Archive for October 2012
NOAA Ship Rainier is due to arrive at its homeport in Newport, Ore., on November 1, completing the ship’s 2012 hydrographic survey season. (Watch Rainier’s progress on NOAA’s Ship Tracker.) This survey season, Rainier departed Newport on May 17 and spent her summer mapping 604 square nautical miles of the ocean floor in Alaska, stretching from Kodiak to the Shumagin Islands, along the Alaskan archipelago.
Rainier has a long 1,769 nautical mile trip back to homeport in Newport, Oregon.
“We completed our last survey on October 24, and began the long 1,769 nautical mile trip back to Oregon,” said Rainier’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Richard Brennan. “The crew put a lot of great effort into their work, some of it under challenging weather conditions.”
Rainier and her four smaller survey vessels use multibeam echo-sounders to measure the depth of the ocean along her path, collecting millions of measurements. More than half of the area surveyed by Rainier this summer had never been surveyed before, leaving large sections of nautical charts void of ocean depth measurements. Commercial shippers, passenger vessels, and fishing fleets need updated charts, which NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will produce with the multibeam’s precise and accurate measurements.
“Simply put, we have better maps of the moon than of our oceans,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey. “Much of our knowledge of U.S. coastal seafloors dates from eras when ocean commerce was more limited, especially in Alaska.”
“At a time when Alaskan waterways are facing unprecedented demands from maritime commerce, Rainier is acquiring the data for navigational charts that are the foundation of the marine transportation system,” Glang explained.
The 231-foot Rainier, one of the most modern and productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world, is named for Mount Rainier, a massive volcanic cone rising 14,410 feet above sea level in Washington. At the time the ship was commissioned, in 1968, vessels of this class were named for geological features. Rainier underwent a major repair period from Nov. 2009 to Jan. 2011, when new systems and equipment were installed.
The ship’s sophisticated seafloor mapping systems allow researchers to acquire hydrographic data that is used to update the nation’s nautical charts. Rainier carries four survey launches that survey shallow, near-shore waters.
Rainier’s scientists, survey technicians, NOAA Corps officers, and crew bring a wide range of navigational and hydrographical expertise to the mission. Rainier has a total complement of 52 people: 12 NOAA Corps commissioned officers, 11 engineers, 14 deck/boatswains, 9 hydrographic survey technicians (in addition to the officers, who are all hydrographers), four stewards, and two electronic technicians.
The ship is part of NOAA’s fleet of research and survey ships operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
One of Rainier’s projects for 2012 was four surveys in the Shumagin Islands, constituting 2083.2 linear nautical miles of survey lines, and 112.85 square nautical miles of seafloor – most which were never surveyed before.
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler departed from NOAA’s Marine Operation Center in Norfolk this morning, to start post-SANDY surveys of critical deep water channels.
NOAA’s newest survey ship, the Ferdinand R. Hassler, began survey operations today in support of the U.S. Coast Guard efforts to re-open the Port of Virginia. Hassler was in port at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center – Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia, for maintenance when Hurricane Sandy affected the area. The ship’s crew spent Monday completing the work and system tests necessary to get underway once the storm passed, and has now been returned to limited operational status.
Lt. Cmdr. Ben Evans, Hassler’s commanding officer, got the ship underway today (Tuesday), and will return Wednesday evening. The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Hampton Roads requested that the ship survey critical portions of Thimble Shoal Channel and Chesapeake Channel, the deep draft routes to the ports of Hampton Roads and Baltimore.
“Surveying the deepest draft channels will allow the Coast Guard to decide when to re-open the port to unrestricted traffic without unnecessary delay,” Evans explained. “The ports of the Chesapeake Bay are critical to the U.S. economy and national security, so we need to make this effort as soon as the ship is ready to sail.”
The need for hydrographic surveying is critical. There are 78 large vessels, including portions of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, waiting to transit through the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.
The Hassler was also a pivotal survey asset last year, as Hampton Roads resumed operations after Hurricane Irene. At that time, Hassler was one of the three NOAA survey vessels used to clear the port from dangers caused by underwater debris or shoaling. Their work enabled a rapid resumption of shipping and port operations in 2011.
“Delays in shipping, even minor ones, cost the economy millions each year,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “After Hurricane Irene last year, NOAA’s rapid maritime response paid dividends in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, where an average of $5 million worth of cargo is shipped in or out, every hour. This year, rapid response is just as critical.”
The Norfolk Custom District is the country’s 9th largest in terms of the value of total imports and exports moving through the port, with nearly $55 billion in total trade in 2011.
