A monumental history   1 comment

On September 15, 2016, President Obama designated the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument includes two areas: one that includes four undersea mountains, called “seamounts” – Bear, Mytilus, Physalia, and Retriever; and an area that includes three undersea canyons – Oceanographer, Lydonia, and Gilbert – that cut deep into the continental shelf. These sea features have monumental histories.

Monuments map, by Leland Snyder, Office of Coast Survey

Coast Survey cartographer Leland Snyder used several data sources to create this map of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

 

Bear, Mytilus, and Physalia Seamounts were discovered by oceanographers with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and they were named for small Woods Hole vessels that began making forays into the deep sea in the 1950s. The Bureau of Geographical names does not know the origin of the name “Retriever Seamount,” but NOAA historian Skip Theberge thinks it was probably discovered and named for the Cable Repair Ship Retriever, which started service in 1961 working off the East Coast. The canyons were named in the 1930s, for U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey ships. (C&GS is the earliest NOAA predecessor agency.) Oceanographer Canyon was named for the C&GS Ship Oceanographer, which discovered many canyons incising the continental slope between the Georges Bank area and Cape Hatteras; Gilbert Canyon was named after the C&GS Ship Gilbert, which took an active part in the survey of the Georges Bank, 1930-32; and Lydonia Canyon was named for the C&GS Ship Lydonia.

The monument, which encompasses 4,913 square miles, has been the subject of scientific exploration and discovery since the 1970s. But the original discoveries of the canyons were made more than 80 years ago, when the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey surveyed the canyons with TNT bombs.

Yes, you read that right.

Some of the C&GS ships in the 1930s were anchored-station vessels, hanging a hydrophone over the side at a well-determined point. TNT bombs were thrown over the sides at about fifteen minute intervals. The explosion being “time zero,” the sound waves traveled through the water to the hydrophone, which in turn activated an automatic radio signal back to the survey vessel. The time interval between reception of radio signal and time of explosion, times the velocity of sound in sea water, gave the distance. This system, called “radio-acoustic ranging,” was developed by C&GS as the first non-visual survey system.

The survey of these canyons, using (for then) modern methods gave an unprecedented view of the seafloor generating debates as to the cause of the canyons, and in a larger sense, generating the birth of marine geology. Indeed, Dr. Francis Shepard, recognized by many as the “father of marine geology,” got his start on these surveys.

This excerpt from International Aspects of Oceanography, a National Science Foundation publication, was written by Wayland Vaughn of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1937. He describes the contribution of both echo-sounding and the navigation system termed "radio-acoustic ranging" to the mapping of the seafloor. C&GS developed RAR and used it to survey U.S. continental margins in the 1930s.

This excerpt from International Aspects of Oceanography, a National Science Foundation publication, was written by Wayland Vaughn of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1937. He describes the contribution of both echo-sounding and the navigation system termed “radio-acoustic ranging” to the mapping of the seafloor. C&GS developed RAR and used it to survey U.S. continental margins in the 1930s.

 

The history of these early explorations is fascinating. So as not to give it short shrift, we are going beyond our normal blog post format and including a full-length article contributed by NOAA’s historian, retired Capt. Skip Theberge.

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A History of Exploration and Discovery in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

By Capt. Albert “Skip” Theberge,  Jr., NOAA (retired), Acting Chief of Reference, NOAA Central Library

The recent designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the culmination of over eighty years’ involvement in this area by NOAA and its predecessor agencies. It is no accident that the canyons in this area were named for ships of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS), NOAA’s oldest ancestor agency. Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia Canyons were named for three of the four ships that conducted surveys of the area between the years 1930 and 1932. The fourth ship, Welker, is commemorated by the naming of Welker Canyon, just to the west of the new monument boundaries, and a fifth ship, Hydrographer, was commemorated by the naming of the next canyon to the west of Welker Canyon.  These ships completed the first comprehensive survey of the continental slope in this area, using the most modern equipment available: a combination of advanced echo-sounding equipment and the radio-acoustic ranging system, the first survey-quality non-visual navigation system. This system was developed in the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

