Archive for the ‘Nautical charts’ Category
Public is invited to try beta version of MyNOAACharts
As recreational boaters gear up for a summer of fun on coastal waters and the Great Lakes, NOAA is testing MyNOAACharts, a new mobile application that allows users to download NOAA nautical charts and editions of the U.S. Coast Pilot. The app, which is only designed for Android tablets for the testing period, was just released.
MyNOAAChart, which can be used on land and on the water, lets users find their positions on a NOAA nautical chart. They can zoom in any specific location with a touch of the finger, or zoom out for the big picture to plan their day of sailing. The Coast Pilot has geo-tagged some of the major references and provides links to appropriate federal regulations.
MyNOAACharts, a mobile app beta test for Android tablets, can easily integrate the user’s location, the nautical chart, and all the navigational information from the U.S. Coast Pilot.
Easy and workable access to nautical charts is important for boating safety, says Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA Office of Coast Survey. He recalls a funny, but poignant, reference to charts.
“A popular t-shirt has a ‘definition’ of a nautical chart splayed across the front: ‘chärt, n: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit,’” Glang explains. “As creative as that is, a boating accident can kill. Keeping a nautical chart on hand – before you hit something – can save lives.”
The beta test for MyNOAACharts will end on Labor Day, September 2, 2013. Coast Survey will then evaluate usage and user feedback, which will be pivotal in any decision to move forward.
“Expanding the app across a multitude of platforms, ensuring easy accessibility to over a thousand charts and nearly 5,000 pages of U.S. Coast Pilot, will take considerable resources,” Glang notes. “We truly want users to let us know if the app meets their needs.”
Boaters who don’t have an Android tablet shouldn’t despair. The Office of Coast Survey provides free BookletCharts, which are 8 ½” x 11” PDF versions of NOAA nautical charts that can be downloaded and printed at home. The U.S. Coast Pilot is also available in a free PDF version.
Important notice for commercial mariners: The mobile app MyNOAACharts and the BookletCharts do not fulfill chart carriage requirements for regulated commercial vessels under Titles 33 and 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
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, 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).
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.
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.)
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.
As the nation’s nautical chartmaker, Coast Survey produces the country’s traditional paper charts for coastal waters, territorial waters, and the Great Lakes. We maintain the Print-on-Demand charts that you can purchase from OceanGraphix and East View Geospatial. We make the nation’s raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®) and electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®). And the free downloadable BookletCharts. But did you know we produce international charts, too? NOAA has five international charts covering the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea… and we just published our sixth, for the opposite coast.
International mariners entering U.S. waters around southwestern Florida now have a new international (INT) nautical chart to help ease their transit. The new chart, INT 4148, has the same information as Chart 11420, Havana to Tampa Bay, but the depictions are converted to the metric system. (Most U.S. charts use either feet or fathoms for depth measurements). INT charts also use some different symbology, so Coast Survey makes those modifications as well.
The image on the left is a close-up of Dry Tortugas on NOAA Chart 11420. The image on the right is the same area on INT 4148. Note that converting fathoms to meters results in different contour lines for the same area.
Starting in April, INT 4148 will be printed on the reverse side of Chart 11420. The new chart will soon be available as a print-on-demand chart.
In 1971, the International Hydrographic Organization adopted the idea of a common, worldwide chart series (INT Charts) produced to a single set of agreed specifications. IHO encourages countries to publish INT charts, and to make them available to hydrographic offices from neighboring countries, so they can use them for comparison or compilation with their domestic charts. Regional Hydrographic Commissions coordinate the production of INT charts. This particular chart was coordinated by the Meso-American and Caribbean Sea Hydrographic Commission – where NOAA experts are committed to supporting international hydrographic cooperation.
Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division is responsible for updating the nation’s 1022 nautical charts. INT 4148 was compiled by Christie Ence and reviewed by Brian Martinez, under the management of Mark Griffin.
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.
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.
Getting free information
One of NOAA’s handiest navigation products, especially for recreational boaters, has been Coast Survey’s experimental BookletCharts™ — nautical charts that are easy to download and print from home computers. We have now moved the BookletCharts from experimental stage into official production.
