Many Users, Many Needs

Last fall I attended the annual meeting of the Mid Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observation Regional Association.

That’s MACOORA for those of you who love acronyms. And if you do, then you’ll be excited to hear that an underlying theme of the meeting was that MACOORA and MARCOOS were merging to form MARACOOS (say that 3 times fast), but that’s a story for another day.

The meeting provided a wonderful first-hand opportunity to hear from people who use ocean data in their daily lives. The last time I attended, about 5 years ago, the bulk of the participants were research scientists, who were in the early stages of setting up what would become today’s regional ocean observing system. But times have changed, and this time there was a great diversity of end-users.

As a product developer, I really enjoyed hearing user’s insights on the kinds of data they access, and perhaps more importantly, how they would like to utilize various datasets in the future. We don’t often have a chance to get out of our office much and interact with real live users, but it’s a crucial component of our work.

Here were a few of my key take-aways:

Recreational Fishermen have been active users of our Rutgers Sea Surface Temperature datasets for almost two decades now. They really appreciate the real-time access of easy to use imagery, especially higher resolution maps of local areas (i.e. fishing grounds). While temperature (and to a lesser extent chlorophyll) maps are their go-to images, what they really want to see are maps of convergence and divergence. Today, they infer areas of high and low divergence by looking for “fronts” in the data. Dedicated convergence maps (based on temp, chl or even current datasets), would point them more clearly to the areas they’re interested in.

Harbor Pilots have a very specific task to accomplish. They must steer large ships into the port of New York, avoiding bridges, channel edges, and other vessels all while battling the strong currents of the Hudson River. To do this, they need direct access to real-time information from buoys in the harbor. “If we can deal with exacts we can do a lot more and a lot safer.”

To do all of this, two key variables play a major role. Wind speed helps them direct boat operations. For example, is it too windy to move boats through narrow channels or to rough for pilots to transfer between vessels? And water level helps them know if they have enough clearance between the vessel’s keel and the channel, or whether they have enough clearance to go under a bridge. It can also let them know if they dock they’re headed to might be under water. (Apparently some in NYC do flood, and it doesn’t make sense to dock if the longshoremen won’t be able to offload the ship.) Having these data with an 8-12 hour forecast is ideal to plan upcoming operations like ship transfers.

The Coast Guard is chiefly interested in short term forecasts to warn pilots of upcoming conditions. Projections out to 96 hours would help them manage their assets. They are really interested in knowing more about the currents in the river.

Commercial Fishermen have needs very similar to recreational fishermen, although I gather they have a greater interest in longer-term forecasts to plan operations.

Fisheries Managers are more interested in historical datasets, in particular those data products that provide climatologies and statistical models of the distribution of physical an chemical variables and fish stocks.

And what are Educators looking for? To my mind, they are happy use any dataset or visualization that is easy to understand, and more importantly, one that makes a strong connection to a answering a cool science question.

Of the lot, the last one might be the tallest order.