C&GS map of submarine valleys on Georges Bank, 1932

C&GS map of submarine valleys on Georges Bank, 1932

 

Besides being used for navigational charts, the data from these surveys was used in a number of scientific publications, first by Francis Shepard, known as the father of marine geology. Although going on to become a famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist, some of his earliest work was initially published in the Bulletin of the Field Engineers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. However, the greatest work associated with these surveys was a paper published in 1939 by the geologist A.C. Veatch and the brilliant C&GS officer Lieutenant Paul Smith. This paper was titled “Atlantic Submarine Valleys of the United States and the Congo Submarine Valley” and was Geological Society of America Special Papers Number 7. Included in this paper was a beautiful map that extended from Lydonia Canyon on its northeast corner to Norfolk Canyon off Chesapeake Bay at its southern limit. Shown on this map were thirteen named canyons as well as a number of other canyons incised in the continental shelf.

Veatch and Smith bathymetic map

This famous Veatch and Paul Smith bathymetric map from 1939 generated an ongoing interest in marine geology by showing that the seafloor was not dull and featureless.

 

This map served to call the attention of the geological community to the rugged and grand nature of the seafloor, previously believed by many to be bland and featureless. It also served to ignite a fierce debate in the scientific community regarding the mode of formation of canyons. There were two competing theories. The first theory was that the canyons formed sub-aerially with sea level dropping as much as 10,000 feet worldwide. The second theory was that sediment-laden density currents carved out the canyons. Both theories had influential backers but, ultimately, as a result of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) sediment sampling in the early 1950s on the oceanic extension of Hudson Canyon, the density current theory won out as layers of poorly graded sands and gravels were found far at sea. This, combined with knowledge of the sequential breaking of further downslope submarine cables over a period of 13 hours following the 1929 earthquake on the Grand Banks, served to prove the concept of density currents.

The Second World War brought new studies in this area as the continental shelf and slopes of the United States were the locus of fierce submarine warfare. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Coast and Geodetic Survey combined efforts to map the location of known shipwrecks and bottom sediment types on a series of charts extending from east of Georges Bank to the tip of Florida. This was not WHOI’s first work in the area, as Maurice Ewing had conducted early seismic reflection and refraction experiments in this area before the war.

Chart 1107-A in 1943

C&GS issued chart 1107-A in 1943, showing names of canyons. This was a restricted chart (used in anti-submarine warfare) overprinted with bottom characteristics and known shipwrecks.

 

Following the war, WHOI sent numerous expeditions into the Atlantic and discovered three of the seamounts included in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument. These three were Bear, Mytilus, and Physalia and were named for small inshore vessels operated by WHOI. Although the earliest mention of these seamounts in the unclassified literature was in 1962, John Ziegler of WHOI first discovered and named these features in 1955 on a classified survey. A prototype Heezen-Tharp physiographic diagram that was probably produced in the mid-1950s clearly shows the New England Seamount Chain and seamounts in the vicinity of the three Woods Hole seamounts of the monument.  The fourth seamount in the monument, Retriever Seamount, was probably discovered by and named for the cable repair ship Retriever which operated off the east coast of the United States in the early 1960s.

Geological discovery and interpretation of the canyons and seamounts dominated research until the late 1960s. At this time, studies began of the dynamic oceanography of Oceanographer and other New England canyons. The first manned submersible dives into the canyon also occurred at this time, with 1966 Alvin dives followed in 1972 and 1974 by dives in the Navy’s nuclear research submersible NR-1. Oceanographer Bruce Heezen was aboard and suggested a “balanced concept in which canyons are created by some tectonic forces or drowned river valleys, are shaped and kept alive by the tides and are coursed by turbidity currents at certain long term intervals when especially large supplies of sediment are delivered to the heads of their system.” In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, there were sporadic efforts to begin studying the biology of the canyon systems, which has continued up to the present day. Since 2000, there has been a significant increase in studies related to these systems. The first dive on a seamount of the new monument was made on July 24, 1968, on Bear Seamount, by K. O. Emery in the submersible Alvin. Minimal information was obtained, but in 1974 a series of dives was made from the vicinity of Corner Seamount to Mytilus Seamount under the direction of James Heirtzler as chief scientist. In his words, this was the first time that “man had directly viewed the expanse of the earth between the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the North American continent.” Dive 7, the final dive, was made on Mytilus Seamount; it was described as “unique” as it is capped by approximately 300 meters of shallow water reef material. As this occurs at a depth of over 3,000 meters, it is apparent that this seamount has subsided over two miles while being rafted to the northwest from its original location over the Great Meteor hotspot.

