Observing Networks & the Eye of the Storm

With a combined mission to provide observing data (coastal and open ocean data alike) to stakeholders—federal, state and local governments, as well as the public—the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) use large observing networks to predict and mitigate against hazardous coastal events like tropical and extratropical storms. Such networks are typically made up of a variety of water technologies, including, but not limited to buoys, gliders, streamgages, and research vessels.

In a webinar hosted by SECOORA’s Director of Communications Abbey Wakely on March 7, 2023, USGS National Streamgage Network Coordinator Brian McCallum and USGS Coastal Storm Team’s Athena Clark revealed details relating to the collaborative work underpinning the USGS’s Water Observing Systems (WOS) network and, more specifically, how WOS responded to hurricanes and tropical storms in 2022.

The USGS WOS network, established with its first location in 1889, is what is referred to as a ‘network of networks’—comprising the National Streamgage Network (NSN), the National Water Quality Network (NWQN), the National Groundwater Monitoring Network (NGWMN), the Climate Response Network (CRN), and the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP).


The USGA NSN has over 8,700 locations providing streamflow data to the US. (Image credit: USGS)

From the 2006 National Hydrologic Warning Council: “Nationwide, the benefits of reducing flood damages or of improving the efficiency of measures designed to prevent damage and loss of life greatly exceed the cost of collecting the data through USGS Federal Priority Streamgages.”

In addition to the typical real-time data collected by the permanent streamgages and rapid deployment gages, the USGS Coastal Storm team performs additional measurements and observations surrounding any given storm event, including barometric readings, storm tide and wave measurements, and high water mark readings.

Overall, observed data—whether collected in real time or hands-on by a USGS scientist—helps to guide storm preparedness, recovery plans, and furute mitigation decisions by federal, state, and local governments.

This feature appeared in Environment, Coastal & Offshore (ECO) Magazine's 2023 Deep Dive I special edition Ocean Observation, to read more access the magazine here.

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