Recently, NOAA hosted it’s third NOAA Industry Day at the Annapolis Yacht Club, attracting over two dozen prominent maritime application and navigation system developers. This year’s event focused on NOAA’s extensive data and models that are freely available and of particular interest to the recreational boater community.
The morning session consisted of presentations by program leaders highlighting new data enhancements and models that can provide added-value to existing recreational navigation systems. NOAA experts also solicited feedback from industry members on how to improve the accessibility and distribution of NOAA data and encouraged future correspondence on development opportunities. The afternoon session allowed for individual consultations with all experts and included a high-level overview of NOAA’s National Charting Plan.
All presentations and presenter contact information are available on Coast Survey’s website.
Recently, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey hosted two stakeholder events in Belfast, Maine, to engage the local community on various NOAA products and updates in the region. Originally from Belfast himself, Rear Adm. Smith, director of the Office of Coast Survey, provided a warm introduction to both events. Dean Moyles, of Fugro, a NOAA hydrographic contractor, presented a summary of the hydrographic survey work being performed in Penobscot Bay. Lt. David Vejar, NOAA northeast navigation manager, highlighted various products and services, including how to access NOAA charts and data, the upcoming Gulf of Maine Operation Forecast System, nowCOAST, and various planning tools such as SeaSketch and Northeast Data Portal. Allison Wittrock, from Marine Charts Division, presented the National Charting Plan with a focus on how it will provide great benefit to stakeholders.
Various groups attended the event, including local harbor committees, regional U.S. Coast Guard, Maine Department of Marine Resources, NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, Maine Lobsterman’s Association, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and staff from Rep. Bruce Poliquin (ME) and Sen. Angus King, Jr.’s (ME) offices.
NOAA and Fugro received positive feedback from local stakeholders before and during the Penobscot Bay hydrographic survey. The state of Maine and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management will also be working together to coordinate long-term projects in the area. NOAA was invited to return and present at both the Maine Fisherman’s Forum March 1-3, 2018, in Rockland, and at the annual Maine Harbormaster’s Association annual training in March 2018 at the Maine Maritime Academy. The stakeholder events were captured and published by the Republican Journal.
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson spent the last three weeks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands surveying ports and bays in response to Hurricane Maria. Over the three week period, the crew surveyed 13 areas and no fewer than 18 individual port facilities, as well as conducted emergency repairs to three tide and weather stations. PS Doug Wood from Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division and Cmdr. Chris van Westendorp, commanding officer of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, compiled a poster highlighting all of the areas surveyed.
Up until 2014, more than 50 percent of the sanctuary was not charted at a suitable scale for making informed resource management decisions. NOAA launched the Southern California Seafloor Mapping Initiative to address this information gap and identify priority areas to survey. To begin filling this data gap, NOAA relied on its local vessels equipped with ship-mounted sonars optimized for fisheries research, as well as state and federal partner resources. Coast Survey’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) was also used to collect data in deep sea coral areas. Fast forward to the fall of 2017, and just less than 25 percent of the sanctuary— primarily shallow and near shore areas—remains to be charted using modern technology.
“The near-shore areas within the sanctuary were last surveyed using lead line techniques in the 1930s,” said Cmdr. Ben Evans, commanding officer of NOAA Ship Rainier. “The technology we have today enables us to improve our nautical charts and navigation safety while at the same time providing the critical habitat data the sanctuary needs to manage its resources.”
Rainier is one of NOAA’s four large hydrographic ships and is equipped with four survey launches designed to survey shallow water areas. This equipment, coupled with the surveying expertise on board, makes Rainier the ideal vessel to support this initiative.
Rainier started its survey work in the sanctuary around San Miguel Island, the westernmost island in the Channel Islands chain. San Miguel is situated off the coast of Point Conception, where the open Pacific Ocean meets the Santa Barbara Channel. The area is windswept, as evidenced by the ribbons of sand seen up the island’s hillsides and rough seas off the coast.
