FEW HARBORS ARE SAFE when a big storm blows in. In order to give boat owners plenty of time to batten down the hatches, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa has developed a wave-forecasting software system called Sea 21 that is meant to ward off millions of dollars in damage that storms in ports can cause.
Weather bureaus provide forecasts of ocean conditions but cannot predict what will happen when waves move from deep water to shallow. By the time waves reach a harbor, they may not be so huge, but they can still cause considerable damage by sneaking up quickly and churning the confined waters. Sea 21 constantly assesses data received from local meteorological offices on wind and wave conditions in deep water, then combines the data into a chain of computational models using local winds, harbor shape, currents, ship motion, and other variables. The system not only signals a storm's approach but also calibrates its potential impact on a particular harbor or marina. Technion says the system is especially effective in predicting secondary waves that are not high-cresting and that tend to form in shallow water. Sea 21 has just been installed in the port of Haifa.