Jan. 19, 1998 NEW YORK, N.Y., and HAIFA, ISRAEL, January 14, 1998 -- With El Nino threatening more frequent and more severe storms, safe harbors will be especially appreciated. But since waves can affect ports too, only optimally situated and designed ports will provide the safety sought. With a new wave-forecasting system, less than perfect ports will now be alerted to boat-crunching waves well in advance.
Developed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the new system, called "Sea 21," could eliminate the millions of dollars in damage storms in ports cause in wreckage of commercial vessels, pleasure boats, harbor facilities and cargo. By correlating a vast array of meteorological data with the size, shape and location of a port, the system gives harbor masters the 48-hours notice they need to sound an alert and position vessels out of harm's way.
The kinds of waves that threaten vessels in harbors are different from run-of-the-maelstrom high rollers at sea. Though not as dramatic in size, they do their damage by coming up quickly and surreptitiously to churn confined waters in ways that toss harbored vessels around like toy boats in a bathtub. Case in point: the recent Chilean storm that destroyed dozens of vessels.
"Weather bureaus provide forecasts for sea conditions, but these are for deep rather than shallow coastal waters," explains Professor Michael Stiassne who heads the Sea 21 project. "Waves go through a substantial change when they move from deep to shallow water; this is where Sea 21 becomes crucial."
The wave forecasting system is a software package that uses a complex chain of computational models interconnected through a graphical interface. It uses information from local meteorological offices and weather bureaus about wind and wave conditions in deep water; analyzes the information, taking into account wave propagation, local winds, harbor shape and other variables; and provides information on wave fields, winds, currents, ship motion and mooring conditions. Finally, the system automatically notifies the operator about changes in weather conditions.
Sea 21 not only signals a storm's approach, it also calibrates its size and potential impact on a particular harbor or marina. Just as every port is different, every Sea 21 unit must be customized for each location.
"It's not an off-the-shelf product. We have to do a certain amount of field work on the port before we can set up the system," explains Stiassne.
Sea 21 can be used in harbors, marinas, ports, offshore terminals and long piers. It is especially useful in harbors not located in a bay, poorly designed or in the midst of construction. Also, before beginning construction of a harbor, Sea 21 can be used to determine optimum location.
Sea 21 is especially effective in predicting the behavior of "long waves" that until now have eluded the forecasts of meteorologists. Unlike waves formed by stormy winds over deep water that are easy to spot, long waves are not high-cresting. They are secondary waves that form once the storm waves move into shallow water and into a semi-enclosed body of water such as a port. When, how and whether they form depends on the specific contours and geography of each harbor, as well as a vast amount of meteorological and oceanic data.
The system is now being installed in Israel's Haifa port and negotiations are underway with a British company. A number of other ports around the world are interested in the system. It will be available in January 1998.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is the country's premier scientific and technological center for applied research and education. It commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in communications, electronics, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine, among others. The American Technion Society (ATS) is the university's support organization in the United States. Based in New York City, it is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel.
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