Nearly a thousand newly updated BookletCharts are available free on the Web. The BookletCharts, which cover the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline and the Great Lakes, are smaller scale than our traditional paper charts, but they contain most of the information found on a full-scale nautical chart. They are in an 8 1/2 x 11 inch PDF format for home printing.
“It is especially appropriate that we unveil these easy-to-use nautical charts as recreational boaters begin to think about their boating adventures for 2013,” explained Capt. Jon Swallow, chief of NOAA Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Branch. “NOAA’s nautical charts help to protect lives and property, and boaters should take advantage of these free nautical products.”
“Many boaters don’t use nautical charts, trusting local knowledge or their memories. But that can be dangerous, as seafloors constantly shift, shorelines erode, and dangers to navigation are discovered,” Swallow said. “BookletCharts will tell a boater about these developments, and will help ensure a safe voyage, whether it is around the bay or down the coast.”
Getting boaters to recognize the importance of carrying charts is an uphill climb. A tourist shop in Charleston recently offered (an admittedly funny) t-shirt for sale. It had a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, noun: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.”
Of course, smart recreational boaters know that a chart is more than that. It is the first line of defense for the lives of boaters. Hundreds of boating accidents happen because boaters are inattentive or unaware of the environment around them – underwater obstructions or shoals, for instance, that are depicted on a nautical chart.
As your boating experience bears out, the bottoms of our waterways and oceans change from the effects of storms, accumulation of sediment, and debris. Our shorelines are in a state of change, from natural powers or because of human development. And that brings up another important safety issue: Coast Survey, as the nation’s nautical chartmaker, is responsible for updating the nation’s nautical charts, to reflect those changes.
Regular readers of this blog see the fantastic work done by NOAA’s four survey ships (Fairweather, Rainier, Thomas Jefferson, and Ferdinand R. Hassler), our survey research vessel Bay Hydro II, our six navigation response teams, and independent survey contractors. They face a huge challenge: the U.S. has nearly 3.5 million square nautical miles of coastal waters, and surveying those waters, relying solely on current NOAA resources, would take 545 ship years and $5 billion just to acquire the data.
Giving free information
Fortunately, thousands of citizen volunteers in this nation’s nautical community are committed to helping us ensure safe navigation. Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director, recently met with many of them at the U.S. Power Squadrons annual meeting in Jacksonville. The meeting was a tremendous occasion, as NOAA and the USPS renewed a 50-year commitment to a cooperative charting program that facilitates updates to the nation’s charts.
U.S. Power Squadrons Chief Commander John Alter (right) presents Rear Adm. Gerd Glang with an honorary USPS membership at the ceremony for renewing the 50-year Cooperative Charting Program.
As Glang explained in his remarks at the USPS meeting, “Coast Survey is a small program with a very large mission. Our few hundred people dedicate themselves to protecting people who venture on the water for their livelihood, for the nation’s defense, or for enjoyment.” He was quick to point out, however, that we also count on the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary members who scrutinize their local charts for accuracy and report discrepancies to us.
Coast Survey and the U.S. Power Squadrons formalized the voluntary program by signing an updated Memorandum of Agreement. Under the MOA, members of the U.S. Power Squadrons look for changing conditions that could be reflected on NOAA nautical charts and submit their reports online. Coast Survey cartographers review and incorporate changes to charts and the United States Coast Pilot.
Over the last ten years, volunteers have submitted over 28,000 corrections to NOAA’s nautical charts and the Coast Pilot. More than 4,000 USPS members submitted reports, adding their particular local knowledge to NOAA’s national effort to keep navigation materials accurate.
“Sailors must be able to trust their nautical charts,” Glang pointed out. “Since charting began, cartographers have tried to capture the ocean depths at a moment in time, so we can depict them with accuracy and precision. You and I know, however, that what is precise and accurate today may be inaccurate with the passing of a single storm. So our job never ends.”
You don’t have to belong to a Power Squadron or the Coast Guard Auxiliary to give us a chart update. Anyone can report a charting discrepancy, any time. NOAA – and recreational boaters – will thank you!
Updated nautical charts help all recreational boaters stay safe.