With safety and quality data collection top priorities for Rainier, two important tasks were completed before the vessel commenced survey operations around the island. Rainier deployed a skiff—a small boat with a 4-person crew—to perform inshore reconnaissance to determine the safety limits for conducting inshore mapping. This is particularly important as some features around the shoreline may not have been charted accurately or at all during the previous lead line surveys. Put simply, the crew searched for hazards such as rocks and thick kelp beds at low tide so the survey launches can avoid them while surveying at high tide.
Video: Timelapse of shoreline reconnaissance in Cuyler Harbor, San Miguel Island.
The ship also deployed one of its survey launches to locate a safe anchorage for the ship, and test its backscatter collection capabilities. Although the launches’ new sonars were calibrated after installation in Puget Sound just a few weeks prior, the crew needed to confirm and fine-tune the systems for operation in the CINMS. This local calibration also ensured backscatter imagery would be consistent between the four survey launches.
Once these initial tasks were complete, day-long survey operations commenced the following day. Rainier will survey the near-shore areas of the sanctuary for the next four weeks.
NOAA ship Rainier, a 49-year-old survey vessel, is part of the NOAA fleet of ships operated, managed, and maintained by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and civilian wage mariners.
With news of Hurricane Maria’s devastating effects on the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson—originally scheduled to survey the approaches to the ports of Houston and Galveston following Hurricane Harvey—changed course. It was evident with the widespread flooding, winds, and storm surge that critical ports were paralyzed, and large ships with fuel and supplies were prevented from entering safely.
Coast Survey first sent NOAA’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST)—a mobile, quick-install side scan / single beam sonar kit that can be quickly set up on a vessel of opportunity—immediately following the storm at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard. MIST completed the emergency hydrographic surveys in the Port of Arecibo, an important fuel and chemical port. However, there is much more work to be done both immediately and in the long-term.
While the MIST was working with the USCG on the most immediate needs on the island, Thomas Jefferson transited down the east coast of Florida to Port Everglades and then towards Puerto Rico arriving on Thursday, September 28. A ship of this size can’t arrive overnight and must transit over the course of three to four days. In order to arrive as early as possible but avoid foul weather and rough seas during the journey, the ship traveled southeast along the leeward side of the Bahamas as Hurricane Maria made it’s way northwest.
“NOAA is really proud that the Thomas Jefferson has arrived in Puerto Rico to help the United States Coast Guard and the local port authorities to restore the full capacity of the island’s sea ports,” said Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “ The people of Puerto Rico need the transportation infrastructure restored to bring relief to the stricken and rebuild their lives after this tragic storm.”
While in San Juan, the ship deployed its launches and delivered supplies to NOAA’s National Weather Service at the USCG small boat pier. They also provided equipment needed to repair the NOAA tide gauge station in San Juan. Once the drop was made, Thomas Jefferson traveled around the island to Ponce at the request of the USCG. Its launches were deployed at sunrise on September 29 to survey the deep draft channel, a crucial step to re-opening the port and allowing goods and services to enter. Additionally, the USCG requested a complete side scan sonar survey to locate a crane that was potentially knocked into the water during the storm and to ensure no other obstructions exist in the channel and port. Thomas Jefferson’s next stop in Puerto Rico is Roosevelt Roads, a port that has not yet opened since the storm hit the island.
Thomas Jefferson will then transit to St. Croix and commence survey operations in Christiansted which also has remained closed since the storm. The ship will address additional ports based on USCG priority.
NOAA is responsible for surveying U.S. waters for safety of navigation and producing the nautical charts that guide all ships on the water. Given the magnitude of the damage to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, NOAA anticipates that Thomas Jefferson will remain in the area after USCG priority ports surveys have been completed to conduct additional surveys to update charts in areas affected by the storm.