Biological studies of these seamounts did not begin in earnest until 2000, when NOAA Ship Delaware II made 20 exploratory trawls in the vicinity of Bear Seamount. Over 270 species were collected including 115 fish species, 26 cephalopod species, and 46 crustacean species. Over the next thirteen years, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) followed up the fisheries cruise with a number of expeditions to the vicinity of the newly designated national monument. The first of these cruises was the 2003 Mountains in the Sea Expedition which, following in the footsteps of Heirtzler years earlier, used the submersible Alvin to dive on Manning and Kelvin seamounts and conduct multibeam surveys of Bear Seamount. As opposed to the primarily geologic emphasis of the earlier dives, though, these concentrated on the remarkable biological diversity of the New England Seamount Chain. This expedition was followed by Mountains in the Sea 2004, in which the use of robotic vehicles instead of a manned submersible was used to conduct explorations. 2004 saw Retriever, Balanus, and Bear Seamounts explored and the acquisition of hundreds of spectacular photos of the seafloor. 2005 saw the North Atlantic Stepping Stones expedition which, although not studying seamounts in the national monuments, did explore a number of seamounts of the New England Chain. In 2012, NOAA ocean exploration ship Okeanos Explorer returned to the northeast continental shelf and slope area on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Canyons mapping expedition. This expedition was primarily concerned with multibeam mapping of the various canyons, including those in the monument, as preparation for the 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition that investigated Oceanographer, Lydonia, and Gilbert Canyons, other large canyons of the regions, and Mytilus Seamount. This expedition marked the first use of NOAA’s 6,000 meter-rated remotely operated vehicle, Deep Discoverer and its accompanying Seirios camera sled which enabled telepresence ocean exploration. With this technology, OER was able to provide scientific and public audiences onshore a real-time view of ocean discovery in the grand canyons and hidden mountains of our Atlantic Ocean frontier.

Over eighty years of discovery and exploration, much of it accomplished by NOAA, its predecessor agencies, and academic partners have led to President Obama’s presidential proclamation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The monument will assure that the unique ecosystems of this fragile area will be protected for posterity.

Posted September 27, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Geology, History

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NOAA Ship Rainier surveys Uganik Bay   Leave a comment

By Ensign Michelle Levano

NOAA Ship Rainier recently arrived in Uganik Bay, off of northwest Kodiak Island, to complete hydrographic survey operations in Uganik Passage and Uganik Bay, including the Northeast Arm, North Arm, and South Arm. Rainier has spent 2013 through 2016 surveying areas around North Kodiak Island, including Kizhuyak Bay, Whale and Afognak Passes, Kupreanof Strait, and Viekoda and Terror Bays. The ship will remain in Uganik Bay until the end of October.

Rainier completed project areas H12916, H12919, and H12848 in the spring. They are now surveying H12693 south through H12849 and H12918.

Rainier completed project areas H12916, H12919, and H12848 in the spring. They are now surveying H12693 south through H12849 and H12918.

Rainier is using multibeam sonar technology to acquire high-resolution seafloor mapping data to provide modern chart updates that support Kodiak’s large fishing fleet and higher volumes of passenger vessel traffic. Some of the data appearing on NOAA’s charts in this area are from surveys conducted between 1900 and 1939. (See the source diagram in the bottom left corner of NOAA chart 16597.) However, this is not Rainier’s first visit to Uganik Bay. In the early 1970s, Rainier was in the same vicinity performing survey operations and installing survey stations at Broken Point, Uganik Bay, and Shelikhof Strait.

