Marine Operations Projects » Cook Inlet Response Tool

Cook Inlet Response Tool

Oil and gas platform in Cook Inlet with snow covered mountain in background at sunset. Photo by iStock

The Need

Cook Inlet, located in southcentral Alaska, is home to many natural resources including fish, birds, and marine mammals. Additionally, this body of water is busy with vessel traffic, both shipping to and from the Port of Alaska (located in Anchorage) and Port Mackenzie delivering more than half of all goods to Alaska, and many commercial and recreational fishing vessels. There is also considerable oil and gas exploration and development activities within Cook Inlet, in both State of Alaska and Federally managed waters.

The Cook Inlet Response Tool (CIRT) is a data integration and visualization product designed to assist responders in the event of an oil spill or other event by helping oil spill responders understand important environmental factors and resources in the area surrounding an oil spill, such as commercial fisheries, nearby marine mammals and wildlife.

This interactive web-based tool combines:

  • GIS spatial data layers
  • Real time observations
  • Model nowcast/forecasts for winds, waves, and ocean circulation
  • ShoreZone video and imagery

The CIRT was developed in collaboration with the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The need for a tool such as CIRT was identified by the clear value of ShoreZone imagery and data in emergency response scenarios. While the Alaska ShoreZone web site sponsored by NOAA is the primary place to query and access ShoreZone imagery and data, there was also a need to integrate that information with a wide range of other information often required for oil spill planning and response.

Screenshot from the AOOS Ocean Data Explorer portal’s Cook Inlet Response Tool displaying real time sensors.
Screenshot from the AOOS Ocean Data Explorer portal’s Cook Inlet Response Tool displaying Environmental Sensitivity Index management areas.

Project Location

The CIRT is focused on Cook Inlet because the area is relatively small and manageable, and many of the needed datasets are mature; however, the application is scalable so that other areas in Alaska and the nation will benefit. The data layers are available to other oil spill response tools, such as NOAA’s Emergency Response Management Application (ERMA) that was developed primarily for Arctic oil spill response planning, and the Bering Strait Response Tool that is under development. It could also be expanded to any area of Alaska in the event of a significant oil spill or event.

Project Details

The CIRT allows users to fly the coast and stream high definition video from ShoreZone coastal aerial surveys while simultaneously tapping into weather conditions (including wind speed, water level, temperature and other conditions from more than 100 real time sensors), visualizing climate and oceanographic forecast models across time and depth, and accessing dozens of GIS data sets such as geographic response strategies, shoreline oil persistence indices, salmon stream locations, and information for sensitive areas.

The data catalog has a library of data layers that include physical models (e.g., wind, waves and currents), habitat and species information from field-based mapping projects, real time sensors, ShoreZone imagery and more. Users can browse data sets by category or keyword and search through metadata or click to access brief project descriptions with links to original source data. The data catalog includes options where data layers are grouped, such as the one for immediate information to the Incident Command System.

The Cook Inlet Response Tool takes users the interactive map, where users can type in search words to identify and display data from in and around Cook Inlet. Here, users can map data, such as predicted oil residence, shoreline type, or Geographic Response Strategies; graphically explore time-series data sets such as temperature or wind-speed; and view predictive models of ocean currents. High-definition ShoreZone video and images can be streamed alongside multiple layers.

The power of the CIRT is that individual datasets can be stacked and visualized either separately or together. A group of users can tailor the map to include the area and data layers they need for a particular scenario and can bookmark a url web address that can be distributed, making it easy for other users to access and view the same mapped information quickly during an emergency.

Project Highlights

The CIRT has been used for past response and planning exercises. The value of the CIRT was shown in particular during the Kulluk incident in 2012 when responders relied on the information provided by high resolution imagery to “see” shoreline where the rig went aground, more than 12 hours before they were able to provide overflight imagery to Incident Commanders. 

Principal Investigators

Sue Saupe

Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council

Stacey Buckelew

Axiom Data Science