Just over a year after the ship Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal, her sister ship, the Ever Forward, remains stranded in the Chesapeake Bay, once again highlighting the role of shipping in the global supply chain. American ports and waterways are the cornerstone of our national security and prosperity. They are home to our Navy and Coast Guard, and before the pandemic, our ports alone contributed more than a quarter of America’s GDP. Even at the height of the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak, ports such as Los Angeles and Savannah were seeing record volumes of cargo movements, demonstrating their critical role in America’s blue economy and our post-pandemic recovery.
Recent supply chain disruptions have put America’s seaports in the spotlight, spurring the $17 billion in funding allocated to them under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA ). December saw the first disbursement of that funding, with $241 million through the Department of Transportation’s Port Infrastructure Development Program for 25 projects to improve port facilities in 19 states and one territory. The White House followed suit in January, announcing $14 billion in funding for more than 500 port and waterway projects in 52 states and territories in fiscal year 2022.
This announcement from the White House included a commitment to better protect communities from climate change by increasing their resilience to flooding and strengthening disaster mitigation and recovery from the effects of extreme weather. Unfortunately, nothing is said in the announcement about tackling the impact of climate change on ports and waterways.
A recent report paints a problematic picture, where weather-related disruptions and delays, combined with infrastructure damage caused by sea-level rise and extreme storms, are expected to impose significant costs on the maritime transportation system. Additionally, increased occurrences of extreme weather conditions will degrade the health and safety of personnel working in this vital industry.
The Biden administration can immediately address these weather and climate risks with predictive impact data, services and tools. Rather than waiting years for long-term plans announced by the Department of Transportation to materialize, the United States can seize several “shovel-ready” opportunities now. It is all about putting better weather information in the hands of port operators and users. Prior knowledge of hazardous conditions can not only help minimize damage to landside infrastructure, but also increase the efficiency of port operations. For example, the onset of fog forced the closure of the Galveston Ship Channel. Hurricanes of course have a greater impact, with a single storm disrupting operations for days. Depending on the port, a single day of closure can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) provides extensive marine forecasts and support products to US shipping companies and port operators, but their expert meteorologists lack the resources to tailor their service to ships, to quays and waterways. This capability is increasingly available in the private sector, with solutions such as route optimization applications, geospatial dashboards containing information and alerts, and modern application programming interfaces (APIs). which allow individual users to specify their location, activity and schedule for exactly what they are going to do. and when. This type of high-definition, actionable information available in the commercial weather industry is increasingly in demand as extreme weather impacts increase around the world and the potential economic benefits to our ports and waterways are enormous. .
Another critical need is ocean data and services. NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real Time System (PORTS) program monitors tides, currents, and water levels below decks to help pilots safely maneuver ships in ports and waterways.
With an extremely limited budget, NOAA’s PORTS program forces port authorities to absorb a large portion of the cost of oceanographic sensor hardware. This has slowed the progress of the program because port authorities have prioritized funding major infrastructure over information technology infrastructure like this. By adding just a minor amount of IIJA funding for NOAA PORTS services, the Biden administration can expedite these facilities to more U.S. seaports faster, dramatically increasing their safety and efficiency.
Finally, high-resolution bathymetric information is essential for the safe passage of ships entering and leaving the port. NOAA’s Precision Navigation Service applies data from modern multibeam sonar surveys to regularly update nautical charts of shipping channels, which require periodic dredging to remove accumulated sediment. A compelling example is the Port of Long Beach’s 2017 Precision Navigation Study that allowed authorities to increase the draft of incoming vessels from 65 to 69 feet. This increase not only allowed ships to carry additional products, but also reduced the need for lighterage, saving individual shipping companies more than $10 million each year. Additionally, the recent grounding of the Ever Found in the Chesapeake Bay illustrates the consequences if this bathymetric information is not taken into account.
NOAA Precision Navigation Updates occur at a frequency moderated by the historically scarce available resources. A partial solution to this is the acquisition of autonomous survey vessels which are orders of magnitude more affordable than ships. Now, with the flood of waterfront port infrastructure funding, NOAA can accelerate navigational accuracy updates to all US seaports to maximize their productivity.
This is a historic time for United States ports and waterways. The recent supply chain crisis has revealed the importance of our shipping system to all of America, far beyond the port cities that support it. At the same time, the IIJA has given a massive boost to the landside and seaside infrastructure of US seaports. Allocating just a small fraction of this funding to modern meteorological, hydrological and navigational data could yield a remarkable return on investment. Just as a prudent sailor considers the weather, tide, wind and sea to ensure a successful voyage, the United States must keep tabs on its investments in port infrastructure to ensure that it does not fail. fail.
Rear Admiral (Ret.) Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., is the former Deputy Administrator of NOAA, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and Chairman of the Coordinating Board of the Committee on the System of maritime transport (CMTS). He is the CEO of Ocean STL Consulting, LLC and host of theAmerican Blue Economy Podcast”.
Shimon Elkabetz is the CEO and co-founder of Tomorrow.ioa weather and climate security company that contracts for NOAA weather modeling upgrades.
Joe Linza is the CEO and Founder of Lynkeran environmental services company that handles NOAA’s PORTS program and nautical cartography work.
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