*** Learn more about how NOAA’s National Ocean Service responds to hurricanes.
Capt. Michael Watson and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan with the new memorandum of agreement
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation & Prediction, signed an agreement today that recognizes the longstanding working relationship between marine pilots and NOAA’s navigational services. Coast Survey has a long-term working relationship with the American Pilots’ Association, whose members include virtually all of the 1,200 state-licensed marine pilots working in the 24 coastal states and the Great Lakes. This agreement updates an earlier collaborative agreement between APA and NOAA.
Dr. Sullivan and Capt. Michael Watson, APA president, signed the MOA this morning, during the APA annual meeting.
The MOA lays out specific cooperative activities to promote safe navigation. Among a wide range of provisions, it encourages the 57 APA-member pilot groups to provide information to update NOAA’s nautical charts and the U.S. Coast Pilot. The MOA will also facilitate timely investigations of apparent discrepancies between actual and charted features, which could pose dangers to navigation or adversely affect shipping efficiencies.
How many geospatial products can be developed by one seafloor mapping project? As a phased-in project for Long Island Sound shows, a strong collaboration among diverse groups of researchers and technology developers can integrate temporal and geospatial data sources to produce dozens of products. In addition to updating NOAA’s nautical charts, ongoing collaborations in Long Island Sound will create products that depict physical, geological, ecological, geomorphological, and biological conditions and processes – all to balance the development of new ocean uses while protecting and restoring essential habitats.
In 2011, the Long Island Sound Program (representing a partnership between the State of Connecticut, State of New York, Connecticut and New York Sea Grant, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) requested assistance from NOAA. They asked for help in providing management and technical expertise; acquiring data; and developing products. They required key temporal and spatial information about seafloor conditions in the Sound. They needed bathymetry and backscatter, and biological and physical observational and sampling data, to produce all the products needed by governments, industry, academia, and the public.
Coast Survey already had plans for NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson to survey in Long Island Sound, to acquire new bathymetry for chart updates. With some adjustments to survey areas and project parameters, a mutually beneficial partnership was formed for long-term seafloor mapping of Long Island Sound habitats over the next several years, as an integrated ocean and coastal mapping project.
This summer, Thomas Jefferson conducted hydrographic surveys in the mid-Sound area of Stratford Shoal and vicinity, extending from New York on the north shore of Long Island to the Connecticut shoreline.
“Ocean floors are amazingly dynamic, and we have to chart those changes to provide precise and accurate navigational data for today’s maritime economy,” explained Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp, commanding officer of the Thomas Jefferson and the ship’s chief scientist. “Our data is used to update NOAA’s nautical charts, but the hydrographic information can also be used to support a number of non-navigation uses, ranging from benefits to fisheries management to support of regional ocean planning efforts like this.”
This digital terrain model, showing bathymetry in Long Island Sound, was created from Thomas Jefferson depth soundings.
This image is a digital terrain model that indicates the water depths in surveyed areas. In its final form, it will be geo-referenced to latitude and longitude. To produce this DTM, a NOAA Corps hydrographer, Lt.j.g. (sel) Anthony Klemm loaded Thomas Jefferson’s billions of depth soundings into an algorithum, powered by CARIS’s CSAR technology. By laying out a grid, and then using CUBE – combined uncertainty bathymetry estimator – Klemm is able to visually depict higher resolution depth measurements in shallow water, where the shapes on the seafloor may be navigationally significant, with resolution gradually decreasing as the depth increases.
Digital terrain models are useful for many environmental management activities. In this collaboration, seafloor topography products, like this DTM, will be the foundation for building products that address benthic habitats and other environmental conditions.
Today’s post is written by a guest blogger, Dr. Bob McConnaughey. Bob is the FISHPAC project chief scientist, with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
Fishery biologists and hydrographers in NOAA are working together to solve two very important problems in the eastern Bering Sea. This area is one of the richest and most productive fishing grounds in the world. Careful management of harvest levels is one part of the effort to sustain these populations into the future. However, it is also important to understand the habitat requirements of the managed species so we can protect the foundation for these high levels of production.
To this end, a team of scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) is developing mathematical models to explain the distribution and abundance of groundfish, such as pollock and cod, and benthic invertebrates, such as red king crab, in order to determine their essential habitats. The research team gathers new environmental data at locations where other AFSC scientists sample fish populations during annual bottom-trawl surveys. In many cases, existing habitat information is very limited, but studies will identify useful variables and the best tools for measuring them over large areas of the continental shelf.
