Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A small hydro research vessel delivers big results   1 comment

by Dawn Forsythe, Coast Survey communications

Remember when your mom told you, “The best things come in small packages”? It turns out that is true for more than diamonds, puppies, and kids who think they are too short.

Today it was my privilege to ride with the 57-foot Bay Hydro II, one of NOAA’s smallest research vessels, as she came into Baltimore Harbor for the Star Spangled Spectacular, a festival that celebrates the 200th anniversary of our National Anthem. As we sailed alongside the impressive NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, past historic Fort McHenry, a 19th century cannon boomed ‒ probably sounding much as it did 200 years ago during the War of 1812, when the British attack was turned back at Baltimore. With that historic reminder, I was struck by how the Bay Hydro II represents Coast Survey’s two-century commitment to the Chesapeake Bay, starting with our surveys in 1843.

The view from NOAA R/V Bay Hydro II, as the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer passes historic Fort McHenry

The view from R/V Bay Hydro II, as the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer passes historic Fort McHenry

(Historical note: Even though President Jefferson ordered the Survey of the Coast in 1807, the U.S. Coast Survey was not able to assist during the War of 1812. We were still organizing and, in fact, the first superintendent of Coast Survey was in England when war broke out. Ferdinand Hassler was trying to recruit surveying and cartographic experts and was searching for the proper equipment. He was not able to return to the U.S. until after the war. Some historians think Hassler may have been detained in England at what could euphemistically be called a “special invitation” of the British government.)

Bay Hydro II, the successor to the original productive Bay Hydrographer, was only commissioned five years ago. She was built for the Bay. As U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski wrote in 2009:

“The Port of Baltimore depends on accurate charts to ensure maritime traffic flows freely, and to help keep the Bay safe from environmental disasters that could result from vessels striking uncharted hazards… Investing in advanced technology, like the Bay Hydrographer II and the sonar equipment it uses, is especially important for keeping America competitive in a global arena. Much of the charting equipment and software currently used within NOAA’s hydrographic fleet was first tested and proven right here in the Bay using this vessel’s predecessor.

“I’m proud to have such an advanced test platform in Maryland’s backyard, keeping America safe, and keeping America innovative.”

The Bay Hydro II is meeting Senator Mikulski’s vision for safety and innovation.

BHII in Hampton Roads 2011

Bay Hydro II surveyed in Hampton Roads following Hurricane Irene, speeding the resumption of port operations

Bay Hydro II has an impressive record. She was the first vessel in Norfolk waters after Hurricane Irene and Sandy, searching for underwater debris to speed resumption of shipping and naval operations in Hampton Roads. In addition to leading Coast Survey evaluations of emerging hydrographic survey technologies, she has assisted U.S. Navy researchers who are testing new technologies. She has rescued stranded boaters and removed debris that posed a danger to navigation in the Bay. And by participating in local community events, the Bay Hydro crews have educated tens of thousands of people about the Bay’s marine characteristics and maritime importance.

Speaking of education… At Baltimore’s 2012 Sailabration, nearly 9,000 people toured this mighty little research vessel for an introduction to NOAA’s hydrographic surveys. With more than a million people expected for this year’s Star Spangled Spectacular, from Sep. 11 to Sep. 15, I’d be surprised if the three-person Bay Hydro crew has any voice left on Tuesday.

This weekend, a lot of people are going to discover how a small research vessel delivers big results.

O-I-C Buesseler

Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler is the officer-in-charge of the R/V Bay Hydro II

Rob Mowery

Rob Mowery, physical scientist technician on the Bay Hydro II, explains survey preparations to a visiting media crew.

Whistler hints at artistic flair during Coast Survey stint   5 comments

By Darcy Herman

Over its 200-year history, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has employed men who are preeminent in their fields. Most of the time, their career successes follow traditional professional trajectories ‒ but at least one Coast Survey alum’s ultimate renown was born of his failure at Coast Survey.

James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903), the American artist best known for his painting colloquially known as “Whistler’s Mother,” was briefly and unhappily employed in the drawing division of the U.S. Coast Survey in 1854 and 1855.

Whistler came to Coast Survey at the age of 20, after he was asked to leave West Point over an argument with a professor of chemistry there. As Whistler tells it, “The Professor would not agree with me that silicon was a gas, but declared it was a metal; and as we could come to no agreement in the matter, it was suggested — all in the most courteous and correct West Point way ‒ that perhaps I had better leave the Academy.”

