Rutgers and Philadelphia's NBC television affiliate launch first water forecasting system for visitors to the New Jersey shore

May 23, 2001

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY - Tiptoeing into the water for fear of unexpectedly cold temperatures may be a thing of the past for New Jersey shore visitors, thanks to a new Rutgers' water temperature forecasting service that has been launched on Philadelphia's WCAU-TV Channel 10 News, an affiliate of NBC.

The new service from the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratory (COOL) of Rutgers' Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS) at Cook College, New Brunswick, advises sport fisherman, surfers, and divers on water conditions. More important, it will help the U.S. Coast Guard zero in on survivors in search and rescue missions. Shore water conditions data also are available from COOL's website, TheCOOLroom.org.

Starting today, the COOL report will be a daily feature of the television station's weather news, for the first time providing shore visitors in the lower New Jersey and Philadelphia areas detailed satellite information about water temperatures from Sandy Hook to Cape May and beyond.

"Ultimately, we'll provide water temperature information from the tip of Long Island to the coast of Delaware and Maryland," says Michael F. Crowley, director of IMCS's Marine Remote Sensing Laboratory.

The water temperature data can make the difference between a good beach day and a bad one, Crowley notes, even on a day when the weather is uniformly warm and sunny. He says that beaches just a few miles away from each other can vary considerably in water temperature. "It can be 75 degrees in one place, and literally, just 10 miles away, 55 degrees," he notes.

Such radical water temperature differences in close proximity to each other are due to upwelling cold water from the ocean depths, says Crowley. Typically, he says, water sits offshore in layers: warm water heated by the sun on top and cold water on the bottom. But when wind pushes the warm top layer out to sea, the cold water upwells into the gap. "It's not uniform up and down the shore area, so you can get wide variations in water temperature from beach to beach," notes Crowley.

The service makes use of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites to track variations in ocean temperatures along the continental shelf, a relatively shallow part of the Atlantic extending about 100 miles off the New Jersey coast.

It also employs surface radar to monitor the speed, direction and height of waves in the shelf area. Radar sites are at Wildwood, Brigantine, Brant Beach, Loveladies, and Sandy Hook, a section of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The COOL Lab also hopes to set up additional sites at Seaside Heights and Ocean City.

One of the first Channel 10 COOL reports will detail how the Web site's data can assist Coast Guard search and rescue missions by using the surface radar to track the movement of waves and possible drift of survivors after a boat or plane wreck.

Water temperature is also important in search and rescue missions, since it helps determine survival prospects, says Crowley. "You can survive a long time in water that's 65 degrees (Fahrenheit) but not in 45 degrees (Fahrenheit)," he notes.

Area boaters and sailors, surfers and divers who access TheCOOLroom.org Web site will benefit from additional information there. "For example," says Crowley, "wave height data will tell them in advance how rough the water is on a given day." Fishermen who access the Web site will be able to zero in on fish using COOL maps detailing water temperature differences further off the coast. Fish hide in kelp and other seaweed, notes Crowley, which tend to collect at fronts where cold and warm water meet. "Find a front and you are likely to find fish," he says. In addition to satellite imaging and radar, the COOL Lab at IMCS employs underwater sensing devices for coastal ocean surface observation.
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The lab receives major support from the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research. It is also funded by the National Ocean Partnership Program, NOAA's National Undersea Research Program, the National Science Foundation and New Jersey state government.

Rutgers University

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