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.

NOAA issues new nautical chart for the Arctic   4 comments

NOAA has issued a new nautical chart for the Delong Mountain Terminal, a shallow draft port servicing the Red Dog Mine, on the western coast of Alaska in the Arctic. New chart 16145 fills in historically sparse depth measurements, using new survey data recently acquired specifically for this chart.

Delong Terminal charts illustration

“This chart is important to the Arctic economy, giving navigational intelligence for the vessels shipping zinc and lead from Red Dog Mine, one of the world’s largest producer of zinc concentrate,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The new chart offers vastly more navigational information than the only other available chart of the area.”

The Delong Mountain Terminal is a shallow draft port servicing the Red Dog Mine, which is located about 50 miles inland. The terminal uses self-loading barges to ferry the ore concentrates to the deep draft ships anchored several miles offshore.

“The shipping season from the terminal only lasts about 100 days, so shipping efficiency is vital,” Glang points out. “This chart will help to improve those maritime efficiencies, as well as safety.”

Previously, the only official nautical chart available to transit the near shore area was the 1:700,000 scale chart 16005, which shows one depth measurement within three nautical miles of the approach to Delong Mountain Terminal. New NOAA chart 16145 offers a much more usable 1:40,000 scale coverage, with updated shoreline measurements and newly acquired hydrographic information. It shows dozens of depth measurements in the approach to the terminal, representative of thousands of soundings, to give the mariner accurate depths for navigation.

This is NOAA’s third new Arctic chart issued in the past three years. Chart 16161 (ENC US5AK97) for Alaska’s Kotzebue Harbor were issued in 2012, and chart 16190 (ENCs US4AK8D and US5AK8D) for Bering Strait North were issued in 2013.

Posted July 3, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

NOAA improves public access to hydrographic survey descriptive reports   1 comment

by Marcus Cole, Coast Survey’s Cartographic & Geospatial Technology Program

Many are familiar with hydrographic surveys used to update nautical charts.

It isn’t enough, however, to collect just bathymetry during a survey. Without the context, such as when the data was collected, what instrumentation was used, or which tide stations were used to adjust the bathymetry to a particular datum, the data can’t be compiled into a chart update. The data can’t be discovered for a fish habitat study, or an analysis of coastal erosion, or tsunami inundation modeling. And, until two years ago, this metadata (data about data) was collected in a paper document that hadn’t changed much during the last century.

Experts from NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) and Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division recently ramped up the intensive process of overhauling their hydrographic survey metadata system ‒ an investment in resources that has increased efficiency, reduced errors, improved access, and enabled data discovery for anyone accessing the publicly available files.

Find descriptive reports from NGDC's interactive map.

Find descriptive reports from NGDC’s interactive map.

This particular effort centered on a new metadata format for descriptive reports (DR) that accompany every hydrographic survey. The report is a critical document that supplements and helps characterize the hydrographic data itself. For example, the DR lists the conditions under which the survey was performed, factors that might affect the survey’s adequacy and accuracy, who collected the data, how it was collected and processed, the equipment and procedures used, and the results. This metadata is essential for evaluating the survey, updating charts, and contributing to NOAA’s historical and legal archive.

Coast Survey’s new method of tracking metadata for DRs uses a format readable by both humans and computers: eXtensible markup language (XML). XML defines a set of rules for encoding documents that enables automation for many metadata-related processes:

  • producing, editing, and transferring survey metadata;
  • searching for text in a document;
  • transforming data formats; and
  • publishing standards-compliant metadata to multiple data warehouses from a single record.

Automation reduces the errors that may come from manual data entry, decreases the time needed to generate a DR, and enables data to be linked to other information pipelines. The biggest benefit from all these improvements in automation, however, is consistency. Just as datums are consistently defined and used in hydrographic surveys, metadata in the new XML DR architecture will be consistently generated and applied, leading to greater intercomparability between surveys. Furthermore, this change aligns with NGDC, where hydrographic survey data is archived. NGDC is adapting its data archiving and management infrastructure to take advantage of XML DR.

Not only does the new XML architecture make it easier to share data between Coast Survey and NGDC; it also helps integrate information from other branches of NOAA and the wider survey-interested community. Some of that information includes:

XML DR may also help Coast Survey integrate survey planning and ship resource management, extending its impact and utility even further.

A team of NOAA Corps officers, CIRES/University of Colorado contract staff, and Coast Survey experts worked together to foster these technology changes. As a result of their efforts to make data more consistent and accessible, it is as easy to learn something about H00001, the first survey conducted in 1837 in Long Island Sound, as it is to view H12381, a modern LIDAR survey from the Florida Keys.

Your boat is ready? Don’t forget your nautical chart…   1 comment

Ah, the boat is ready, the safety vests are stowed on board, the sky is blue, and the water beckons… But hold on a sec, sailor! Where is your nautical chart?ChartDefinitionTransparent

A terrific t-shirt is sold in tourist shops at some of our nation’s harbors. It has a “definition” of a nautical chart splayed across the front: “chärt, n: a nautical map that shows you what you just hit.” It’s funny… but unfortunately, too true too often.

