By Ashley Chappell, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping coordinator
With 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. waters to survey and chart, Coast Survey is up against some big challenges in keeping nautical charts current. A complete survey of those waters would require over 500 ship years and $5 billion ‒ just to acquire the data. It is no wonder that we put substantial effort into a program known as integrated ocean and coastal mapping (IOCM), where trusted partners can provide high quality, standards-compliant hydrographic survey data for a multitude of uses, including chart creation.
One of our biggest challenges is in the Arctic. Whether you knew it or not, the U.S. is an Arctic nation thanks to Alaska, and this formerly frozen region is becoming more accessible to ship traffic as sea ice melts. But much of our Arctic coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.
So NOAA has a dilemma: how do we survey and chart an ice-diminished Arctic when we have limited resources and limited seasonal access? We assessed data age and quality, we reviewed our chart coverage, and we developed the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan for where we would improve chart coverage if we get new data. But our resources for ship and contract surveys can only do so much, and we need more data…
Hydrographic survey monitors were installed on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar.
Enter our maritime partners, the U.S. Coast Guard. Since 2008, NOAA has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska to improve shipping safety. For instance, the Coast Guard buoy tenders, that set buoys and dayboards used to mark the safe passage through waterways throughout Alaska, were finding that some of the natural channels moved from year to year, and so they started using single beam sonar to find the channels. Seeing a way to support this effort, NOAA experts joined U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders as they headed into the Bering Sea, helping to train Coast Guard personnel to set the buoys safely, quickly, and accurately.
We also started exploring the possibility of the Coast Guard collecting hydrographic data for nautical charts. In 2012, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Blankenship was NOAA’s lead on a joint NOAA/USCG Arctic hydrographic project aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory from Homer, helping to develop an operational procedure to get Coast Guard survey data to NOAA. This year, we are happy to see that professionalism, enthusiasm, and teamwork has resulted in Coast Guard Cutter SPAR providing Bechevin Bay data that will help guide our decision-making for survey priorities.
SPAR commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Michele Schallip signed the data set on September 10, and highlighted the contributions of Boatswain Mate 1st Class Michael Cobb, who spearheaded the project, with the assistance of NOAA chief survey technician Tami Beduhn, navigation manager Lt. Matt Forney, and Lt. j.g. Jon Andvick.
With the Alaskan coast comprising 57% of the U.S. navigationally significant waters, a multi-agency partnership for hydro survey data is necessary for maritime safety. This year’s successful SPAR survey is an important step in that effort. We look forward to continuing this work with our fantastic Coast Guard partners, and we hope to expand the IOCM concept to other vessels that have survey capability in the Arctic.
Size comparison of Alaska and the contiguious states. The blue areas depict the extent of navigationally significant areas for surveying purposes.
In case you missed it, yesterday we announced an end to government printing of lithographic nautical charts, effective April 13. Lithographs are part of Coast Survey’s proud heritage, since we started using that printing process for mass-producing charts for the Civil War, and it will be hard to see the era end. (See NOAA announces end of traditional paper chart.) While lithographic printing is scheduled to stop, however, the public will continue to be able to purchase NOAA paper charts as up-to-date print-on-demand products.
As one product ends, another begins. We also announced yesterday that our latest addition to the nautical charting portfolio is the new Portable Document Format (PDF) nautical chart, which provides up-to-date navigation information in this universally available file type. Initially, the PDF nautical charts will be available for a three-month trial, from October 22, 2013, to January 22, 2014.
For the trial period, Coast Survey is providing about a thousand high-resolution printable nautical charts—almost the entire NOAA suite of charts—as PDF files. The PDF nautical charts, which are almost exact images of the traditional charts currently printed by lithography, are free.
We are trying this as a trial so we will have an opportunity to hear from the public and evaluate usage. Does the boating community find the charts useful? Is there a better way to provide these free products? Should we continue the new service?
Just as with Print-on-Demand (POD) and NOAA raster navigational charts (NOAA RNC®), PDF nautical charts are updated weekly and include all of the latest critical chart corrections. These files can be printed or viewed depending on the customer’s choice.
