Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS)

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The Texas Gulf Coast consists of 367 miles of coastline, primarily sandy beaches. The slight slope of these beaches creates many large expanses of beach where the public can enjoy a variety of activities such as beach combing, surfing, swimming, and surf fishing. Communities that manage these areas rely heavily on tourism as a primary source of income. Texas beach tourism generates approximately $7 billion per year, according to the Texas General Land Office’s (TGLO) Website. Public use of these beaches can be severely restricted by the periodic mass landings of the free-floating algae Sargassum, commonly referred to as Seaweed. These Sargassum episodes often occur with little or no warning. They can last for weeks at a time, usually during the prime tourist season, and hence, they negatively affect the economies of the regions. Beach managers have relied on emergency funds to assist in relocating heavier than normal Sargassum from the water’s edge. This creates an unexpected hardship, since their annual budgets have little or no room for unforeseen expenditures. To assist beach management efforts, scientists at Texas A&M University at Galveston have been investigating the use of satellite imagery to forecast Sargassum landings along the Texas coastline. This Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS) is designed to give coastal managers as much warning as possible, allowing them to adjust their allocation of resources for the management of Sargassum landings. SEAS model uses satellite imagery from Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LANDSAT) satellites to track the movement of Sargassum as it approaches each sector along the Texas Gulf Coast. During 2012, a total of 38 advisories were sent out to coastal managers along the Texas Gulf Coast. Of those, 12 predicted Sargassum landfalls in their respective areas. All of the 12 experienced significant Sargassum landfalls within 7 days of notice. There were five overcast flyovers that we were not able to give possible landfall advisories; of those, three experienced significant Sargassum landings.

In 2013, a total of 73 advisories were sent out to coastal managers and other significant stakeholders. Accuracy increased from 85% in 2012 to 97% in 2013. Advisories were expanded to include long range forecasting, including the Caribbean Sea.