Resolve to get your nautical chart this year and consult it before you hit something. Advancements in Coast Survey’s digital processes now allow us to review and update charts weekly, and get them to boaters’ fingertips faster − and with less expense − than was possible years ago.

So, what product is best for you? Check out the options…

Paper nautical charts, printed “on demand.” Coast Survey maintains 1,025 nautical charts and provides the digital chart images to NOAA-certified agents, who print the latest version (incorporating weekly updates) when you order it. Order from any of our print agents – several with distribution to local marine shops – that offer different papers and optional premium services.

Free PDF nautical charts. Almost all nautical charts are available for download from our map-based interactive chart catalog or the numbered list. Crop, re-size, print or display them. (Just don’t use them for navigation if you are a SOLAS vessel, since regulated vessels need charts from NOAA-certified printers.)

Free BookletCharts™. For easy printing at home, choose NOAA BookletCharts. These PDFs have the same information as the regular paper charts, but they are sliced and diced into 8 ½ x 11” pages, so you can keep them in a regular notebook. Some boaters like to slide the pages into sheet protectors to protect them from the spray.

Free raster navigational charts. The NOAA RNC® is a geo-referenced digital image of the paper chart, used in a variety of commercial electronic charting systems.

Free electronic navigational charts. The NOAA ENC® is produced from a vector database of features. It supports real-time navigation as well as collision and grounding avoidance. ENCs are used by many computer navigation programs and mobile apps, as well as ECDIS.

Free historical charts (in jpg). Reflecting Coast Survey’s beginnings as the first scientific agency in the U.S. government, the Historical Map & Chart Collection has nearly 35,000 images of nautical charts, topographical maps, sketches, and more.

Okay, you’ve decided which product you want. Now, what chart do you need?

Coast Survey’s map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download the chart(s) you need.

Chart catalogs are handy to have around. (Note: Coast Survey is transitioning from the large format to an easier 8½ x 11″ PDF catalog that you can print at home. Some of the catalogs are beginning to appear on Coast Survey’s website now, with all five catalogs scheduled for completion by the end of June.)

More information is available to make your trip more enjoyable.

The United States Coast Pilot® is a nine-volume book series (geographically based) that contains a wealth of information: regulations, facilities, weather, prominent features, radio procedures, currents, small-craft facilities, and more. They are now available as free PDFs, or you can purchase hard copies from NOAA-certified print agents.

nowCoast is a map-based portal that provides one-stop access to coastal observations and forecasts.

Coast Survey’s wrecks and obstructions database provides latitude and longitude on thousands of wrecks along U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes, along with some historic and descriptive details (where available).

Does a chart have wrong or outdated information? Report discrepancies.

Seafloors, channels, shorelines, and aids to navigation are constantly changing. Coast Survey applies corrections to charts and the Coast Pilot every week, but we need the public’s help pinpointing changes in the 3.5 million square nautical miles of U.S. charted waters. Report charting discrepancies.

Have a happy and SAFE boating season!

NOAA Coast Survey, Coast Guard, and Army Corps of Engineers schedule public “listening sessions”   3 comments

Over the past few decades, mariners have witnessed the rapid development, reliability, and availability of e-navigation components, such as the global positioning system (GPS) and electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS). These systems, and other technology, have fundamentally changed mariners’ reliance on traditional navigation services. In addition, the ability to manage data and information provided to the mariner through the automatic identification system (AIS) and cellular service has enhanced the interconnectivity between shore side information providers and shipboard users. These technological advances and data flow will help the mariner receive data, transmit data, and generally improve bridge resource management, situational awareness, and navigational safety.

These fundamental changes present the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey with an opportunity to take the next steps in modernizing federal navigation services. Technology development compels these federal agencies to optimize the current aids to navigation, other maritime information systems, and nautical charting.

We want to hear from you, as we develop a federal development portfolio that will provide coordinated and timely delivery of navigational information and services. We invite you to attend one of our listening sessions, to tell us your emerging requirements for navigational information and service delivery systems in an eNAV environment.

  • Juneau, Alaska:  1 May, 1600-1700 hrs, Prospector Hotel
  • New Orleans, Louisiana:  7 May, 0900-1130 hrs, Port of New Orleans Auditorium
  • Honolulu, Hawaii:  19 May, Harbor View Center, 1129 N. Nimitz Hwy.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida:  22 May, 1700-1900 hrs, Embassy Suites, 110 SE 17th St.
  • Hampton Roads, Virginia:  22 May, 1700 hrs, Renaissance Hotel and Waterfront Conference Center, 425 Water St., Portsmouth
  • Boston, Massachusetts:  3 June, 1000-1200 hrs, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, 55 Broadway, Cambridge
  • Seattle, Washington:  3 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Downtown Seattle Public Library
  • New York, New York:  10 June, 1000-1200 hrs, Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, 1 Bowling Green, Manhattan
  • Oakland, California: 10 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Oakland Marriott, 1001 Broadway
  • Port Huron, Michigan:  12 June, time 1700 hrs, Double Tree Hotel, 800 Harker St.
  • Long Beach, California, 17 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Hyatt Regency Long Beach (Shoreline Ballroom), 200 South Pine Ave
  • St. Louis, Missouri:  18 June, 0900-1100 hrs, USACE National Great Rivers Museum (adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, in Alton, Illinois)

The Coast Guard is also developing an online survey tool for public comments. It will be available on or about 15 June.