Rainier crew at Broken Point, Uganik Bay, in the 1970s

Rainier crew at Broken Point, Uganik Bay, in the 1970s

 

Commissioned in 1968, NOAA Ship Rainier has a 48-year history in NOAA’s fleet of research ships and aircraft. Homeported at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Pacific in Newport, Oregon, she is operated and managed by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The 231-foot Rainier is one of four hydrographic survey ships in the NOAA fleet that support the nautical charting mission of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to keep mariners safe and maritime commerce flowing. The ship, her four aluminum survey launches, and other small boats collect data that is used to update nautical charts and inform decisions on coastal science and management.

NOAA Ship Rainier at anchor, in Uganik. Photo by Ensign Dylan Kosten

NOAA Ship Rainier at anchor, in Uganik. Photo by Ensign Dylan Kosten

One of Rainier's four launches at work in Uganik Bay.

One of Rainier‘s four launches at work in Uganik Bay.

Each of Rainier’s small boat launches has modern sonar systems that gather data nearshore as well as offshore. Additionally, the ship itself has a sonar system mounted to her hull for offshore operations. This information can provide bottom seafloor habitat characterization for sustainable fisheries initiatives, and provide data for ocean tourism and recreational fishing.

If you happen to be in the area, and see a white hull with S-221 painted on her bow, please do not hesitate to contact the ship to acquire more information regarding the ship and her mission. Rainier monitors VHF channels 13 and 16. Or, email Rainier’s public affairs officer at michelle.levano@noaa.gov.

Posted September 20, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Hydrographic surveys, Rainier

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Hydro on the Great Lakes: preserving American history   1 comment

By Ensign Max P. Andersen

Formed by retreating ice sheets over 14,000 years ago, the Great Lakes have long represented one of the most valuable fresh water resources in North America. They contain more than one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh surface water, and the vast size is easily visible from space. From Native American hunting routes to French fur-trade exploration to influential battles in the War of 1812, the Lakes have proved a key platform for numerous historical events that shaped the development of the country.

Uniquely, these bodies of water served as the gateway to connect the booming production of an expanding population in the Midwest from 1825 to 1925. During this time, a broad range of wooden, sailing, and steam-powered ships trekked across the lakes, carrying coal, grain, and passengers. Due to unpredictable weather conditions, fire, ice, high-traffic areas, and an ever-increasing pressure to meet shipping quotas, hundreds of ships were lost in collisions and accidents. These incidents have earned this period the nickname “Shipwreck Century.” Today, the history of the “Shipwreck Century” is presented at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s visitor’s center, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, in Alpena, Michigan.

Thunder Bay is located in Lake Huron, near one of the most historically dangerous areas of navigation in the Great Lakes. The sanctuary covers 4,300 square miles. In this area, over 200 shipwrecks are known to exist, and 92 have been discovered and accurately charted. The staff provides continual archaeological monitoring to ensure the preservation of the sites.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay

 

Much of this archaeological work is completed aboard research vessel (RV) Storm. Storm is operated by the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and is dedicated to supporting Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Storm is suited for a diverse range of projects and is equipped with multibeam and side scan sonar for survey projects, compact crane for using remotely operated underwater vehicles, and drop-down transom for handling diving equipment. Additionally, her use of B100 fuel – engine and hydraulic oil manufactured from vegetable oils – and redesign with recycled materials qualify her as one of NOAA’s “green ships.”

RV Storm

RV Storm

 

Traditionally, the survey systems on Storm have been primarily used to provide accurate locations and high-resolution acoustic imagery of shipwrecks. Using these positions and contextual images, teams of Thunder Bay NMS archaeologists can complete dives to see the submerged cultural resources that lie beneath the surface. They share that information with the public at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

A side scan sonar provided this acoustic image of W.C. Franz shipwreck.

