COCMP Reference Guide

COCMP Reference Guide [PDF] An introduction: how ocean current mapping works and why it is useful...






Project Benefits

COCMP was a collaborative, state-funded partnership providing resources supporting the national and international consensus that a better understanding of ocean processes is essential to society. COCMP shared goals with the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observation System (NOAA IOOS), the national plan for an integrated coastal observation system. NOAA IOOS has a broad range of goals, which will benefit many segments of the population from regulatory agencies to beach goers.

COCMP used a range of observing systems, which in combination will provide a variety of benefits to Californians, including those benefits listed below.

Climate Change

Global warming will affect everyone in California. Observing variability in ocean temperature, productivity and currents provides information to scientists predicting how coastal ecosystems respond to shifts in ocean temperature, currents and other factors that may vary with global climate change.

Fisheries and Marine Life Management

High frequency radar systems can also be used to monitor ocean conditions that correlate with salmon stock abundance and juvenile salmon mortality. The University of California, Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, in collaboration with the Sonoma County Water Agency, established a three-site high frequency radar system to describe ocean conditions where intensive coho salmon recovery activity is under way on the Russian River. Understanding ocean conditions, and the variability underlying salmon food resources, is critical to understanding salmon management issues.

In the past ten years, scientists have gained a new understanding of the important linkages between physical and biological processes in coastal oceans. These linked processes underlie ocean productivity that drives marine food chains–key to salmon and other nearshore commercially important fisheries. Understanding these processes supports not only salmon recovery, but also management of the commercially and ecologically important nearshore fisheries. Multi–species, integrated ecosystem management requires better information about changing ocean conditions. The goal was to reduce uncertainty and risk to fisheries resources, thereby allowing us to manage more sustainably.

One tool for multi-species ecosystem management is marine protected areas (MPAs). Managers need to take many factors into consideration when they design MPAs. One is where the young fish and invertebrates—the larvae—come from and where currents eventually concentrate them.

Long-term changes in ocean ecosystems may have profound effects on society's use and dependence on coastal ocean natural resources. Coastal current monitoring is one tool for understanding marine ecosystems to better manage these ecologically rich and commercially important systems.


Maritime and Port Operations

People who fish, recreational boaters, and commercial shippers all are concerned about safety in the coastal waters. Wave, wind and current information can help them plan their trips and minimize exposure to severe conditions at sea.

Port pilots move large, very deep-draft vessels in and out of the nation's ports and harbors where currents can often be very strong. Sometimes currents at the bottom of the vessel move at different speeds from the surface currents. Modern commercial vessels are so large that currents below the surface have huge effect on navigation. The job of the port pilots would be easier, and ship navigation and safety would improve if there were a better understanding of the currents from the surface to the bottom. Also, commercial freighters are so huge that they move into ports with very little clearance from the keel to the bottom. In some ports a difference of six inches can stop a ship from moving in or out of port. Ocean observing systems will provide better and more accurate measurements of sea surface level, greatly aiding port operations .

Port operators also need to dredge the port periodically and dispose of any hazardous spills. Monitoring of currents will help managers plan for these events.

National Security

National security agencies can also benefit from coastal ocean surface current monitoring. The same technology that maps surface currents can be adapted to locate and identify vessels, for port security and to predict waterborne contaminant movement, but could also be used for port security and tracking ship traffic.

Natural Hazards

When storms bring big waves to the coast, and flooding rivers meet the ocean, the coast can be a dangerous place. Floods and waves can cause erosion and damage property. Coastal ocean monitoring can provide more accurate predictions of coastal flooding by storm surge.

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Search and Rescue

Emergency response agencies and the Coast Guard search and rescue will benefit from coastal ocean observation. Understanding winds and currents will improve locating and rescuing victims, saving lives and money. Recent studies by universities have shown that surface current radar can increase search and rescue efficiency by a factor of 100% or more, greatly reducing risk to human life.

Recreation and Water Quality

The primary focus of COCMP was coastal water quality. Human activities on land and sea can affect coastal water quality. COCMP will use technologies that can monitor surface currents—no matter what the weather is—unlike other technologies, such as satellites, which cannot “read” the ocean surface through clouds or at night. COCMP plans to deploy these technologies to efficiently monitor California 's coast.

Beach Management

Beach closures due to sewage have become more common in the U.S. With help from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (University of California, San Diego), the City of Imperial Beach has established a system to track sewage movement. Using a three-site high frequency radar system, the city tracks and predicts sewage movement from Tijuana. This effort benefits all beach users in the Imperial Beach area, which has suffered from the largest number of beach closures in the United States.

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The ability to track sources of pollution, like chemical or sewage spills, benefits management agencies and everyone else concerned with coastal water quality. Tracking of pollution incidents can occur in real time, or agencies can use these data to forecast spill trajectories. In addition, agencies can use archived surface currents data to discover the source of pollution events by tracing the spill back to the source location.

Another type of pollution, non-point source, occurs when storms cause run-off of urban and rural surface pollution into coastal waters. This is a major source of oil and chemicals in coastal waters. Knowing where urban and rural surface pollution goes is essential to understanding how these events affect coastal water quality.

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Oil Spills

COCMP products will also assist water quality management in its ability to monitor and respond to oil spills. Our poor understanding of surface currents has always made it difficult to predict accurately where oil will travel when there is a spill. This is especially true in the complex tides and currents of California 's major ports. Without the ability to understand surface water movement it is difficult–if not impossible–to respond to oil spills reliably and efficiently.

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Marine Diseases and Harmful Algal Blooms

A more subtle form of coastal pollution, but one of great concern, is the emergence of marine diseases affecting both humans and marine wildlife. Examples of diseases showing up in coastal waters are toxoplasmosis, which is proving lethal to sea otters; and Norwalk virus that can accumulate in oysters, making them toxic. Both these diseases have significant implications for human health and can be traced to feral or domestic cats or other terrestrial mammals living along the coast.

Naturally occurring harmful algal blooms (HABs), which concentrate biotoxins in shellfish, are potentially lethal and require intensive annual monitoring by state and county health agencies. COCMP and the data integration it fosters may eventually create an understanding of the physical and biological processes that give rise to harmful algal blooms and the pathways of disease organisms that originate on land. HABs are believed to be the cause of significant sea otter mortalities.