(NOTE: For mariners using paper charts to meet chart carriage requirements under federal regulations, only printed charts provided by NOAA-certified POD providers will meet U.S. requirements when the traditional lithographic nautical charts are no longer available. POD charts meet stringent print standards and can be recognized by an official certification of authenticity printed on the chart.)
Key features of the PDF nautical chart
- Updated Weekly. PDF charts are up-to-date with critical corrections from Notice to Mariners.
- Available Immediately. New PDF chart editions are available two to eight weeks sooner than traditional NOAA paper charts have been.
- Enhanced Readability. These are printed in brighter colors, so the charts are easier to read. Additionally, the files are high resolution, at 400 dpi.
- Printable. Most charts can be printed from any plotter capable of plotting 36” width to achieve 1:1 scale.
- Easy to view. PDF files can be viewed with free PDF readers such as Adobe Reader. If you do not already have this viewer installed on your computer, you may obtain it at no cost from the Adobe Reader webpage. Other free PDF readers can be found by searching the Internet.
It’s only been 24 hours since we released the PDF nautical charts, but so far the reaction is good. “Like very much. Resolution is terrific, even when zoomed to 400%,” says one commenter. “Another good backup, and good for route ‘browsing’ …I would strongly recommend that these be made a permanent chart option. Thanks so much.”
Another commenter tells us, “I want to give a big thumbs UP for the new PDF format for nautical charts (and free download). We downloaded the Puget Sound region this morning and immediately used it to locate a mysterious point that had been entered in a dive fishery log book. Excellent product! I hope they remain available for free download.”
The flexibility seems to be popular with chart users. “I’m commenting on the trial project to make Great Lakes Nautical Charts available as PDF files. It is a great service and should become a permanent part of NOAA’s services. As a kayaker who paddles on the Great Lakes, I appreciate this service very much. For my needs, a full sized chart is usually far more paper than is needed. With the PDF service, I can crop targeted areas and print for use. I will be telling my paddling friends about this trial service.”
Even non-boaters like them. “The pdf chart downloads are for my purposes, just great. I don’t navigate (typically). But I do need to reference shipping lanes, underwater obstructions, berth numbers, port configurations, bridge clearances, basic hydrographic info, etc. in my work. Being able to view them on my computer is extremely helpful.”
There have been some early shortfalls, we recognize. As one commenter pointed out, “I tried to download your new pdf chart for my home port. With no index or linked index, it is pretty unusable for the masses.” True, when we opened the site yesterday, we only had a list of the chart numbers. Until we integrate a new chart viewing service into the PDF nautical chart service, we suggest that people find their chart number by using our Online Chart Viewer.
What do you think about the PDF nautical charts? We’d like to hear from you.
We reduced the size of the file to save PDF nautical chart 12283 as a jpg. Click and zoom to get a better idea of the resolution. (The online PDFs are even better!)
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 courtesy of 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.
Cold Bay Elementary School students visit the NOAA Ship Rainier
On September 13, NOAA Ship Rainier began surveying Cold Bay, its fourth project of the summer. Cold Bay is a small town on the Aleutian Peninsula approximately 540 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. The town currently has approximately 88 full-time residents and boasts an airport with one of the longest runways in Alaska.
On September 19, after deploying her launches for the day, officers and crew welcomed aboard the entire Cold Bay Elementary School – all eight students, teaching assistant Mrs. Lyons, and their teacher, Mrs. Burkhardt. The students are currently between fourth and seventh grade and go to school in a state-of-the-art, two-room school-house.
During the tour, the students learned about driving the ship and making nautical charts. They saw how sonars work, and they even used a sediment sampler to determine the seafloor composition.
The students were full of questions and enjoyed learning about life on a ship. They also captured the admiration of Rainier‘s commanding officer. “When Cold Bay residents describe their town, they can also boast of wonderful elementary school students who have a desire to explore new things,” explained Cmdr. Rick Brennan. “One of the great things about working on a NOAA ship is the opportunity to meet students like this. Combining our love of the sea with their enthusiasm for learning — that’s where America’s future hydrography starts.”
This student is ready to work!
The group examines bottom samples collected by the Rainier.
Cmdr. Rick Brennan explains how davits work.
- Cmdr. Brennan with friends — and potential future hydrographers.
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