Enter Secretary of War and fellow West Point expellee Jefferson Davis, who, after interviewing Whistler and learning of his talent in drawing, recommended him to an open post at Coast Survey. There Whistler met John Ross Key, and the two became good friends as well as office mates. In a memoir, Key recalls that Whistler was a bad fit for the job. “The accuracy required in the making of maps and surveys, where mathematical calculations are the foundation of projections upon which are drawn the topographical or hydrographical conventional signs, was not to Whistler’s liking, and the laborious application involved was beyond his nature, or inconsistent with it,” Key wrote. Apparently, Whistler’s nature was also inconsistent with regular office hours. Making a leisurely arrival to Coast Survey, Whistler once claimed “I was not too late; the office opened too early.”

When he did produce drawings, Whistler was often distracted, making small sketches in the margins of charts or on scraps of paper. One of these idle sketches was of his friend Key seated at his sketch board. Frustrated with the effort, Whistler threw the sketch of Key on the floor, where Key retrieved and saved it.

sketch of John Ross Key

Whistler’s sketch of John Ross Key

Whistler’s work appears on two Coast Survey sketches. One, described by E.R. and J. Pennell, was found on a copperplate and saved by Whistler’s Coast Survey office mate, John Ross Key. It depicts a rocky shore, with sketches of several people, something Whistler was fond of drawing on many surfaces ‒ including the walls of the stairway leading down to the office of his boss, Coast Survey Superintendent Alexander Bache.

copperplate etching

Key saved Whistler’s copperplate etching

On the Sketch of Anacapa Island (1854), Whistler etched the view of the eastern extremity of the island and added birds flying overhead. When he was scolded for the addition, Whistler replied, “Surely the birds don’t detract from the sketch. Anacapa Island couldn’t look as blank as that map did before I added the birds.”

Sketch of Anacapa Island

Sketch of Anacapa Island

Although he was criticized for including nonessential decoration on official government charts, the results of his doodling and experiments on copper plates showed Whistler’s true mastery of etching technique — a technique he learned while employed at Coast Survey and later used to great success and reasonable profit as an iconic American artist.

(For more information on Whistler, see Stanley Weintraub’s Whistler: A Biography, published in 1974 by Weybright and Talley.)

Posted July 22, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in History

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Coast Survey improves access to data on thousands of wrecks and obstructions   5 comments

Knowing the locations of shipwrecks and other obstructions has always been important for safe navigation ‒ but mariners are not the only people who want to know about wrecks. They are also important for marine archeology, recreational diving, salvage operations, and fishing, among other interests. Now, Coast Survey has improved our Wrecks and Obstructions Database, giving everyone easy access to new records to explore.

Web-based map of wrecks

Coast Survey’s wrecks and obstructions database provides info on thousands of wrecks.

Historically, Coast Survey has maintained two separate sources of information on wrecks. We recently combined the sources, bringing together information on nearly 20,000 wrecks and obstructions.

AWOIS

Coast Survey established the Automated Wreck and Obstruction Information System (AWOIS) database in 1981 to help estimate the level of effort required to investigate items during a planned hydrographic survey, but maritime users were also interested in AWOIS’ historical records. However, because the emphasis is on features that are most likely to pose a hazard to navigation, AWOIS has always had limitations. Most notably, AWOIS is not a comprehensive record and does not completely address every known or reported wreck. Additionally, for a number of reasons, AWOIS positions do not always agree with a charted position for a similar feature.

NOAA ENC

Coast Survey compiles NOAA’s electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) from sources on features that are navigationally significant. As the official chart data used in electronic chart and display information systems (ECDIS), ENCs are the authoritative source of information about known or reported wrecks and are much more comprehensive than AWOIS. However, the features in an ENC typically lack the historic information and context provided by AWOIS.

COMBINED DATA

Correcting for some overlap between the two source databases, Coast Survey’s new wrecks and obstructions database now contains information on about 13,000 wreck features and 6,000 obstructions. Wreck features from each original database are stored in separate layers but can be displayed together. Users may also choose a background map from several options.

The new database also offers users additional data formats from which to choose. Historically, shipwreck data in AWOIS was available in Adobe PDF and as Microsoft Access Database (MDB) format. More recently, KML/KMZ files replaced PDF and MDB formats, making it easier for public users to view AWOIS data, by using freely available software such as Google Maps or Google Earth. Now, in addition to KML/KMZ and Microsoft Excel formats for general users, Coast Survey provides the data in ArcGIS REST services and OGC WMS services, for use in GIS software programs or web-based map mashup sites.

Coast Survey finds historic City of Chester wreck, again   Leave a comment

NOAA announced that one of Coast Survey’s navigation response teams found the underwater wreck of the passenger steamer City of Chester, which sank in 1888 in a collision in dense fog near where the Golden Gate Bridge stands today. City of Chester had just left San Francisco and was headed up the California coast to Eureka with 90 passengers on August 22, 1888, when it was struck by the steamer Oceanic. Impaled on Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, City of Chester remained afloat for six minutes before sinking. Sixteen people died in the accident.

