Archive for the ‘Arctic’ Category

NOAA and Coast Guard work together to get more surveying done in the Arctic   1 comment

By Ashley Chappell, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping coordinator

With 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. waters to survey and chart, Coast Survey is up against some big challenges in keeping nautical charts current. A complete survey of those waters would require over 500 ship years and $5 billion ‒ just to acquire the data. It is no wonder that we put substantial effort into a program known as integrated ocean and coastal mapping (IOCM), where trusted partners can provide high quality, standards-compliant hydrographic survey data for a multitude of uses, including chart creation.

One of our biggest challenges is in the Arctic. Whether you knew it or not, the U.S. is an Arctic nation thanks to Alaska, and this formerly frozen region is becoming more accessible to ship traffic as sea ice melts. But much of our Arctic coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.

So NOAA has a dilemma: how do we survey and chart an ice-diminished Arctic when we have limited resources and limited seasonal access? We assessed data age and quality, we reviewed our chart coverage, and we developed the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan for where we would improve chart coverage if we get new data. But our resources for ship and contract surveys can only do so much, and we need more data…

Monitors on SPAR

Hydrographic survey monitors were installed on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar.

Enter our maritime partners, the U.S. Coast Guard. Since 2008, NOAA has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska to improve shipping safety. For instance, the Coast Guard buoy tenders, that set buoys and dayboards used to mark the safe passage through waterways throughout Alaska, were finding that some of the natural channels moved from year to year, and so they started using single beam sonar to find the channels. Seeing a way to support this effort, NOAA experts joined U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders as they headed into the Bering Sea, helping to train Coast Guard personnel to set the buoys safely, quickly, and accurately.

We also started exploring the possibility of the Coast Guard collecting hydrographic data for nautical charts. In 2012, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Blankenship was NOAA’s lead on a joint NOAA/USCG Arctic hydrographic project aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory from Homer, helping to develop an operational procedure to get Coast Guard survey data to NOAA. This year, we are happy to see that professionalism, enthusiasm, and teamwork has resulted in Coast Guard Cutter SPAR providing Bechevin Bay data that will help guide our decision-making for survey priorities.

SPAR commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Michele Schallip signed the data set on September 10, and highlighted the contributions of Boatswain Mate 1st Class Michael Cobb, who spearheaded the project, with the assistance of NOAA chief survey technician Tami Beduhn, navigation manager Lt. Matt Forney, and Lt. j.g. Jon Andvick.

With the Alaskan coast comprising 57% of the U.S. navigationally significant waters, a multi-agency partnership for hydro survey data is necessary for maritime safety. This year’s successful SPAR survey is an important step in that effort. We look forward to continuing this work with our fantastic Coast Guard partners, and we hope to expand the IOCM concept to other vessels that have survey capability in the Arctic.

Alaska and CONUS

Size comparison of Alaska and the contiguious states. The blue areas depict the extent of navigationally significant areas for surveying purposes.

NOAA’s new nautical chart improves safety for maritime gateway to the Arctic   1 comment

NOAA Office of Coast Survey has released a new nautical chart for the Arctic, which will help mariners navigate the Bering Strait. Chart 16190 (Bering Strait North) incorporates precise depth measurements acquired recently by NOAA Ship Fairweather hydrographic surveys.

Coast Survey has also released a new edition of Chart 16220 (St Lawrence Island to Bering Strait).

“Our Arctic Nautical Charting Plan identified the need for 14 new charts in the Arctic,” explains Commander Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “Chart 16190 was high on our list of priorities, since the Bering Strait is the maritime gateway from the Bering Sea in the Pacific Ocean to the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean.”

“Charting the gateway is absolutely vital for safe navigation, but it is more than that,” Smith says. “In addition to the very practical aspects, this chart also symbolizes an opening to the growing opportunities for maritime transportation in the Arctic.”

Charts 16190 and 16220 include recent hydrographic information in U.S. waters between Cape Prince of Wales and the immediate waters surrounding Little Diomede Island. They also include recent NOAA shoreline surveys of the Diomede Islands and Cape Prince of Wales.

NOAA Chart 16190

NOAA Chart 16190, Bering Strait North

Chart 16190 provides 1:100,000 scale coverage, including a 1:40,000 scale inset of Little Diomede Island. Chart 16220 provides 1:315,350 scale coverage. Prior to these charts, the best available information was from Chart 16005, at a scale of 1:700,000. At that scale, every charted depth was separated by about two nautical miles and the chart depicted only a handful of depths. Most of the old charted depths were from 1950 and provided incomplete information about the depths or possible hazards on the sea floor.

Chart 16190 is the second new chart resulting from the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan. Coast Survey created the first of the new Arctic charts, Chart 16161 (Kotzebue and Approaches), in April 2012. (See New Alaska navigational chart makes increased Arctic shipping safer.) Chart 16220 had previously been maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, but Coast Survey assumed responsibility for it in 2010.

The equivalent NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) for 16190 will be available this summer. Watch for US4AK8D (Bering Strait North), and US5AK8D (Little Diomede Island). The 16220 ENC equivalent — US3AK89M — was created in 2012 and included the new Fairweather hydro.

Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division is responsible for updating the nation’s 1,023 nautical charts. Chart 16190 was compiled by Kieumy Dinh and reviewed by Eric Wallner, under the management of Andew Kampia. Chart 16220 was updated by Pravin Shrestha (compiler) and Yan Xu (reviewer).

Updated Arctic chart mitigates risk for commercial transportation on the Kuskokwim   Leave a comment

By Andrew Kampia, chief of Products Branch A, Marine Chart Division, Office of Coast Survey

When we say that many Arctic charts are lacking information critical to navigation, we’re not overstating the issue. A case in point was the 2005 edition of Chart 16304, depicting the mouth of Kuskokwim River to the City of Bethel, in Alaska. This was a preliminary chart with no hydrography, no depth measurements whatsoever.

