From surveying our most northern Alaskan waters last year, to our southern coastal waters this year, NOAA Ship Fairweather has really been making the hydrographic rounds, so to speak. This month, Fairweather’s hydrographic work is reaping benefits for the maritime industry in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Fairweather is surveying this area in response to requests from the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, and the pilots who maneuver increasing large oil tankers and cargo ships through the area’s crowded shipping lanes. This project will acquire data for comprehensive updates to NOAA nautical charts 18749 and 18751, which provide the depth measurements and aids to navigation that mariners rely on for safe transit. Fairweather last surveyed the area in 1975, and NOAA contracted for a small survey in 2000.
This chart shows where NOAA Ship Fairweather is surveying.
This project undertakes surveys encompassing 114 square nautical miles. Of those, NOAA considers 89 SNM as critical to safe navigation and therefore a NOAA priority. The survey areas include San Pedro Bay and its approaches, stretching south to the waters off Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
Capt. Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California San Pedro, presents a certificate of appreciation to Fairweather‘s commanding officer, Cmdr. James Crocker. Photo credit: Capt. Kip Louttit
Retired Coast Guard captain J. Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California San Pedro, visited the ship last week to thank the “great ship and crew [for] doing an incredibly necessary survey for the ports.”
The Fairweather usually operates in Alaskan coastal waters and, last year, conducted a noteworthy hydrographic reconnaissance along the U.S. coast in Arctic waters to determine the priorities for updating Arctic charts. Fairweather is part of the NOAA fleet of ships and aircraft operated, managed, and maintained by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes both civilians and the commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The ship is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.
In a step towards greater efficiency in NOAA’s hydrographic surveying, experts onboard the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler just wrapped up the first extended testing of Coast Survey’s new bathymetric mapping autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). From Sept 3 to 13, the vehicle completed ten missions lasting up to 16 hours during day and night, while the ship continued with its assigned hydrographic surveys in the approaches to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
This AUV is equipped with high resolution seabed mapping equipment similar to the ship’s, including a high accuracy positioning system and multibeam echosounder capable of producing seamless maps of the seafloor.
During this cruise, Coast Survey and Hassler personnel developed safe deployment and recovery procedures for the 675-pound, 13-foot vehicle, and they standardized mission programming and monitoring protocols to integrate the AUV with the shipboard survey operations. Future tests will refine these techniques, and focus on integrating the AUV’s seabed mapping data into the ship’s data processing workflow.
Coast Survey’s AUV team lead Rob Downs and Lt. Adam Reed prepare to initiate the AUV mission. Chief boatswain Brad Delinski, hydro senior survey technician David Moehl, and able-bodied seaman Bruce Engert guide the AUV to the launch position, while field operations officer Lt. Madeleine Adler directs the operation. Photo credit: Lt. Olivia Hauser
by Lieutenant Matt Forney and Captain Bob Pawlowski (NOAA, ret.)
July 28 marks a little-known but important milestone in our nation’s history.
On August 15, 1943, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Kiska Island, Alaska, in an attack on Japanese occupation. They found an empty island. As it happened, the Japanese Northern Army had secretly evacuated, under a cover of fog, a few weeks earlier, on July 28, thus ending the occupation of the Aleutian Islands.
Today, then, is the 70th anniversary of the last day that foreign forces occupied U.S. soil. And our Coast Survey predecessors were an important player in that event.
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey was one of NOAA’s predecessor agencies. During WWII, the USC&GS sent more than a thousand civilian members and over half of its commissioned officers to the military services. (See the NOAA Central Library account, The World Wars.) Coast Surveyors served as hydrographers, artillery surveyors, cartographers, army engineers, intelligence officers, and geophysicists in all theaters of the war. Civilians, on the homefront, produced over 100 million maps and charts for the Allied forces. Eleven members of the USC&GS gave their lives during WWII.