Countries issue advance notice for changes in electronic charts
To comply with internationally agreed practices, Canada and the U.S. have been eliminating overlapping coverage of electronic navigational charts (ENCs). New changes will soon take effect in the Great Lakes. Under the new ENC coverage scheme, each country is changing their areas of coverage so that only one country’s ENC is available for any given area at a particular scale.
These changes come into effect 0000 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), on 22 February, 2013.
Coast Survey’s ENC Overlap webpage has images depicting changes to the ENC coverage in the Great Lakes. (Mouseover the images to switch between original coverage and revised coverage.) It also lists the revised ENC limits as agreed upon by Canada and the United States.
The U.S. and Canada are making these changes to comply with the International Hydrographic Organization Worldwide Electronic Navigational Chart Database principles. According to those principles, countries should avoid ENC duplication, with only one country responsible for producing electronic charts for any given area. The U.S. and Canada revised ENC coverage last year for overlapping regions in Pacific and Atlantic regions.
This is the original ENC coverage for Band 3. Go to our website to see revised coverage for all bands.
During the first six months of the Coast Survey blog, we have focused largely on the field work – surveying sparsely charted Arctic waters, responding to calls for help following hurricane destruction, finding dangers to navigation, and even identifying historic wrecks. We haven’t covered the day-in, day-out job that is our reason for existence: creating and updating the country’s nautical charts.
Coast Survey has compiled and maintained the nation’s nautical charts for nearly two centuries, after President Thomas Jefferson approved legislation in the Ninth Congress in 1807, and we now maintain a suite of over a thousand charts. We sometimes get the question, “aren’t you done yet?” Haven’t we finished charting all of the U.S. waters?
The simple answer is no: because storms alter seafloors, and water depths constantly change due to shifting shoals, submerged hazards, and coastal development, Coast Survey must continually update the nation’s nautical charts. Charting those changes, and ensuring chart accuracy and precision, is essential to protecting life and property.
The more complicated answer may surprise you. Many of our nation’s marine shipping lanes, harbors, and port areas haven’t been mapped since the 1920s, when measurements weren’t as precise – or even as accurate ‒ as is possible now. Some areas, especially in Alaska, haven’t had bottom measurements since the mid-1770s.
Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division employs many of the nation’s best cartographers. Since 2009, cartographers have applied approximately 50,000 critical charting corrections to NOAA’s various charting products. In fiscal year 2012 alone, cartographers applied more than 11,000 critical corrections to chart updates.
Over those four years, Coast Survey has also produced over 500 new chart editions (of current charts), and built 200 new NOAA ENC® (NOAA electronic navigational charts). This includes 155 new chart editions and 56 new ENCs in fiscal year 2012.
Coast Survey issued new Kotzebue chart 16161, partially depicted here, in May 2012.
This year, Coast Survey produced several brand new nautical charts, including a new chart for the Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and for the Kotzebue Harbor in Alaska, where increasing ocean commerce required improved navigational products. Coast Survey also released an updated chart of Norfolk Harbor, with a new inset of the Inner Harbor, which has developed as a multi-purpose port area.
In addition to updating old charts, and creating new ones, Coast Survey is making more information accessible from its electronic navigational charts. Effective early 2012, several of NOAA’s ENCs that cover the approaches to the East Coast now alert mariners when they are approaching the right whale seasonal management areas, giving them better information to plan to reduce their speeds or avoid the areas altogether. The seasonal management areas, as encoded into the ENCs, graphically show the areas where vessels greater than 65 feet in length must travel at 10 knots or less to reduce the risk of collisions with right whales. The ENCs will also provide for an alarm on the ship’s electronic chart display and information system as vessels enter the speed zone, further alerting the bridge watchstander of speed restrictions.
We are seeing a gradual shift from paper nautical charts to raster navigational charts and electronic navigational charts. Over the last four years, the public has purchased nearly 428,000 print-on-demand paper charts, and another 392,000 traditional paper charts. Reflecting the booming technology in navigation, the public has downloaded countless millions of the electronic and raster navigational charts that NOAA offers free on the Internet.