Chart 16304 - 2005

Preliminary Chart 16304, issued in 2005

Coast Survey just released updated NOAA Chart 16304, which now includes contemporary shoreline and hydrography. (The NOAA ENC® equivalent — US4AK85M — will be available in a month or two.)

Chart 16304

New edition of Chart 16304 has depth measurements and other charted features.

Bethel is the supply hub for this region of Alaska and the river is essential for transporting petroleum products, commercial salmon, supplies, and other cargo during limited ice season (generally June through September). However, navigating the Kuskokwim River is a unique and risky experience. As you can see from the nautical chart, the 40-mile approach to Bethel is a maze of shifting sandbars, both visible and covered, and blind channels. The channels in the river undergo constant change from year to year, because of the action of the sea, currents, and ice. A small pilot boat often precedes the vessel through these waters, constantly feeling out the channels and monitoring soundings.

Vitus Marine serves Western Alaska Coast villages and interior river ports with bulk fuel and freight transport. Mark Smith, their chief executive officer, applauded Coast Survey for mapping the Lower Kuskokwim and releasing Chart 16304, noting that “mapping greatly reduces the risk of grounding and facilitates safe and efficient marine traffic.”

“All petroleum and other critical bulk cargoes are transported via watercraft to Western Alaska ports through similar river entrances,” observed CEO Mark Smith. “Along with all navigators, Vitus encourages NOAA to aggressively address the many other, yet uncharted river entrances, where commerce regularly transits dynamic areas to reach each community.”

The Kuskokwim River forms a portion of the “Arctic” border, as provided in the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984.

Coast Survey issues new Arctic Nautical Charting Plan   1 comment

In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the first edition of the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to improve Arctic chart coverage that is inadequate for modern needs. After consultations with maritime interests and the public, as well as with other federal, state, and local agencies, we have issued the updated Arctic Nautical Charting Plan: A plan to support sustainable marine transportation in the Alaska and the Arctic.

“Maritime challenges are increasing in the Arctic. As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director. “This is leading to new maritime concerns, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise liners.”

“Given the lack of emergency response infrastructure in remote Arctic waters, nautical charts are even more important to protect lives and fragile coastal areas,” Glang points out.

Commercial vessels depend on NOAA to provide charts and publications with the latest depth information, but many regions of Alaska’s coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys — and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.

“Ships need updated charts with precise and accurate measurements,” explained Capt. Doug Baird, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “We do not have decades to get it done; ice diminishment is here, now.”

We appreciate the perspectives offered by Alaska’s mariners in response to the 2011 Arctic Charting Plan. For instance, feedback called for adding a large-scale inset to the layout for the “Kotzebue Harbor and Approaches” chart, which we published as the first plan-inspired new chart, in April 2012.

The 2013 plan specifies 14 additional new charts, to complement existing chart coverage. Seven of the charts will fill gaps in medium-scale chart coverage from the Alaska Peninsula to Cape Lisburne at the edge of the North Slope, for coastal transits along the west coast of Alaska.  Larger scale charts will provide for safer passage though the Etolin and Bering Straits, or for entry into harbors such as Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States.

Arctic Chart Plan

The revised plan also adds NOAA chart numbers for all of the 14 future charts, and provides updated information and graphics describing the infrastructure and data needed to compile the charts.

The charting plan continues as a “living document,” as new concerns and challenges emerge. Anyone can submit comments through the Coast Survey Inquiry and Discrepancy System.

Combining expertise makes for better nautical charts and better understanding of fish habitats in Alaska   Leave a comment

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.

The quiet history of Coast Survey   Leave a comment

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.

Joint Canada-U.S. mapping cruise in the Atlantic winding up   1 comment

RV Atlantis

UNOLS Research Vessel Atlantis, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, transits to a joint Canada-U.S. survey location in the North Atlantic.

The U.S. and Canada have been surveying in the northern Atlantic Ocean this summer, gathering data to support both countries’ territorial claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The survey project started on August 15, and the ship is scheduled to return to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on September 10.

Lt. Briana Welton, a NOAA Corps officer, is representing the Office of Coast Survey and the NOAA-University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center, as the team of eight Canadian and U.S. hydrographers and geologists work onboard the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System’s Research Vessel Atlantis. (The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution operates the Atlantis).

This image shows the multibeam sonar coverage of 116,600 square kilometers, as of noon 4 September 2012, overlaid on a Canadian nautical chart. (Red dashed line shows where the foot of the slope was originally thought to be located.)

The survey team has been mapping the North Atlantic Continental Slope on the Canadian side of the Hague Line, acquiring multibeam, sub-bottom profiler, magnetic, and gravity data. (Check out Where is Atlantis Now?, for a great map of their cruise.)

The national effort to establish the full extent of the continental shelf is vital to the U.S. economy, as the ocean shelf has energy and mineral resources likely worth many billions of dollars. The process for extending the shelf is outlined by the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project:

Under international law, as reflected in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, every coastal State [country] automatically has a continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles (nm) from its coastal baselines, or out to a maritime boundary with another coastal State. However, a coastal State may define a continental shelf beyond 200 nm (called an extended continental shelf), if it meets the criteria outlined in Article 76 of the Convention. The process requires the collection and analysis of data that documents the natural prolongation of the continental landmass beyond 200 nm as determined by the formulae and limit lines in Article 76.

NOAA is one of the U.S. agencies leading the effort to collect the data that would allow our Nation to extend the shelf.

RV Atlantis CTD

The crew of RV Atlantis deploys equipment to measure the conductivity, temperature and density of water, to correct for oceanographic characteristics when measuring water depths with sonar.

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