It just got easier to keep an eye on Cook Inlet ice conditions.
The Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council has sponsored installation of remote video cameras at Nikiski to scan the sea, providing instant information to mariners, the Coast Guard and others.
"We're just looking to add another layer of information when people who make decisions about shipping and ice make those decisions," said CIRCAC spokesperson Joe Gallagher. "We think the more tools at their disposal the better off we'll all be."
Over the past two winters there have been incidents of sea ice in the upper inlet tearing ships from the docks, causing fuel leaks and damage to the docks and ships.
CIRCAC set up the cameras as a pilot project to test their usefulness for guiding shipping activity, he said.
On Feb. 10 two cameras were positioned on the bluff overlooking the Unocal and Phillips Petroleum docks and the East Foreland area. One is equipped with infrared sensors to provide coverage in the dark.
Images from those cameras are being broadcast live over the World Wide Web at http://camera.arh.noaa.gov/index.html, a link set up by the National Weather Service. To view the video, users must have RealPlayer 7 software, which is available free online.
Authorized users, including marine pilots, vessel captains and Coast Guard officials, receive a special access code allowing them to position the cameras by remote control from a computer keyboard. The cameras have six settings.
A third camera is set up on the Unocal OSK Dock but is not connected to the Internet. It will record tide levels and flow information onto videotape for use as a reference for future ice monitoring.
CIRCAC announced the installation Wednesday.
Gallagher said the group wanted to adjust the cameras and work the bugs out of the Internet display before going public. The first reactions from people who checked out the site were positive, he said.
The cameras were designed and installed by SeeMore Wildlife Services, a Homer company specializing in live, remote video feeds.
The company also operates links from the seabird rookery on Gull Island in Kachemak Bay to the Pratt Museum in Homer, from a Steller sea lion rookery in Prince William Sound to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward and from the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary to an Internet site sponsored by National Geographic.
CIRCAC plans to operate the cameras through April.
It paid about $30,000 for the pilot project. If the cameras prove useful, CIRCAC will seek business or agency partners to take over the monitoring for future winters, Gallagher said.
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