In late spring, while surveying off the coast of Long Island in Kodiak, Alaska, NOAA Ship Rainier found an uncharted shipwreck. Although rocks around the shipwreck were previously charted, this sunken vessel is a new feature. What made the find unique was how the top of wreck’s mast resembled a yellow light at the water’s surface. The Rainier crew fondly nicknamed it “ET’s finger.”
During the survey, Rainier was able to sail close enough to get multibeam echo sounder data over the shipwreck and record a shoal depth.
Long Island was once the home ofFort Tidball, a World War II coastal fort established in 1941 and abandoned in 1946. NOAA received permission from the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office to share information about this shipwreck and is currently working to identify the ship.
Why is NOAA surveying around Kodiak Island? The area of Chiniak Bay supports the second busiest and third richest fisheries port in Alaska. In 2015, the Port of Kodiak was responsible for 514 million pounds of fish and $138 million of product. Chiniak Bay is the gateway to Kodiak and has a survey vintage of 1933. This area has seen many groundings and near misses due to the number of dangers to navigation and pinnacles that exist in this area. The navigation of this area is further complicated by the number vessels trying to enter and exit the Port of Kodiak via a choke point located at the channel entrance buoy. In recent years, a number of groundings in and around the area have occurred, the most famous being a 174-foot Army landing craft that was outbound to deliver goods to a remote village in western Alaska in 2012.
As the nation’s nautical chartmaker, NOAA Office of Coast survey serves a wide range of customers ranging from recreational boaters and operators of cargo ships, to historical chart enthusiasts. Customers throughout the world send us questions, comments, and also chart discrepancy reports, letting us know they found an error on a chart. As the Coast Survey “Answer Man,” I manage this communication, including Coast Survey’s response. Customers submit inquiries through our Inquiry and Discrepancy Management System (IDMS) database.
IDMS serves three important functions for Coast Survey. First, it is a mechanism to insure that inquiries from customers receive prompt and accurate responses. If I can’t answer the question, I make sure it is routed to the appropriate person—often a cartographer—who has the technical expertise to answer the question. Secondly, IDMS is a conduit for all types of users to submit nautical charting discrepancies. We receive hundreds of discrepancy reports each year from the general public as well as commercial charting companies. These reports help to increase the quality of our charting products. Lastly, managers can query the IDMS database in order to identify areas where the organization can improve the delivery of Coast Survey products and services.
Since 2008, Coast Survey has compiled nearly 20,000 comments, inquiries, and discrepancy reports in IDMS. Eighty percent of those inquiries received responses within five days of receipt. The other twenty percent usually require some type of research that may take weeks or even months. However long it takes, we make it a point to respond to everyone.
Most of the correspondence we receive from the public can be classified as “neutral.” For example people ask for information like:
“Where can I buy a paper chart?”
Occasionally, we receive some negative comments such as the following:
I’m saddened to see that you have cancelled chart 18423. That chart was the right size to hold while navigating. You didn’t have to fold and refold the chart. I understand that there are numerous electronic substitutes, but I do like having the folio chart as a good backup.
However, the positive feedback far exceeds the negative—and can even be quite uplifting as the following comment illustrates:
“I’ve been using your interactive NOAA charts now the past 2 years or more for planning purposes, and I just have to say, for what it’s worth, your Interactive planning tool is probably not appreciated as one of the most impressive and useful mapping achievements since the time GPS was activated. It is truly a boon for sailors, and you probably don’t get the recognition and appreciation you deserve for this incredible accomplishment! Thank you, from a grateful Sailor.”
Over the course of my time in this position, I have come across interesting stories and issues that have improved both our products the knowledge of Coast Survey staff. This blog post is the first of a series of “Answer Man” posts that will share some of these communications. I will use real comments, submitted by real people, with real issues, while protecting the privacy of individuals (i.e. no names are used when giving examples). Our mission in Coast Survey is to promote safe navigation and I hope that a discussion of these issues will further that end.