Study Shows Big Economic Benefits of NOAA PORTS® Ocean Observing System in Portland, Ore.

June 22, 2010

The lower Columbia River area receives an estimated annual economic benefit of $6.4 million in savings and direct income from the operation of NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, also known as PORTS®, according to a new study by NOAA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

PORTS® is a decision support tool that improves the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and coastal resource management through the integration of real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other geospatial information. PORTS® measures and disseminates observations and predictions of water levels, currents, salinity, and meteorological parameters (e.g., winds, atmospheric pressure, air and water temperatures) that mariners need to navigate safely.

The report details the economic benefits of the 20-station nationwide navigational decision support system. Benefits include increased cargo carried per transit, reduced cargo delays, reduced risk of groundings and collisions, and improved environmental planning and analysis, including hazardous spill response.

“To continue the economic progress we’ve made, it is important that we support local economies and increase American exports,” said Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. “PORTS® provides valuable support for the safe and efficient movement of maritime commerce, which is critical to exporting American products.”

The Columbia River PORTS® extends from the mouth of the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., and provides water level, wind, and weather conditions for pilots and shippers navigating inland to the Port of Portland. The PORTS® at Lower Columbia River provides observations of tides, water and air temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed, gusts and direction through an easy to use web portal ( and by phone at 888-537-6787 (toll free).           

Forming most of the border between Washington and Oregon, the Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region. The Columbia River is the third largest grain exporting center in the world and the Port of Portland is the largest wheat export port in the United States. The Port of Portland is also the largest automobile import gateway on the West Coast. Each car that is brought to the docks brings an estimated $310 in economic benefits to the region. The Port handled nearly 408,000 cars last year for an economic impact of more than $126 million. More than $18 billion in goods flow on the Columbia River system each year.

“This NOAA study demonstrates the enormous benefits that can be achieved from working together collaboratively on infrastructure and information systems,” said Sebastian Degens, marine planning and development manager at the Port of Portland. “Deep Draft navigation and commerce on the Columbia River has come to rely on the unique partnership between NOAA and the Port of Portland to provide the real-time river level data and the water level forecasts. Together with the Columbia River pilots, this region is using water level data in one of the most sophisticated manners in the world to ensure safe and reliable shipping and to provide real economic return to our seaport communities.”

The report was authored by Hauke Kite-Powell, Ph.D., of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Marine Policy Center, who designed the method of identifying as well as collecting and quantifying the data. Kite-Powell worked extensively with the local user community to gather the required data. The methodology was first applied to Tampa Bay. In that study PORTS® showed that the Tampa Bay economy receives more than $7 million a year in savings and direct income from the NOAA system. A second study calculated $16 million a year for Houston-Galveston. The economic reports can be accessed online.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook.