Coast Guard to harness ocean data to improve search and rescue

New data from a multidisciplinary ocean information system is expected to improve search-and-rescue efforts along U.S. coastlines.

The new datasets from the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) include surface-current maps generated using information from high-frequency radar systems that measure the speed and direction of ocean surface currents in near-real time. The Coast Guard can use the maps to track probable paths of shipwreck victims and drifting lifeboats under its Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System.

A system that creates 24-hour forecasts for sea surface currents based on the most recent ocean observations will also be available in the mid-Atlantic region.

Government officials can also use the surface-current maps to support other scientific efforts, such as responding to oil spills, monitoring harmful algae blooms and assessing water quality.

“IOOS is known for providing information about tracking, managing and adapting to changes in the marine environment,” said Zdenka Willis, IOOS program director. “Using it operationally for search and rescue is an important step. This is about saving lives."

“Better data means search efforts can be focused on smaller areas, saving more lives by allowing us to locate and assist distressed persons more quickly,” said Jack Frost, program manager for the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System.

IOOS is part of a joint effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Homeland Security Department.

It brings together federal and nonfederal observing systems to make a broader suite of data available to scientists. It is designed to enhance the government’s ability to collect, deliver, and use information about oceans, coastal waters and the Great Lakes to support research and decision-making. Additional uses for IOOS-generated data include understanding, responding and adapting to the effects of severe weather, global-to-regional climate variability and natural hazards.

IOOS is the U.S. contribution to the Global Ocean Observing System, an effort to improve weather forecasts and climate predictions as part of the larger Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

About the Authors

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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