Navigation Response Team 6 (NRT6) found the wreck in May 2013 while they were conducting regular survey duties for safe navigation, assessing a potential pollution threat from the S.S. Fernstream, a wreck from 1952. Sonar images confirmed that the target was the 202-foot steamship City of Chester, sitting upright, shrouded in mud, 216 feet deep at the edge of a small undersea shoal, rising 18 feet from the seabed.

The City of Chester is shown in NRT6's multibeam image.

The City of Chester is shown in NRT6’s multibeam image.

This NOAA team is not the first to find the shipwreck. Last year, John Cloud (NOAA Library) discovered an unpublished manuscript chart, showing that in 1888 a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey team used a drag survey from the tugboat Redmond to successfully locate the City of Chester after it sank. Tony Reyer (Office of National Marine Sanctuaries) geo-rectified that manuscript chart onto the modern seascape, and was able to provide NRT6 with the lat/lon coordinates.

The U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey created this chart of the wreck in 1888.

The U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey created this chart of the wreck in 1888.

“Connecting to the history of the Chester is sad in one way, but we were also connecting to scientific history on a different level,” said NRT6 team leader Laura Pagano. “Using our high-tech multibeam echo sounder to re-discover a wreck originally found over a century ago – by Coast Surveyors dragging a wire across the seafloor – is immensely fulfilling.”

“We are equally proud to have provided information on an important link to the rich heritage of the San Francisco Chinese-American community,” Pagano explained.

The rediscovery of the wreck restores an important historical link to San Francisco’s early Chinese-American community. Reports at the time initially criticized Oceanic’s Chinese crew in the racially charged atmosphere of the times. Criticisms turned to praise, however, when the bravery of the crew in rescuing many of City of Chester’s passengers was revealed. The wreck was then largely forgotten.

“Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, whose past work has included documenting historic wrecks in California.

In addition to Pagano, NRT6 is crewed by Edmund Wernicke and Ian Colvert. Vitad Pradith also assisted on the project.

Geographic names disappear from charts, but not from history — #Data4Coasts   Leave a comment

by Meredith Westington, Coast Survey geographer

Good, informed decisions are often based on analyses of historic and present conditions. Researchers, decision-makers, and amateur history buffs find detailed documentation of past conditions in the thousands of Coast Survey charts, dating back to the mid-1800s, in our Historical Map and Chart Collection.

Just like present day nautical charts, historic charts contain a wealth of information about geographic features — including their names, shape, and condition. Geographic names are important locational references for today’s emergency responders, but current and historic names also convey important aspects of local people and culture, which may persist through time.

As Coast Survey’s nautical cartographers routinely apply new topographic and hydrographic data to improve decisions at-sea, a question arises about names when a geographic feature, such as an island, bay, or bayou, has changed: does the associated place name disappear when the geographic feature is no longer there, or does the local population still use the historic name to convey a shared sense of place?

Coast Survey cartographers raised this exact question after applying new shoreline information to charts covering Louisiana. When cartographers applied new shoreline data to charts 11358 and 11364 in 2011, they found that named features were no longer there (see the images below for a comparison of today’s landforms vs. the historic landforms in 1965). In early 2013, another new shoreline survey similarly affected fourteen geographic names on chart 11361. They removed these “dangling names” to reduce chart clutter, but are there new names for the areas where the features used to be?

chart comparisons

On the left is the area south of Buras, Louisiana, on Mississippi River chart 11364, 2012 edition. On the right is the same area shown on Mississippi River chart 1271, 1965 edition.

Losing places (and their names) may mean losing important locational references. Some of these places have appeared on NOAA’s nautical charts of Louisiana since the late 1800s, so their removal raises concerns about a loss of cultural identity on the landscape. For example, Cyprien Bay was named for longtime resident Cyprien Buras. The names live on, of course, on the historic maps and charts in Coast Survey’s Historical Map and Chart Collection. Importantly, they are also retained in the lesser-known U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ federal repository of place names, the Geographic Names Information System. The system’s current and historical records make a great starting point for finding names that you can use to locate relevant historical nautical charts in the Historical Map and Chart Collection. The collection has an easy-to-use geographic place name search function. Just type in a name, and start to explore our nation’s geographic changes…

Search over 35,000 historical maps and charts.

Search over 35,000 historical maps and charts, just using a geographical name.

