggers upwelling and creates a boundary current. As the winds shift, so does that boundary current and it can get little ‘wiggles’ that can grow, creating numerous mini-currents that can run in different directions or merge into large-scale eddies.

“We’re still improving the system and as we do, you will see more and more applied uses of the science,” he added.

Craig Risien, a faculty research assistant in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, took the computer model created by Kurapov and designed a web site tailored for tuna fishermen.

Ron Seip, a Coos Bay fisherman and owner of the vessel, Sweet Witch, is an early believer in the system. Seip told officials at NOAA, which funded the project, that he uses the OSU scientists’ web site to help locate tuna. “I am conserving fuel because I have a better idea of where to look,” Seip said.

That’s because tuna prefer warmer water than is typically found close to the Oregon shore. They usually are found in waters that are at least 59 degrees and thus schools of tuna often range off the coast from as close by as 10 miles or so, out to 50 to 100 miles. With rising fuel costs, that can make an enormous difference in cost – and safety – to sport and commercial fishermen.

The new website, located at http://agate.coas.oregonstate.edu/data/ocs_tuna.html#now, has a three-day outlook of temperatures, currents, salinity, sea surface height and other information.

John H. Dunnigan, NOAA’s assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service, called the effort an example of NOAA and the academic community working together to create a model and make it operational. “Ecological forecasts become increasingly important as our ocean changes,” he said.

OSU supported the transition from research to operational status through the Cooperative Institute for Oceanographic Satellite Studies. The project was funded through NOAA’s Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics program and NANOOS – part of the overall Integrated Ocean Observing System. That system is a tool that delivers the data and information needed to increase understanding of coastal waters so decision-makers can take action to improve safety, enhance the economy and protect the environment.