Southeast & Caribbean Region

A CO-OPS employee installs an air gap sensor 160 feet above the water on the Don Holt Bridge in Charleston, S.C.

Officials from NOAA’s National Ocean Service and the South Carolina State Ports Authority have officially dedicated a new system to increase safety for ships in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.

The system, called Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®), provides real-time information that determines bridge clearance measurements from special air gap sensors, as well as water level and meteorological information from long-term tide stations, providing users with critical data when transiting the harbor. Charleston is now the 23rd U.S. harbor to use the system.

“By providing integrated real-time tide, weather and bridge clearance information, the Charleston PORTS will help reduce the chances for accidents,” said Richard Edwing, director of NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS). “For instance, the new sensors on the Don Holt Bridge in the harbor will provide crucial information for ships trying to pass under it. Also, enhanced marine information can increase the amount of cargo moved through a port and harbor by enabling mariners to safely use every inch of dredged channel depth and bridge clearance.”

Tailored to the specific requirements of each seaport, PORTS is a decision support tool that improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management through the integration of real-time environmental observations, forecasts, and other geospatial information.

Knowledge of the currents, water levels, winds, and density of the water can increase the amount of cargo moved through a port and harbor by enabling mariners to safely utilize every inch of dredged channel depth. One additional foot of draft can increase profit per transit depending on the type of cargo transported.

The Port of Charleston is the fourth largest port on the East Coast handling commerce valued at more than $58 billion a year. It is a major economic driver of the region and state, facilitating 260,800 jobs in South Carolina. More than 20,000 companies in two dozen states use the Port of Charleston, including major global brands like Michelin, BMW, Adidas, Starbucks and Boeing.

“We consider the PORTS air gap system’s capability to provide real-time data as absolutely necessary for both navigation safety and the continued business development and job creation at our port facility,” said Stevenson E. Kemp Jr., Vice President, Terminal Operations, Port of Charleston.

In addition to providing useful information for maritime transportation, the use of the water temperature and tidal data can be used by fishers to improve their catch, while recreational boating excursions can occur more often and be safer through better real-time information available through PORTS.

Two major studies of the economic benefits of the PORTS system have shown that it can provide significant annual economic benefits in both cost-savings and in higher direct income. A 2007 study of PORTS operations in the Houston/Galveston areas showed benefits ranging between $14.1 and $15.6 million annually. An earlier study for the system operated in Tampa/St.Petersburg showed that the Tampa Bay economy receives more than $7 million a year in savings and direct income from NOAA PORTS.

- Adapted from NOAA press release issued June 27, 2013


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