Even while cartographers use their expertise to update and innovate, there is still the matter of uncharted U.S. waters – waters that remain to be surveyed. Coast Survey is mandated to provide nautical charts for all U.S. territorial waters and the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, a combined area of 3.4 million square nautical miles that extends 200 nautical miles offshore from the nation’s coastline. A complete survey of all of those waters would require 545 ship years and $5 billion just to acquire the data. Lacking those resources, NOAA has instead established priorities for the hydrographic surveys that acquire data necessary for reliable charts. Those priorities are updated annually, and are available on Coast Survey’s website, as NOAA Hydrographic Survey Priorities.
A critical need for new or updated charts is especially emerging in the Arctic, and Coast Survey’s Arctic Nautical Charting Plan addresses the tasks ahead.
Commercial mariners and recreational boaters will always rely on NOAA’s charts to keep them and their passengers and cargo safe from harm. NOAA’s cartographers will always work to earn that trust.
If you note a chart discrepancy, please report it through our online service.
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.
This week the NOAA Ship Fairweather is completing her 30-day hydrographic reconnaissance survey in the Arctic. The crew’s personal observations during this successful cruise brings home the importance of measuring ocean depths and updating nautical charts with precise and accurate modern data. Ensign Owen provides Fairweather’s last blog post for this project. - DF
by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)
1200 hours, Sunday, August 26, 2012:55°57.2’N 166°01.2’W, Bering Sea, approximately 100 nautical miles north of Unimak Pass
We are back in the Bering Sea, sloshing around amongst multiple low pressure systems on our way back south to finish out the Fairweather’s 30-day Arctic recon. While it has appeared a lonely transit at times, our AIS (Automatic Identification System) has proved that there are others along this Bering/Chukchi/Beaufort Seas route who will benefit from the updated hydrographic data we are recording.
We have seen more than 50 vessels over the past few weeks, including tugs and towing vessels; cargo ships; fishing vessels; tankers; research ships; U.S Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels; and even a couple of small passenger vessels. The ships have ranged from 12 meters to over 200 meters, with drafts of up to 15 meters.
We met mariners with a boat – essential to the region’s economy – whose crew has had frustrations with inaccurate charted soundings. The Greta Akpik is a lightering vessel operated by Bowhead Transport Company. The Fairweather stopped mid-trip outside of Barrow in order to disembark three scientists who were returning home, as well as to pick up stores to provide the remaining crew with food and supplies for the second half of our trip. As the town of Barrow does not have pier facilities, residents depend on the services of shallow-draft lightering vessels to transfer supplies between ships and shore. In casual conversation, the crew of the Greta reported soundings on a chart marked at 30 feet which in actuality read 5 feet on their depth-sounder – a somewhat nerve-wracking discrepancy but not impossible for their shallow-draft vessel. However, this kind of variation can prove a significant deterrent to other maritime traffic looking to enter the region.
Two examples of this “other” traffic that we encountered near Barrow were the 194-passenger Hanseatic and the 165-stateroom The World. Both vessels are considered luxury expedition cruise ships, offering their patrons unique opportunities to visit the world’s last remote outposts. The Hanseatic was on a 27-day trip from Nome, Alaska, to Reykjavik, Iceland. The World is a “privately-owned, residential yacht” for 130 families who collectively chose their vessel’s annual destinations. Both were traveling along the North Slope of Alaska, preparing to transit the Northwest Passage en route to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to bringing a modest level of tourism to the area, these expedition cruise ships also serve to increase the world’s awareness of the rarity of these remote Arctic Alaskan communities. They mark the beginning of increased and wider interest in the accessibility of the area and the ease with which services can be obtained.
Even with this level of traffic, we are quickly reminded of how much the area’s nautical charts need to be updated, as we transit across a 28 nautical mile square region, south of St Lawrence Island in the Bering — which is totally lacking in soundings. To date, vessels have operated safely by relying on a great degree of local knowledge and nautical good sense. Our recent transit, however, has not only emphasized the degree to which our charts of the area need to be updated, but reminded us of the range of traffic that will benefit from these corrections and additions.
by Lt. Madeleine Adler, NOAA, Navigation Officer, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler
Three-dimensional model of the seabed in the vicinity of USS New Jersey (north) and USS Virginia (south) created with Hassler multibeam echo sounder data.
