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.