TABS grew out of a specific request by TGLO for a system that could provide realtime current data, essential elements for running accurate spill-trajectory models. With accurate trajectories, planners can put response resources in place ahead of an offshore slick, and eliminate or significantly diminish it before it comes ashore. When a spill alarm goes off, planners can load in realtime data and have an accurate trajectory model in under 90 minutes. If TGLO requires data more frequently, GERG computers can be instructed to call the buoys
"We were able to tell scientists at GERG exactly what we needed," said Martin. "As a result, the TABS R&D project yielded a deliverable that is both cutting edge and practical. It is absolutely critical to our ability to predict where oil will go in waters along the coast. There are not many tools we can use to do that, but oil-spill trajectory modeling is one.
"The trajectory model, Spillsim, generates simple black-and-white maps -- shorelines and the position of the oil, but not data layers." Martin explained. "If we want to see data layers of other resources at risk, we transfer the trajectory to an ArcInfo GIS. Shorelines match up because we used existing hydrography layers from our GIS to provide Spillsim with a geographic reference."
Martin pointed out that with realtime wind and surface-current data, planners can actually see changes in the trajectory as the slick moves. "Into the third day of the Buffalo Marine spill, for example, the trajectory showed the slick heading northward with a possible impact in the Sabine-Port Arthur area, so we started looking there for resources we might need -- skimming vessels, protective booming and so forth. The next day, TABS showed the current had started to reverse, so even without sending out an overflight for confirmation, we knew we could stand down the Port Arthur alert and position resources where TABS showed the current was coming around to -- farther down the coast toward the Barrier Islands, San Jose and Los Padres."
Patricia Clark, GLO maritime affairs coordinator, added that GLO planners ran the trajectory model as a cooperative effort with the NOAA trajectory team. "We shared data and results, and acted as a check for each other. Whenever we compared the two trajectories, they were very close."
According to Martin, TABS began as the sole effort of TGLO, but welcomes participation of the private sector. "Both Aramco Services Co. and the Marine Spill Response Corp. (MSRC) have provided support for TABS. MSRC has been donating ship time for deployment and maintenance of the TABS buoys," explained Martin. "Aramco provided the forum for the first public TABS meeting, and has given Texas A&M GERG a $30,000 grant to help in the maintenance of the system. Industry involvement is critical to maintaining the operational focus of the TABS project, so we are seeking more involvement there."
GERG has a pending proposal with Louisiana State University to the Minerals Management Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, that is expected to provide an additional $100,000 per year over two years for TABS research. Right now, available funding is the limiting factor in expanding the system. A buoy and anchor cost $30,000. The annual funding level of the present system is $280,000. "We are still in a development mode and seeking funding to expand the system," Kelly said. "Obviously, with a larger system, the operating cost per buoy would be less." He emphasized that no new technologies were developed for TABS; the system was designed using proven, off-the-shelf equipment.