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler recently submitted a multibeam echo sounder survey of two sunken World War I era battleships to the Office of Coast Survey. Hassler, which was commissioned earlier this summer, surveyed the site of these two wrecks while transiting through the area during test and evaluation operations in 2011, and has been using the resulting dataset for calibration purposes since then. Although the wreck locations were well known, they had never been surveyed with modern techniques.
The ships are USS New Jersey and USS Virginia, which were intentionally sunk during aerial bombing experiments in 1923. U.S. Army Colonel Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of military aviation, urged the Navy to investigate the effectiveness of aerial bombing against surface vessels. As part of a series of tests, the Navy anchored the two obsolete “White Fleet” battleships off Cape Hatteras in September 1923 to serve as targets. Bombers under Mitchell’s direction sank both ships in short order. The success of these tests had a significant influence on subsequent development of U.S. air power and air defense for naval vessels.
Hydrographic survey systems require thorough calibration and testing before data can be accepted for application to NOAA nautical charts. New Jersey and Virginia rest in water approximately 100 meters deep, making them excellent test targets for Hassler’s Reson 7111 mid-water depth multibeam echo sounder system. Hassler surveyed the wrecks during a trial voyage from Pascagoula, Miss., to Norfolk, Va., in 2011, and the crew used this dataset and others to calibrate the echo sounder. Hassler’s survey systems are now fully operational, and the survey is ready for submission.
Coast Survey will use the survey of USS New Jersey and USS Virginia to update nautical charts of the area, and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries personnel will study it to further their understanding of marine archeology and the seafloor in the vicinity of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler was commissioned on 8 June 2012, and continues to survey mid-Atlantic coastal waters for charting, fisheries and ocean exploration.
Surveyed wreck site (lower right corner) overlaid on Chart 11555. Site is 16 nautical miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)
1200 hours, August 12, 2012: 70°38.7’N 162°06.6’W, approximately 22 miles north of Icy Cape, Alaska’s North Slope
In 1963, the town of Point Hope (68° 21’N 166°46’W) – a small, ancient, and archeologically-significant Inupiaq community on Alaska’s North Slope that remains at present a largely native village – narrowly avoided the creation of an artificial harbor by underwater hydrogen bombs. Part of “Project Plowshare,” the planned creation of a deepwater harbor by thermonuclear power was intended to demonstrate the peaceful use of nuclear power for construction purposes. It was opposed by Native American communities, scientists in the state, and the Episcopalian church across the United States. The protest has been credited as one of the first government projects successfully challenged on the grounds of its potential environmental impact.
Point Hope is just one example of an Arctic Alaskan community for which an increased understanding of the regions oceans and near-coastal areas will prove relevant. From the bathymetry of the coastal region, to the chemical composition of its waters, and the characteristics of its benthic community, studies will document changes in the region due to increased exposure and vessel traffic. The NOAA Ship Fairweather’s current Arctic reconnaissance trip continues to offer that rare opportunity in environmental science – the establishment of “baseline” characteristics of a largely untouched region from which to monitor potentially imminent changes.
In 2008, the USCG Cutter Spar conducted a preliminary hydrographic survey around Point Hope (and other areas), which determined that strong currents in the area were contributing to large shifts in the coastal bathymetry (underwater topography). Sandy sediment and shallow depths, as well as the high level of coastal erosion, have resulted in a significantly changeable nature of the region’s seafloor. Point Hope was one area of interest for this summer’s investigation; on August 8, our ship-based reconnaissance survey of the spit of land’s projection into the ocean showed differences from the area’s charted depiction.
While NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey interest in updating our hydrographic understanding of this region of the Arctic has driven this voyage, we were happy to welcome in Kotzebue a trio of scientists whose work overlapped with and supplemented our own mission. Dr. Doug Dasher, an environmental scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has had an ongoing interest in Point Hope and related environmental radioactivity studies. He and Terri Lomax, from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, are on board as part of a large-scale survey of biological and chemical trends in the waters of the Arctic Chukchi Sea. Under the Alaska Monitoring and Assessment Program (AKMAP), they are using a stratified random sampling plan over a large area to get the “big picture” of a marine area’s health. Their work supports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in their national Aquatic Resource Survey of the nation’s waters.