USC&GS in the Alaska War Zone
ATTU ISLAND and KISKA ISLAND are in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska
During World War II, the Japanese Northern Army occupied Attu Island (landing there unopposed on June 7, 1942) and Kiska Island, (landing on the next day.) The Aleutian Islands were strategic, as it meant that Japan would control the North Pacific Ocean great circle route for supplies, and the U.S. feared the Japanese would turn these locations into airbases for bombing the west coast of the U.S. mainland.
On May 11, 1943, the U.S. 17th Infantry Division made an amphibious assault on the Island of Attu to retake this territory and strategic landhold. Before the Army could carry out an amphibious attack, however, they called on the men of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey to conduct surveys of landings and anchorages.
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship Hydrographer conducted this important preemptive science to ensure the landing vessels avoided shoals and made it safely to shore. (The Hydrographer was originally built in 1930, and sailed as the USS Hydrographer after being transferred to the Navy on April 15, 1942, for the duration of World War II.)
U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship Hydrographer
Following the initial assault, the Hydrographer continued surveying in Massacre Bay, Attu, to identify shoals and outline transport anchorages and supply routes.
After 19 days of fighting between the Japanese Northern Army and well-supplied U.S. forces, the Japanese forces realized that all hope of rescue was lost. They made one last banzai-style assault, and hand-to-hand battle ensued. This fighting continued until almost all the Japanese soldiers were killed. After all was said and done, 549 U.S. soldiers died, and more than a thousand were injured. The Japanese lost over 2,850 men. The U.S. only took 29 prisoners alive.
Meanwhile, the USS Hydrographer was also providing transport services to Shemya, Alaska, so the U.S. could establish a bomber airstrip for retaking Kiska.
On August 13, 1943, the Hydrographer surveyed the approaches, anchorages, and landings on Kiska to support an amphibious assault to retake this territory. Two days later, Allied Forces invaded, unaware that the Japanese had completely abandoned the island on July 28, after hearing of the fall of Attu. The invasion force consisted of 34,426 Allied troops, including elements of the 7th Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Regiment, 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, and 5,300 Canadians (mainly the 13th Canadian Infantry Brigade from the 6th Infantry Division). Support was provided by 168 aircraft and 95 ships – including the Hydrographer.
Even though the Japanese had gone, the reoccupation came with a price. Seventeen Americans and four Canadians died from friendly fire or booby traps, 50 more were wounded from friendly fire or booby traps, and an additional 130 men came down with trench foot.
The Hydrographer has successful career
In May, 1943, the Hydrographer’s commanding officer was awarded the Legion of Merit for surveying and charting the unknown and dangerous waters surrounding Attu Island during the assault and occupation of that island.
Following her successful service in Alaska, ending the last occupation by foreign forces, the Hydrographer surveyed at Guam during amphibious operations, and at many other locations throughout the Pacific Theater of Operations. The commanding officer was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
After the war, the Hydrographer returned to USC&GS service. She spent most of the remainder of her career surveying the Atlantic and Gulf coasts before being decommissioned in 1967, after 37 years of service to the country.
Today, June 21, is World Hydrography Day. Hydrographic offices in over 80 maritime nations observe this day every year, since 2005. It is our special day to tell the public what hydrography is, and how it is employed to make navigation safer. Simply, hydrography is the science we use to obtain the data needed to create nautical charts. NOAA’s 200-year history is proof positive that those charts – and therefore hydrography – are a national investment that pays off daily with navigation safety, efficiency, and coastal protection from accidents at sea.
But today’s observation of World Hydrography Day is more profound. It is personal to every person who works in or supports hydrography in the United States.
It was 153 years ago, to the day, that the U.S. Coast Survey experienced the largest single loss of life in our history. In the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, on stormy seas, the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker was hit by a commercial schooner when she was transiting from Norfolk to New York, on a hydrographic mission. The ship sank quickly, and twenty crew members died.
In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. It is now at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
Today, we honored the lost crew members of the Robert J. Walker for their service to the nation.
The NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is currently working near where the Walker sank. They are taking a couple of hours to survey the area, with multibeam and sidescan sonar, as part of a NOAA Maritime Heritage effort to pinpoint the exact location and confirm the identity of the Walker wreck. (While NOAA nautical charts show a seafloor obstruction, we have not positively identified the Walker.) For the survey, Thomas Jefferson commanding officer Larry Krepp welcomed two “wreck experts” on board: Joyce Steinmetz, a nautical archaeology and maritime history expert from East Carolina University, and Vitad Pradith, the technical director with Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch.
Joyce Steinmetz, Vitad Pradith, and Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp on board the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, as they departed on the survey leg that included a search for the wreck of the Robert J. Walker.
Honoring the memory of the 20 USCS crew members who perished the morning of June 21, 1860, the Thomas Jefferson’s newest hydrographer, Ensign Eileen Pye, laid a memorial wreath on the waters above the sunken wreck of the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker.
Cmdr. Larry Krepp, Lt. Cmdr. Chris van Westendorp, and Ensign Eileen Pye during the honor ceremony onboard the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson.
Ensign Eileen Pye, the Thomas Jefferson’s newest hydrographer, lays the wreath over the waters where the USCS Robert J. Walker sank.
Seaman surveyor Anthony Teele rings the Thomas Jefferson ship’s bell, honoring the Walker crew.
At the same time the Thomas Jefferson was memorializing the crew at sea, NOAA employees gathered at NOAA offices in Maryland. Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, led the ceremony and reminded the assembled group, “With leadership comes an obligation to honor these men who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation.”
Rear Adm. Gerd Glang noted that this year’s celebration of World Hydrography Day was “more profound,” as it was “personal to every one of us who works in or supports hydrography in the United States.”
David Moehl, a senior survey technician on the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler, rang an historic hydrographer’s bell, once for every man who died that day, as Cheryl Oliver, the president of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Historical Society, read each man’s name.
Senior survey technician David Moehl rang an historic ship’s bell as Cheryl Oliver reads the name of each Robert J. Walker crew member who died.
Rear Admiral Michael Devany, director of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, talked of connections. “Despite the time that has passed, today’s NOAA employees, mariner and non-mariner alike, share a unique connection with these sailors. The common heritage of love for the sea and sky bond us with the men of the Robert J. Walker regardless of time.”
“The sacrifice paid by these 20 men reminds us of the dangers intrinsic with operations at sea,” Devany said. “We cannot go back and undo the events that took the Robert J. Walker and her crew from us, but I believe they would be honored to know the work they set out to accomplish over a century and a half ago continues today by NOAA ships and the people of NOAA.”
Rear Adm. Michael Devany noted that the crew of the Walker would be honored to know that their work continues today.
David Kennedy, deputy under secretary for operations at NOAA, spoke to the heart of the accident: the need to honor all federal employees. Kennedy explained that the men who died were not the scientific or naval elites: “They were the the guys working below deck.”
“At NOAA, we celebrate the science, we tout the satellites and the surveys — and, above all, we are always mindful that we are a team. The stewards and cooks and firemen from 1860, and the technicians and support staff today, are the reasons we are able to accomplish what we do.”
“The crew of the Robert J. Walker, and the people who have followed them on hundreds of thousands of hydrographic surveys since, have served the United States government in our many hours of need. Their work – your work – has improved the welfare of our people over the centuries, as our hydrographic missions improve the safety of navigation.”
“Today, we thank and publicly honor the crew of the Robert J. Walker for their service to the nation. And, in that,” Kennedy told the NOAA hydrographers, technicians, and support staff, “we honor and thank you all as well.”
David Kennedy, Deputy Under Secretary for Operations, told the NOAA audience: “Today we thank and publicly honor the crew of the Robert J. Walker for their service to the nation. And, in that, we honor and thank you all as well.”
