New weather buoys establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska

Collaboration promotes navigation safety and protection of coastal marine resources

Photo of new buoy deployed in 2019.
Buoy off Jackson Point in Port Valdez with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal in the background.

The Council has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish PORTS® information for Valdez, Alaska. PORTS® (Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System) improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management by providing real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other geospatial information to mariners. To help bring this resource to Valdez, the Council is streaming data from two new weather buoys to PORTS®.

In 2019, the Council worked with regional partners to deploy two buoys in Port Valdez; one off Jackson Point at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal and one near the Valdez Duck Flats. These buoys collect data to improve understanding of the meteorological and physical oceanographic environment at the terminal and Duck Flats.

The objectives of the PORTS® program are to promote navigation safety, improve the efficiency of U.S. ports and harbors and ensure the protection of coastal marine resources. The Council is mandated by Congress to study wind and water currents and other environmental factors in the vicinity of the Alyeska terminal which may affect the ability to prevent, respond to, contain and clean up an oil spill. The Council works with industry and regulators to ensure response readiness, evaluate risks and propose solutions. Allowing these weather buoys to integrate with PORTS® furthers these efforts while also meeting the system’s objectives.

“While the Council’s sole purpose for installing these buoys is to promote the environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers, we believe the integration of this metocean data into NOAA’s PORTS® will benefit and improve safety for a variety of other maritime users,” said Donna Schantz, executive director for the Council. “This is another excellent example of how collaborative science can have wide-ranging impacts for the betterment of all.”

Data from the buoys is already being provided to the Alaska Ocean Observing System. AOOS is a network that consolidates critical ocean and coastal weather observations and related information products. By monitoring the state’s coastlines and ocean waters, AOOS helps provide the information needed by residents to make better decisions concerning their use of the marine environment.

“This new system, and the others like them around the country, reduce ship accidents by more than 50 percent, increase the size of ships that can get in and out of seaports, and reduce traffic delays,” said Steven Thur, Ph.D., acting deputy director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “They also provide real-time, resilience-ready data as coastal conditions rapidly change, potentially threatening our coastal communities.”

The buoys were made possible through donations from Fairweather Science and partnerships with the Prince William Sound Science Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the City of Valdez and Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The installation has been permitted by several agencies and cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company has allowed the Council access into the marine security zone that borders the terminal.

The Council has a direct interest in the successful operation and maintenance of weather buoys and stations installed in Prince William Sound because weather affects safe oil transportation and spill response.

Science Night 2019

On December 5, the Council hosted Science Night, an evening to hear about the latest research affecting the safe transportation of oil through Prince William Sound. This annual event is an initiative of the Council’s Scientific Advisory Committee. SAC, as it’s known, ensures Council projects are based on the best scientific practices available.

Read moreScience Night 2019

Long-term monitoring in Prince William Sound shows lowest contamination levels in study’s history

Photo of Austin Love conducting passive sampling for LTEMP project in 2018.

Results from the Council’s efforts to monitor the long-term environmental impacts of the operation of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers since the Exxon Valdez oil spill have shown oil contamination in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska has reached all-time low values. The Council has been conducting environmental monitoring since 1993.

Alyeska and its owner companies have implemented several improvements over the years which have contributed to the reduction of pollutants being discharged. These include the elimination of single-hulled tankers and Alyeska’s ability to effectively operate their Ballast Water Treatment Facility which removes oil contamination from tanker ballast water.

Read moreLong-term monitoring in Prince William Sound shows lowest contamination levels in study’s history

Protecting Winter Wildlife from Oil Spills

By Lisa Matlock

Steller sea lions are just one species of many found in Prince William Sound during the winter. Photo by Dave Janka.

“What lives here in the winter?” This is a question anyone might ask when visiting Prince William Sound in the off-season. It is also a question recently asked by local organizations in order to better protect these rich waters and their wildlife occupants year-round from oil spills.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council worked with the Prince William Sound Science Center in 2016 to complete a biological resource inventory of winter species in the Sound. The goal of this project was to develop a detailed bibliography documenting the presence of all wildlife studied in the Sound during the winter since 1989. This project allows this information to be shared with anyone working or visiting the region.

The resulting paper also identifies gaps in knowledge regarding the Sound’s winter species to be filled by future researchers. It provides valuable, scientifically accurate information that can be used by the Council and others to identify sensitive biological resources which informs oil spill contingency plans and helps spill responders and spill drill participants better consider winter species when protecting sensitive areas from harm.

To see the list of winter species download the final report:

Winter Species in Prince William Sound, Alaska, 1989-2016

 

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