NOAA Coast Survey to improve “magenta line” on Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts   2 comments

The rebuilt "magenta line" will be a directional guide to help assure navigation safety.

The rebuilt “magenta line” will be a directional guide to help assure navigation safety.

The Office of Coast Survey announced today that future editions of nautical charts of the Intracoastal Waterway will be updated to include an improved “magenta line” that has historically aided navigation down the East Coast and around the Gulf Coast. Additionally, Coast Survey will change the magenta line’s function, from the perceived “recommended route” established more than a hundred years ago, to an advisory directional guide that helps prevent boaters from going astray in the maze of channels that comprise the route.

The decision comes on the heels of a year’s investigation into problems with the magenta line. In early 2013, after receiving reports of groundings by boaters who followed the line into shoals, Coast Survey started to remove the magenta line from Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts.

“We cannot deliberately include chart features that we know may pose a danger to navigation,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The problems of the magenta line’s misplacement, which had been developing over the past seven decades, were aggravated when some boaters assumed that the line indicated a precise route through safe water – although it actually went over land, shoals, or obstructions.”

Chart 830 - 1938

This 1938 Coast Survey chart shows the Intracoastal Waterway Route after it was updated using funds from the New Deal’s Public Works Administration.

The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, a NOAA predecessor agency, first installed the line on nautical charts in 1912, when the advent of motor boating produced a demand for charts of the inland waters and shallower waters along the East Coast. The magenta line on Intracoastal Waterway charts received major updates in 1935, thanks to an influx of funding from the Great Depression’s Public Works Administration projects. Charts rarely recorded updates of the magenta line in the ensuing 70 years.

Boating public wants directional guidance

In 2013, while Coast Survey cartographers were removing poorly placed lines from charts that were undergoing regularly scheduled updates, Glang ordered a cartographic review of the magenta line’s function and maintenance. Simultaneous with an internal review of the issues, Glang issued a Federal Register Notice asking for public comments. Almost 240 individuals and organizations offered comments, saying that the line helped safe navigation on the Intracoastal Waterway.

“We asked Intracoastal Waterway users to let us know if they need the route designated on nautical charts, and the response was 99.9 percent in favor of keeping it on charts,” Glang said. “Many of the commenters explained how the magenta line saved them from dangerous or costly navigation errors. They also confirmed that we need to clear up any misunderstanding about what the magenta line is – and what it isn’t.”

The internal review and public comments confirm that the magenta line needs to be removed where it poses a danger to navigation, rebuilt to avoid shoals and other dangers, and reinstated to all the Intracoastal Waterway nautical charts. Importantly, Coast Survey will add notes to the Intracoastal Waterway charts, emphasizing that vessels transiting the waterway should be aware of changing conditions and always honor aids to navigation.

Improvements will take years to fully implement

“Today’s decision to reinstate the magenta line is not a quick fix,” cautions Captain Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “It will take at least three years to fix problems that were 70 years in the making.”

Of Coast Survey’s 1052 nautical charts, 52 depict the magenta line. As charts are rotated through the update process, Coast Survey will evaluate and update the magenta line using charted information. When no depth soundings are on the chart, the line will generally be positioned in the centerline of dredged channels and natural waterways, avoiding shoals or obstructions less than the controlling depth. When the chart data is insufficient for determining the line’s preferred route, Coast Survey will attempt to gather additional data from partner agencies and reliable crowdsourcing.

“Most of the magenta line can be re-drawn by using the charted information, and we hope to get it done by mid-2015,” Smith explains. “On the other hand, resolving discrepancies between charted information and the line will require research, and new data acquisition and processing, with support from other federal agencies.”

Resolving chart discrepancies is a longer-term challenge, Smith says, and can conceivably take up to five years, or even longer. In cases where information is lacking and the line depiction can lead to risky navigation, Coast Survey will remove the line.

Background on the Intracoastal Waterway

The Intracoastal Waterway, extending about 3,000 miles, is essentially two waterways along the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW) extends 1,200 miles from Norfolk to Key West, and is home to ports, Coast Guard bases, and a dozen military facilities. Plied by tugs and barges, passenger vessels, maritime businesses and recreational boaters, the waterways consist of a series of artificial canals and natural waterways. The AIWW will be the center of Coast Survey’s initial focus.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association estimates that the AIWW generates billions of dollars of commercial, recreational, and personal income annually. According to a 2006 report to the North Carolina Sea Grant Program, the AIWW produces $257 million in annual sales, over 4,000 jobs, $124 million in wages, $35.6 million in federal taxes and fees and $21.4 million in state taxes and fees in North Carolina. A similar survey in Georgia claims $33 million is total revenue generated by the AIWW. A study by the Florida Inland Navigation District shows $18 billion total economic output attributed to the AIWW.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) is a 1,100-mile-long shallow draft man-made protected waterway that connects ports along the Gulf of Mexico from St. Marks, Florida, to Brownsville, Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation reports that the GIWW is the nation’s third busiest inland waterway, with 91 percent of the cargo classified as petroleum and chemical related products. According to Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Center for Ports and Waterways, 90 percent of Gulf Intracoastal Waterway barge traffic consists of petroleum products and petrochemical-related materials.