NOAA hydrographers working in Alaska are likewise challenged by the sheer size of the offshore areas and the dearth of recent depth measurements. This region includes over 47,000 miles of coastline and roughly 70% of the nation’s continental shelf. Soundings data for nautical charts are usually quite old and coverage is incomplete. Similar to the habitat studies, there is a great need to gather new data, efficiently and cost-effectively.
A diverse team of NOAA personnel and external partners are collaborating to address the critical need for new habitat data and new hydrographic data from the eastern Bering Sea. Beginning in 2006, NOAA Ship Fairweather has conducted multi-mission cruises to simultaneously achieve these two objectives. The so-called FISHPAC project has developed procedures to collect acoustic backscatter data to characterize seafloor habitats while also collecting high-quality bathymetric data for updating nautical charts.
This joint effort has been a great challenge for two groups that have typically worked alone, generally focusing on a single specialized activity. The successful integration of these activities makes efficient use of valuable ship time and will ultimately increase the amount of data collected for both purposes in a single survey season.
The prototype long-range side scan sonar is prepared for deployment. An emergency locator beacon is activated to help locate the towfish if it becomes detached from the double armored tow cable.
The AFSC scientists have introduced new types of equipment on Fairweather for this work, including a prototype side scan sonar capable of very broad coverage (up to 1 km) at a fast tow speed (up to 12 kts), an acoustic underwater tracking system that provides accurate positions for towed instruments, and several “groundtruthing” instruments to help interpret the backscatter data for habitat purposes. The partners have worked out safety and deployment details, and now the ship can simultaneously acquire acoustic data from the ship’s two multibeam echosounders and a towed side scan sonar, while underway and collecting sound velocity profiles and geotechnical data from the seafloor with a free-fall cone penetrometer! Operating this way, the ship does not need to stop; they can conduct survey operations around the clock during the entire time at sea.
Fairweather hosted a major FISHPAC cruise during July-August 2012. A team of 12 scientists joined the Fairweather’s standard crew of officers, physical scientists and seamen to conduct a combined fish-habitat and hydrographic-survey effort in the eastern Bering Sea. The group worked together ‒ night and day ‒ to acquire the multi-purpose data. They tested five different sonar systems in an experiment designed to identify the most cost-effective system for characterizing the seafloor and improving the existing fish-habitat models. At the same time, the ship collected over 1,000 nautical miles of hydrographic data in an area with outdated or non-existent information.
Technicians from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (Keyport, Washington) and a retired NOAA engineer and hydrographer provided valuable assistance.
Neither high seas, nor fatigue, nor equipment problems stopped the intrepid group. The project was fully successful in the end and Fairweather safely returned to port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska to discharge some scientists and then head back out on her Arctic Reconnaissance voyage.
The towed auto-compensating optical system (TACOS) is a two-part towed video system consisting of a weight sled connected to the ship’s fiber optic winch, with a camera sled trailing approximately 20 meters behind the weight sled. The camera sled includes an analog video camera, a digital video camera, six high intensity discharge lights as well as an acoustic release/buoy for emergency recovery. TACOS creates high-quality downward-looking video mosaics.
As NOAA strives to meet the present and future navigational needs of the maritime transportation system, it is sometimes helpful ‒ not to mention inspirational ‒ to look back at history. Coast Survey has an amazing history that isn’t well known. It is a quiet history of men and women who led the country’s mapping and charting advancements in the centuries since Thomas Jefferson authorized the Survey of the Coast in 1807.
Coast Survey maintains a publicly accessible Historical Maps and Charts Collection, with about 35,000 images that anyone can download and print. For history buffs, searching through the images is a great way to find images related to your area of interest. Exploring the charts, one can almost develop personal relationships with the individual Coast Survey assistants and cartographers who produced some truly beautiful work. (Check out the Civil War Special Collection to find some especially intriguing maps, including the pivotal 1861 map showing the density of slave population in the Southern states.) Or you can spend some quality time browsing through little-known sketches and maps in the historical collection maintained by the NOAA Central Library.
This close-up of the Kohklux map shows how Davidson used English spelling to “sound out” the Native names of features. (See the full map in Coast Survey’s Historical Map and Chart Collection.)