Two other federal programs are also involved in the nation’s hydrography. We were very pleased that representatives from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency attended the NOAA event. In a show of solidarity, the hydrographic office of the U.S. Navy held their own simultaneous ceremony at their location in Stennis, Miss.
The Naval Oceanographic Office joined NOAA in honoring the Walker crew on World Hydrography Day. AGAA Jahmal Moore, Steven Harrison, NAVOCEANO Hydrographic Department Director, and Michael Jeffries, technical director of the Fleet Survey Team, lead the ceremonies.
Rear Adm. Glang also read from a letter that Admiral R.J. Papp, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, wrote to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA’s acting administrator. “I want to add my tribute to the memory of the sailors who perished in that accident, ” Papp wrote. “Coast Guardsman are always saddened by the loss of life at sea and especially so when those lost were working to make the lives of other mariners safer by charting the waters of the United States.” (Read his full letter, especially for more about the history of the Walker.)
In honor of the strong ties — historical and contemporary — between NOAA and the Coast Guard, a USCG Honor Guard proudly posted and retired the colors for the ceremony.
Back in 1860, the U.S. Coast Survey never published the names of the lost crew members. However, the New York Times, on June 23, 1860, wrote about the accident and published this list.
“The following list of the missing crew has been supplied by Mr. CHARLES GIFFORD, Quartermaster on board of the Walker, to whom we are also indebted for the particulars of the collision:
Marcus (or Marquis) Buoneventa, ward-room steward.
Michael M. Lee, ship’s cook, (colored.)
James Patterson, ward-room cook, (colored.)
Henry Reed, second mate.
Timothy O’Connor, second gunner.
John Driscol, seaman.
Michael Olman, seaman.
George W. Johnson, son of Mr. Johnson, the actor.
Charles Miller, ordinary seaman.
Robert Wilson, seaman.
John M. Brown, captain of after guard.
Jeremiah Coffee, cooper.
Cornelius Crow, landsman.
John Farren, fireman.
James Farren, fireman.
Samuel Sizer, fireman,
George Price, fireman.
Joseph Bache, fireman.
Daniel Smith, fireman.
Peter Conway, fireman.
For more information, see nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/RobertJWalker.
Also, listen to this recent National Ocean Service podcast interview of Rear Admiral Glang.
There’s a fascinating story behind (literally) the painting of the Walker. See A Good Story, from the Mariners Museum blog.
UPDATE: AUG 28, 2013: NOAA announced that a wreck located off the New Jersey shore has been positively identified as the Robert J. Walker. This summer, a private-public collaboration sought to find the Walker, as experts zeroed in on where the Walker was reported to have gone down. Those experts included Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archeology student at East Carolina University, who briefed NOAA staff on government records and newspaper accounts she had unearthed in her studies. Capt. Albert Theberge (NOAA, ret.), from the NOAA Central Library, brought his research of the early years of the U.S. Coast Survey, including correspondence between various Coast Survey officials and the ship’s officers. James Delgado, director of NOAA’s Maritime Heritage program, added his expertise gathered from years of discovering and documenting wrecks. Vitad Pradith, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, provided technical expertise in using NOAA’s multibeam and sidescan sonar systems — onboard the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson — to locate and image underwater structures. (Thomas Jefferson was in the area conducting post-Sandy hydrographic surveys.)
The site of the collision and location of the wreck is plotted on this nautical chart from 1852.
“Before this identification was made, the wreck was just an anonymous symbol on navigation charts,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey. “Now, we can truly honor the 20 members of the crew and their final resting place. It will mark a profound sacrifice by the men who served during a remarkable time in our history.”
NOAA’s intent is not to make the wreck a sanctuary or limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand the wreck and the stories it can tell.
“We want to enhance the dive experience and support the dive industry with enhanced access to this wreck,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “New Jersey is home to some of the most accomplished wreck divers who not only understand history and wrecks, but who have also been in the forefront of wreck exploration. We look forward to working with them on the Walker.”
