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NOAA OR&R Hosts Panama Canal Authority Scientist

MAY 25, 2018 — During the week of May 28, 2018, OR&R’s Emergency Response Division will be hosting a contingency planning specialist from the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá [ACP (Panama Canal Authority)] in Seattle.

Under the auspices of the 2002 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), the ACP — as part of the expansion work on the canal lock system involving the addition of three larger locks — is working to update the Panama Canal General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME) oil spill trajectory model. This is based on the GNOME model produced for the original canal system.

The MOA was negotiated by the EPA and USCG, with the approval of the National Response Team (NRT), with the ACP through an interagency and comment process in anticipation of the handover of the Panama Canal Zone. With the assistance of the State Department, an agreement was created and signed by the three U.S. agencies and the ACP in 2002. In 2017, the MOA was updated with an addendum to reflect alignment with current regulations.

This MOA helps facilitate timely and appropriate supplemental assistance from agencies of the U.S. government when requested by the ACP for preparedness for, or in the event of, an oil spill, hazardous material release, or radiological incident in the Panama Canal Operating Area (PCOA).

While in Seattle, the specialist will be introduced to the NOAA team. Together they will conduct a review of the current data, develop the grid/bathymetry files for the Current Analysis for Trajectory Simulations (CATS) model, develop the current patterns with CATS, set up GNOME save files, and discuss the move to the new web-based interface.

Within the next year, NOAA OR&R is transitioning operations to a web-based version of GNOME, and will eventually retire the desktop version. Access to a public version of the web interface (currently in beta test) is available at

The ACP contingency planning specialist will also give a presentation to the OR&R group about the ACP and their spill response preparedness.

The updated Panama GNOME model will be used for planning the upcoming annual EcoCanal pollution response exercise this August.

The Panama Canal is one of the world’s busiest strategic waterways and is of major importance to global transportation, trade, and security. In FY 2017, over 13,000 vessels transited the Panama Canal. With the completion of three new expanded locks in 2016, the Canal is able to accommodate Neopanamax vessels carrying up to 14,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). Because of the key strategic importance of the Canal, the U.S. has a stake in maintaining its continuous operation. Should an oil spill, hazardous material release, or radiological incident occur, the economic and political effect could be globally profound. The timely transfer of funds from and subsequent delivery of response resources to the Panama Canal when an incident overwhelms the capabilities of the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá is of the utmost importance.

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Last updated Jun. 14, 2019