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Tools for the Angler: NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System


Get hooked into the NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System for up-to-date info.

While the stereotypical "rugged individualist" model of the outdoors enthusiast has its attractions, the truth of the matter is that today, through the hard work of numerous federal and state agencies, you can step outside your house and into the wilderness armed to the teeth with a remarkable array of data.

And, because they are tax-funded programs, that data is provided to all parties free of charge, and mostly easily accessible on the Internet. USGS topographic and geological maps, all free of charge and beautifully drafted; stream gauge data from the same agency; population histories of major game species from Fish and Wildlife; ecosystem maps from the National Forest Service. It's a great time to be alive if you're a data nerd, for sure.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is another agency whose wide purview and mandate to manage and study coastal, oceanic, and meteorological systems makes them remarkably relevant to outdoorsy types like us. And while they have a wide range of really cool programs related to fisheries management and coastal wildlife, there is one program in particular that is simply beyond cool in terms of real-time data delivery: the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, or "PORTS," if you're being cute about it.

PORTS, mostly designed for shipping, is a "decision support tool," which is just a goofy way of saying that it gives you real-time data on which one can make navigation decisions.

The systems that make up individual instillations of PORTS are a web of current meters, tidal gauges, meteorological stations, and clearance gauges around bridges or manmade structures, all linked together into a single data acquisition package. The graphic below, gleaned from the PORTS website itself, provides a schematic cartoon showing these linkages.

The PORTS system, simplified (NOAA)

What this means in practical terms is that, where the systems have been installed, you can access the PORTS data for that location in real time, checking in on each individual station, parsing the data that you are interested in and ignoring other data.

For example, here I've zoomed in on the stations available for the Houston/Galveston Bay area:

PORTS Example Galveston Bay

You can see that there are several stations with different data available; some include both water levels and meteorological data, while others are only current meters. If you click on any of these stations, you pull up the available data, in a range of visualizations that you can browse through.

Here, for instance, is a composite current velocity curve for the Galveston Bay current meter:


The uses of this system for recreational fisherfolk are pretty obvious; it's a one-stop-shop for tide data, currents, weather, wind speeds, temperatures... pretty much the whole suite of info you need to plan out a successful day out on the water. The PORTS system has only been installed in 24 coastal regions, mostly in areas with major shipping or fisheries industries, but of course those places tend to be high on the list of recreational fishers too.

The PORTS system is also available in a mobile format, meaning you can take it out with you in the boat and keep up to date on the changing conditions in real time, at least until you drop your phone in the ocean or it gets eaten by a seagull.

The PORTS system is just one of the many, many, many digital data resources available to people, a service of a federal agency that could provide a lot of value for recreational anglers or birders or anyone just heading out to enjoy the coast.

Check it out, explore the site, and bask in the glow of pure, raw data just at your fingertips.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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Tools for the Angler: NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System