For more information, see the National Marine Sanctuaries report, Rediscovering the Walker.
Listen to a podcast from two of the experts who found the Walker. See video of what the divers found, on Finding the Robert J. Walker.
In late May, NOAA Ship Rainier officially started her Chatham Strait hydrographic survey project in southeast Alaska. It’s often difficult to imagine the age of many of the depth measurements depicted on Alaskan charts, but this short animation brings it home.
The older picture is U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Steamer Patterson and her steam-powered launch Cosmos, surveying Gut Bay in 1897. (The USC&GS is one of NOAA’s predecessor agencies, and a direct predecessor of the Office of Coast Survey.) We juxtaposed Patterson with the Rainier, who is finally able to update the bathymetry — at the exact same location — 116 years later.
The Patterson was under the command of Lt. Cmdr. E.K. Moore, U.S. Navy, while Coast Survey assistants carried out the scientific work. In today’s Coast Survey, a NOAA officer — on the Rainier, it is Cmdr. Richard Brennan — is both commander of the vessel and its chief scientific officer.
The opening to Gut Bay is only about 100 yards wide – and it seems narrower!
“It must have been a real challenge to get the Patterson into this tiny bay in 1897,” Cmdr. Brennan observed. “The opening to the bay is only about 100 yards wide — and seems narrower than that when you are in the middle of it, since the cliffs rise almost vertically on either side.”
“We had the benefit of surveying the very narrow entrance’s seafloor with complete multibeam sonar coverage, and had the use of radar and GPS to inform us about our exact location as we made our way through the incredibly tiny opening into this bay. The Patterson (a steam powered sailing vessel) would have had to do this visually with only a few lead line soundings across the entrance. This must have made for an exciting navigational experience!”
Credit for photo of Rainier: Ensign Damian Manda
By Ensign Brittany Anderson, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
After a quiet winter at home port, the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson completed her sea trials this week in preparation for the 2013 field season.
Each year, prior to departing for working grounds, the Thomas Jefferson transits to the Chesapeake Bay to perform tests on the ship’s and launches’ systems and hydrographic survey equipment. Crews conduct numerous tests to check the accuracy and precision of multibeam echosounders, side scan sonar, and the sophisticated suite of programs that process all the data. Additionally, this is an opportunity to ensure the safety of the vessel and her crew by performing numerous safety drills and readdressing safety standards and operating procedures.
This is a screen capture of the simultaneous multibeam and side scan coverage of an obstruction used to verify the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson’s imaging and bathymetric sonars.
But it wasn’t all just tests and drills. During her transit, the Thomas Jefferson also deployed a GPS tide buoy to make real-time tides more accurate and efficient for the region.
Jack Riley and Brian Murray from Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Systems and Technology Programs Branch assist with GPS tide buoy deployment.
Now that the vessels and equipment are ready for the season and the crew has their sea legs back, the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson will be returning to the Northeast this year to further update nautical charts for critical shipping and transportation regions.
Survey ships and contractors are preparing for NOAA’s 2013 hydrographic survey season. Operations are tentatively scheduled for maritime priority areas from Maine’s Penobscot Bay, down the coast to New York and Rhode Island, and further south to coastal Virginia and approaches to Chesapeake Bay. In the Gulf, current plans are for surveying approaches to Mississippi Sound, Barataria Bay, and the Louisiana coast. Pacific Northwest surveys include Strait of Juan De Fuca and offshore Oregon and Washington. Alaskan survey plans include numerous locations, from the extreme southeastern canals, through the islands, and up to Port Clarence, Red Dog Mine, and Point Barrow.
Additionally, Coast Survey’s navigation response teams are lined up to survey in Panama City, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine, Florida; Galveston and Sabine Pass, Texas; Eastern Long Island Sound; and San Francisco Bay.
The preliminary stages of preparations remain flexible as NOAA analyzes recently budgeted post-Sandy survey needs along the NY/NJ coastline.