Also onboard is an aquatic toxicologist from NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), Dr. Ian Hartwell. His path crossed with Dr. Dasher’s several years back in Kachemak Bay on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula (south of Anchorage), where they were both conducting similar research to their present study. Dr. Hartwell’s work is part of NCCOS’ Coastal Ocean Assessment, Status and Trends (COAST) Program, which conducts biological, physical, and chemical assessments of habitats affected – or potentially affected – by contaminants.
Together, they are paying particular interest to a 25 to 30 nautical mile corridor offshore in the Chukchi Sea. The corridor stretches between the Arctic Ocean’s deep-water oil leases, currently being researched and developed by international oil companies, and the largely subsistence native communities of Alaska’s North Slope. The forward-looking exploration of our Fairweather cruise meshes well with AKMAP’s and NCCOS’s goals of defining and describing the relatively untouched environment of the coastal North Slope. In light of increasing maritime traffic, AKMAP and NCCOS hope to monitor potential contamination and help to proactively address future environmental impact upon this still largely untouched Arctic region.
NOAA Ship Fairweather starts the Arctic reconnaissance survey on August 1, 2012
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, Alaska, and the nation’s economic vitality have been intertwined for 145 years. We strengthen that bond on August 1, as NOAA Ship Fairweather begins a reconnaissance survey to the northernmost tip of the Alaska’s Arctic coast. Fairweather will check soundings along a 1,500 nautical mile coastal corridor from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to the Canadian border. (At least, we hope Fairweather can go all the way to the Canadian border… The ice cover is a little stubborn this summer, and may not recede sufficiently for safe passage. CMDR Jim Crocker, the ship’s commanding officer and chief scientist of the party, will keep us updated through the coming weeks. Watch this blog site for Fairweather updates!)
Regardless of whether ice interferes with the final northern leg of the survey, the sounding samples acquired by Fairweather throughout the reconnaissance will provide critical information needed to prioritize NOAA’s future survey projects in the Arctic.
COAST SURVEY TIES TO ALASKA GO BACK 145 YEARS
The U.S. Coast Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessor organizations, was instrumental in the U.S. decision to purchase Alaska. In 1867, Coast Surveyor George Davidson led the party making a geographical reconnaissance of Alaska, to assess the Russians’ offer to sell “Russian America” to the United States. He assured U.S. officials that Alaska would bring valuable resources to the nation, and we purchased Alaska for $7.2 million.
Coast Survey started its post-Davidson Alaska work in 1871, when Assistant William H. Dall led survey teams that took soundings, triangulated Alaskan coasts, and made astronomical observations. Dall’s teams provided the information for the first U.S. nautical charts of Alaskan harbors and coves. (See this chart of Sanborn Harbor, 1872, for example.) Coast Survey leadership, in their annual reports to Congress, foresaw that Alaska’s resource development would severely challenge the woefully inadequate transportation infrastructure at the time, and more hydrographic field parties were dispatched to Alaskan waters through the rest of the 19th century.
This illustration was produced by John Whiddon, Coast Survey, Marine Chart Division
As indicated in this image, which displays the vintage of the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey (“geodetic” was added to the agency name in 1878) and NOAA soundings along the Fairweather reconnaissance path, vast swathes of lead line measurements were collected more than a hundred years ago. Some of the small-scale charts in Alaskan waters use soundings from Captain Cook (1770s vintage) or even Vitus Bering (circa 1740). While it is difficult to pinpoint exact sources, some soundings could also come from British Admiralty charts or Russian Empire charts.
FAIRWEATHER RECONNAISSANCE WILL HELP PRIORITIZE FUTURE SURVEYS
Fast forward to this century. Modern ships navigating sea lanes in the Arctic should not be expected to trust ocean depth measurements reported by Captain Cook. A tanker, carrying millions of gallons of oil, should not be asked to rely on measurements made with lead lines, before modern technology allowed full bottom surveys. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what navigators have to do, in too many cases.
Coast Survey has made it a priority to update the nautical charts needed by commercial shippers, passenger vessels, and fishing fleets transiting the Alaskan coastline in every greater numbers. In June 2011, we issued the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to update Arctic nautical charts for the fairways, approaches, and ports along the Alaskan coast.
Before our cartographers can update the charts, however, they need up-to-date and accurate depth measurements. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is committed to getting that data.