The U.S. Coast Survey (which became the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, and was eventually one of the founding agencies within NOAA) has a unique heritage of scientific exploration and innovation. The exploits of George Davidson and others in 1860s Alaska is especially fascinating as we now look north to a new century of work in the Arctic. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology recently published an article by John Cloud in its magazine, Expeditions. The Tlingit Map of 1869: A Masterwork of Indigenous Cartography, linked here with the permission of Penn Museum, explains how Davidson set the tone for Coast Survey’s early sensitivity to the importance of preserving Indian names on maps ‒ especially, in this case, of a map drawn by Tlingit clan leader Kohklux and his wives.
Cloud further expounds on the discovery of Davidson’s maps in a recent radio interview with KCAW Radio, linked at Alaskan cartography influenced by Native mapmakers.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the United States, James Tilghman has written about Coast Survey superintendent Alexander Bache and assistant Ferdinand Gerdes, and the efforts to survey the Florida Reef in the 1850s. “If the enormity of the undertaking is the overarching story of the survey,” Tilghman writes, “it was equally remarkable for the budding science, hydrographic breakthroughs and creative solutions that enabled it.” Hydro International July/August 2012 has published the absorbing article, Surveying the Florida Reef.
Tilghman points out that “not all credit goes to the hydrography, but by the turn of the century wrecks on the reef were down 90 percent and wrecking was fast becoming a distant memory.” That quiet history, and the newly discovered connections to Alaskan cartography, speaks volumes about the heritage, and continuing promise, of NOAA’s navigation program contributions to preserving life and property along U.S. coastal waters.
The United States Coast Pilot®, originally called the American Coast Pilot, has been published for over 200 years. This set of sailing directions for U.S. coastal waters has kept millions of mariners safe from perils at sea. Last week, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey unveiled yet another improvement to the nine-volume set geared to modern mariners who need updated information as soon as it becomes available.
Anyone can now access PDF versions of the United States Coast Pilot that are updated weekly. The volumes, and the list of corrections or updates applied each week, are available for free on the NOAA Coast Survey website. For those who don’t want to print corrected pages (or the entire volume!) on their home printer, the most up-to-date volumes are also available as Print-on-Demand products from some commercial vendors. (The traditionalists among us will still be able to purchase the hard copy printed annually.)
Coast Pilot has one of the longest publishing records in U.S. history.
Edmund March Blunt published the first American Coast Pilot in 1796. Blunt’s Coast Pilot was not the first book of sailing directions, or even the first such book concerning American waters. However, it was the first book of American sailing directions published in the United States.
The U.S. Coast Survey, an early predecessor to NOAA, had the knowledge, the capacity, and, one could argue, a responsibility to ensure the timeliness and accuracy of sailing directions for U.S. coastal waters. The agency published its version of sailing directions in George Davidson’s Directory for the Pacific Coast of the United States, as Appendix No. 44 in the 1858 annual report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey Showing the Progress of the Survey.
From Notes on the Coast of the United States, Coast of South Carolina, page 14.
In 1861, as the federal government prepared for naval action for the Civil War, the U.S. Coast Survey assembled the Notes on the Coast of the United States, secret documents used by the Union Blockade Board. The 1857 edition of the American Coast Pilot was available for the war effort but, as John Cloud points out in The U.S. Coast Survey in the Civil War, it “assisted the mariner in getting from here to there. The Coast Survey needed a guide detailing why one would want to go there in the first place, and what the strategic significance of there was.” The Notes series, covering the Delaware Bay to the Mississippi Sound on the Gulf Coast, contributed to the efficacy of the Union blockading squadrons. The volumes were handwritten, in an effort to avoid disclosure to any Confederate sympathizers who may have been working with the printing presses.
In 1867, the United States government bought the copyright to Blunt’s American Coast Pilot, then in its 21st edition.
U.S. Coast Pilot modernizes its update capabilities.
Fast forward through the next 145 years. Today, United States Coast Pilot users can be their own printers if they wish, and they have an easier way to keep track of changes. The “Weekly Record of Updates” (now preceding the index) provides a quick reference and cumulative listing of all affected paragraphs revised at the time of download. It also serves as a record for future hand corrections. To serve you better, we have also made it easier to self-correct the printed Coast Pilot. In the past, updates identified only those lines of a particular paragraph that required revision. Now, we will replace the entire paragraph that contains the change, as explained here.
To increase efficiency and timeliness, Coast Pilot updates will only be posted here on the Coast Survey website. They will no longer be included in the Coast Guard Local Notice to Mariners.
Coast Survey has thoroughly tested this new Coast Pilot update system. While the changes are substantial improvements for navigation safety, we realize that customers are accustomed to the traditional books and updates. If you have questions or comments, we’d like to hear from you.