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Monitoring system proposed to watch over U.S. waters

With a name reminiscent of a Greek god, it will have powers to rival a lesser one. But IOOS is a name for a technological age. It’s the acronym for Integrated Ocean Observing System and, in concert with other such systems, IOOS will, for the first time, allow science to track the planet’s pulse.

The grassroots effort in the scientific community that began in 1991 ultimately will be a complex coordination of information gathered from buoys, ships, aircraft, satellites and drifters that would track water quality and conditions, marine life, ocean traffic, and other information.

Among myriad uses so far suggested for the system is tracking red tide blooms to provide real time information about them and forecasts about where they’re headed. Such information would assist research into the causes of red tide as well as informing fishermen and beachgoers of the blooms.

Proponents compare the IOOS effort with one 150 years ago with weather observations that laid the foundation for today’s weather forecasts. Harvey Seim, professor of marine science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chief operating officer for Southeast Atlantic Ocean Observing System (SEACOOS), said some of the technology needed to monitor the oceans thoroughly is a ways off. But he said even knowing water temperature at the surface and at different depths can help our understanding of how things such as red tide occur.

SEACOOS, to some degree, monitors coastal waters from North Carolina to the Florida Keys.

America’s active ports are widely recognized as a soft-belly target for terrorists. Florida alone has 14 ports, four of them on the Gulf of Mexico. The other four Gulf states have another 16 ports. IOOS could be used to keep an eye on sea traffic and help avert a potential terrorist attack.