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Note: CoastWatch Operations have been transferred from COP to NOAA Satellites and Information in Fiscal Year 1995


In the fall of 1987, a "red tide" event, a toxic plankton bloom, occurred off the North Carolina coast, causing an estimated $25 Million loss to fisheries and tourism for that area when State authorities had to close shellfish beds for several months. NOAA's polar orbiting satellites were able to detect ocean thermal features associated with the event in the data collected from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). These were then translated into high resolution sea surface temperature (SST) images which provide the means for tracking this toxic marine algae as well as for many other activities and phenomena that are associated with sea surface temperatures. This red tide event gave birth to the idea of CoastWatch.


CoastWatch is designed to provide satellite remotely sensed and in situ environmental data and information to Federal and State decision makers and researchers in a timely and accessible manner. CoastWatch focuses on regional and national priorities, such as unusual environmental events and tracking algal biomass that contribute to toxic phytoplankton blooms. CoastWatch required an extensive research, product development and testing phase which was only possible through a cooperative effort involving funding from NOAA's Coastal Ocean Program and technical support from all NOAA line offices including the National Weather Service (NWS), NOAA Ocean Service (NOS), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).


The development of the NOAA CoastWatch program was the first application of satellite data to oceanography to be used on an operational basis. CoastWatch started with only POES/AVHRR SST data for the East Coast but now provides a variety of data from several different platforms (e.g., satellite imagery, aircraft observation and various sensors) covering all U.S. coastal waters. CoastWatch was transferred from a prototype system to operations within NESDIS in 1995, where it continues successful operations. CoastWatch now contains six regional nodes located around the country, hosting equipment and personnel to provide near real-time data distribution and regional scientific expertise to the local user community. The images displayed on the NOAA CoastWatch website are created from satellite datasets. Regional sites collect, process, calibrate, validate, archive, and distribute the images. For many uses, these images provide enough information and are easily viewed over the Internet. . There are many uses for each type of image. Sea surface temperature maps help meteorologists predict weather and fishermen locate prime fishing areas. Ocean color and chlorophyll -a levels help scientist track changes in the ocean that may indicate harmful algal blooms, while ocean surface winds are used by sailors and commercial shipping pilots for navigation. Each image and dataset is available in near real-time, so the image is only a few hours old.

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