Use the response box below to let us know if you want more information about any or all of the sessions.

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.

NOAA hydro field season underway   1 comment

The 2014 hydrographic survey season is underway, with the NOAA fleet beginning its projects for this year.

Have you ever wondered how Coast Survey goes about determining where to survey and when? Several considerations go into prioritizing survey plans, which are laid out several years in advance. Coast Survey asks specific questions about each potential survey area.

  • Is it considered a critical area? If so, how old are the most current survey data?
  • Have local pilots or port authorities submitted reports of shoaling, obstructions or other concerns?
  • Does the U.S. Coast Guard or other stakeholders from the maritime community (e.g., fisheries, energy, pipelines) need surveys for economic development or ecological protection?

Coast Survey’s 2014 projects reflect these priorities.

Alaska

NOAA Ships Rainier and Fairweather will be surveying Kodiak Island, specifically Kupreanof Strait to the north and Sitinak Strait to the south. These are considered emerging critical areas, because of both old soundings (1900-1939 for North and 1900-1969 for South Kodiak Island) and increased demand from the tourism and commercial fishing industries to chart safe passages closer to shore.

Kodiak N and S_text_inlet

The Rainier will also continue her work in Cold Bay. The projects focus on charting potential areas of refuge for ships approaching the harbor, especially when currents are strong. Cold Bay is a very small harbor town on the Aleutian Peninsula. (You may recall that when the Rainier visited last year, all eight of the town’s school children came aboard to learn about driving the ship and making nautical charts!)

One of NOAA’s hydrographic services contractors will survey Bechevin Bay, a priority area because it constitutes the easternmost passage through the Aleutians from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska. In addition, hydrographic surveys in this area will help validate an algorithm, being tested by NOAA’s Remote Sensing Division, that estimates water depth strictly from satellite imagery.

Bechivin Bay and Cold Bay_Aleutian_text

West Coast

Fairweather will survey south of the San Juan Islands, in the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Washington. The team will also investigate reported shoaling in Friday Harbor.

One of Coast Survey’s navigation response teams, NRT6, is surveying in San Francisco Bay, where the San Francisco Bay Pilot Association requested surveys in San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay at the Reserve Fleet area, and in Richmond Harbor to address charting discrepancies and other concerns. The ship will then survey Anchorages 22 and 23 (Carquinez Strait, near Benicia, CA) to chart a shoal that has migrated toward the federal channel and caused a tug and barge to run aground.

Gulf of Mexico

Pilots and port authorities requested hydrographic surveys in Galveston Bay and the vicinity, and NRT4 is responding. Anchorages in this area are of particular interest; the team will survey Anchorage Basin A in Bolivar Roads and the newly charted barge channels and charted features along the main Houston Ship Channel.

A NOAA contractor will survey in Louisiana, offshore of Barataria Bay. About 5,000 deep-draft vessels transit the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River per year. Surveys will be looking for turnoffs and turning basins for large vessels. A re-survey of sandy, changeable bottoms in the areas of Mobile Bay, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida, will also be conducted to finish surveying approach lanes to these ports. A NOAA contractor will survey the approaches to Lake Borgne/Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana, where charts still use data acquired by the U.S. Coast Survey in the 1800s.

NRT1 is surveying in Panama City, Florida, acquiring data in St. Andrews Bay and West Bay. The team will also investigate shoaling and a changing channel course in Grand Lagoon, depths and features in West Bay and West Bay Creek, and depths along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. After they finish up in Florida, NRT1 will continue the rest of the 2014 survey season in Louisiana.

Western GOM_text_inlet

East Coast

NRT2 will survey in the St. Johns River area near Jacksonville, Florida, in response to a request for support from the U.S. Coast Guard. The survey team will investigate hazards to navigation in the waters of a proposed anchorage area seven nautical miles northeast of St. Johns Point.

NRT5 will survey in the area of Eastern Long Island Sound. Along with providing contemporary hydrographic data, this survey will support the Long Island Sound Seafloor Mapping Initiative. NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson will also survey in Long Island Sound, performing essential habitat mapping in Fishers Island Sound, and continuing Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy surveys that were started in 2013.

LI Sound_Sandy_text

In central Chesapeake Bay, the research vessel Bay Hydro II  will survey critical areas, measuring depths where shifting sands and shoaling have been reported. NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler will survey a possible wind turbine site in the approaches to the Bay.

The Hassler will survey off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This data will contribute to habitat mapping and the state’s effort to locate sand resources for beach replenishment.

Finally, the Thomas Jefferson and Hassler will survey an area offshore of Rhode Island Sound to identify a safe route for deep draft oil tankers. The area is also a potential site for wind turbines.

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