Posted January 14, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in History, Nautical charts

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NOAA’s paper nautical charts get a needed update – literally

Paper nautical charts hold a special spot in a sailor’s heart – and in the chart table. The October announcement that the federal government will stop bulk lithographic printing of nautical charts brought some understandable angst to boaters – but fear not! NOAA may be changing the chart production process but we will NOT stop the production of paper charts. We are working with private companies to make them better: printed in brighter colors and available for fast delivery to your door. Most importantly, they are up-to-date to the moment you order it. These improved paper charts are NOAA-certified print-on-demand (POD) nautical charts, created by NOAA Coast Survey cartographers.

While the lithographic paper charts will go away in 2014, anyone can order almost* any printed NOAA chart any time, from the comfort of your home, office, or boat. Just bookmark nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pod to find the NOAA-certified chart seller who will print your chart “on demand” and ship it to you. 

The great lithographic chart tradition answered a country’s need

For more than 150 years, the traditional paper chart that we all know and love has been printed in bulk on government printing presses, using the lithographic process. Lithographs were the latest and greatest technological achievement in the early 1850s, when Coast Survey superintendent Alexander Bache ordered Coast Survey personnel to explore the potential applications of lithography for printing maps cheaply and easily. Since the charts could be printed on cheaper and far thinner paper, lithographic copies could be folded, which was strategically important as the nation prepared for Civil War.

The new lithography helped the federal government speed the production of the thousands of charts needed for the war effort. According to contemporary reports, Coast Survey organized the “lithographing” division in 1861 “in order to aid the regular copper plate printing department in supplying speedily charts for the great demand made upon the office by the existing exigencies of the naval service, and also to afford the means of printing (under due supervision) a set of descriptive memoirs and sailing directions for the coast, for the use of the naval and military commands.”

Two lithographic presses were set up in the Coast Survey office and, according to Bache in his annual report, “an aggregate of more than two thousand copies of maps and charts were printed from them” in the first year of operation. The presses were set up, Bache says, “in order to meet the call for charts from the Naval Observatory to supply national vessels.”

The impact that lithographic printing process had on chart production is measurable. In 1844, before lithography, Coast Survey made 169 copies of its nautical charts. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, we were churning out more than 50,000 copies annually, and by 1900 we had amped up to 100,000 copies a year. With 20th century improvements in the lithographic presses and processes, Coast Survey produced over 100 million maps and charts for the Allied Forces in World War II.

The lithographic printing presses in 1908 hadn't yet reached the speed and efficiency that would be needed for time of war.

The lithographic printing presses in 1908 hadn’t yet reached the size, speed and efficiency that would be needed during wartime.

During World War II, Coast Survey's map folding room was a busy place.

During World War II, Coast Survey’s map folding room was a busy place.

Today’s digitally-produced paper chart reduces risk for maritime commerce, fishing, and recreational navigation

Coast Survey cartographers apply tens of thousands of changes to NOAA charts every year. Some changes are minor, but many are critical to safe navigation. While lithography was valuable in its day, it can take years before a new chart edition is printed with those updates. Advances in digital technology can now deliver charts that have been updated within the week.

Much of NOAA’s chart information is now delivered electronically to chart display systems, as either NOAA RNC® or NOAA ENC®, but we can also harness digital images for mariners who prefer to keep a paper chart, for primary use or for backup. This digital process gives boaters ready access to updated NOAA-certified paper charts that are printed on demand.

As of today, NOAA has agreements with two companies –  OceanGrafix and East View Geospatial, with their local partners – to print and deliver paper print-on-demand nautical charts. We are working with a dozen other companies that have expressed an interest in becoming a NOAA-certified POD partner, and we will keep the vendor list updated at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pod.

Commercial mariners can be assured that NOAA-certified POD charts meet the requirements for the mandatory carriage of nautical charts.

Whether the paper charts are printed using lithographic printing presses or after transmission of digital images, Coast Survey’s mission is and remains the same: to produce the nautical charts that protect life and property. That is a mission that never needs to be updated.

(*”Chart books” of some areas in the Great Lakes are not yet available as POD charts. Watch nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pod for updates.)

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