NOAA CoastWatch was established in 1987 in response to two significant environmental events. A Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) event occurred off the coast of North Carolina transporting the toxic Gymnodinium breve cells from Florida via the Gulf Stream into the colder coastal waters near Cape Lookout. Also, a severe mammal die-off occurred, where more than 700 bottlenose dolphins died off the mid-Atlantic coast. Both instances prompted Federal and State officials to explore additional data sources for monitoring the coastal waters, such as near real-time satellite data.
CoastWatch has expanded from POES/AVHRR SST data for the East Coast to providing a variety of environmental data (i.e. SST, ocean color, winds, etc.) from several different satellite platforms covering all U.S. coastal waters, including Hawaii and Alaska. Today, sea surface temperature maps support meteorological weather predictions and also support commercial and recreational activities (e.g., fishing). Biologists utilize ocean color radiometry data and derived chlorophyll-a and total suspended matter/turbidity products to identify runoff plumes and blooms and also predict HABs; and sailors and commercial shipping pilots use ocean surface vector winds for safe navigation.