A side scan sonar provided this acoustic image of W.C. Franz shipwreck.

 

With recent increases in multibeam and side scan sonar proficiencies, the sanctuary has started a new collaboration with the Office of Coast Survey. This summer, Coast Survey physical scientist Tyanne Faulkes and Ensign Max Andersen assisted Capt. Travis Smith and maritime archaeologists John Bright and Phil Hartmeyer in a new project. The team was tasked with surveying two unique sites: an Air Force and Air National Guard live-fire testing range, and a high-traffic area that needed updated navigational charts. The teams used RV Storm as a “vessel of opportunity” (a vessel not normally used for charting surveys) to conduct surveys to charting specifications. As such, some of Storm’s survey equipment needed to be “tuned” to meet those stringent hydrographic requirements. After some trial and error, Storm’s Applanix POSMV, Reson 8101, Klein 3000, Castaway CTD, Hypack 2016 machine were operational and ready for data acquisition.

NOAA marine archaeologist Phil Hartmeyer acquired survey data for the project.

NOAA marine archaeologist Phil Hartmeyer acquired survey data for the project.

 

The survey operations were a tremendous success. Throughout the month of August, Storm completed a series of acquisition voyages – as weather permitted – including a 36-hour operation on August 17 and 18. They acquired charting data covering 28 square nautical miles, along 418 linear nautical miles.

Projects like this show the great gains for the scientific community when different partners collaborate. We are looking forward to using more vessels of opportunity to expand on nautical chart updates in the Great Lakes region.

Survey project map

The two project survey areas for chart updates are shown by the colored bathymetry. The area on the right (in blue and green) was surveyed in response to a military request.

Unmanned surface vehicles evaluated for hydrographic survey   Leave a comment

Just over a year ago, Coast Survey began testing the use of small unmanned surface vehicles (USV) to survey the shoalest depths, areas along the shore where NOAA ships and their launches are unable to reach. These USVs proved beneficial not only for mapping shallow, murky waters, but also for improving the efficiency of our hydrographic operations. So what is the next step in evaluating USV technology? Testing larger, longer-lasting USVs and taking them beyond shallow waters.

This September, Coast Survey is partnering with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), NOAA Ship Nancy Foster, and ASV Global, an unmanned vehicle manufacturer, to conduct an operational evaluation of a USV, called the C-Worker 5, during a bathymetric and marine habitat survey offshore of the Carolinas.

A USV is an unmanned small boat that can be remotely operated and monitored from a control station aboard the host ship, and can also be programmed to drive pre-planned survey lines while operators monitor vehicle and data collection systems.

The C-Worker 5 is 5.5 meters and powered by a 57 horsepower diesel engine and can operate for up to five days before requiring recovery and refueling.  It is equipped with a Reson 7125 multibeam bathymetric sonar system, similar to systems carried by Nancy Foster, and each can survey a swath of ocean that is about four times as wide as the water depth.

The C-Worker 5 USV is being operated remotely by ASV Global personnel aboard Nancy Foster during  testing prior to departing for offshore survey operations.

 

Video and navigation data from the C-Worker 5 is streamed to the ship by telemetry where shipboard technicians keep the vessel safe while monitoring its performance and data quality. 

 

During the cruise, Coast Survey personnel, with support from ASV Global, are evaluating the operational capabilities of C-Worker 5 as it conducts hydrographic survey operations in coordination with Nancy Foster. Coast Survey will use the experience to create a transition path for using USVs in support of routine hydrographic surveys.  OMAO will evaluate the shipboard requirements for hosting and operating unmanned systems. The data collected will support NCCOS’s mission to conduct ecological characterizations of hard bottom and rocky reef essential fish habitats in the southeast U.S. Atlantic waters to guide ecosystem management and ocean planning.

3-cw77-alongside-nf

The C-Worker 5 USV recovery alongside the Nancy Foster on Saturday, 9/10, after conducting a multibeam sonar system calibration test, known as a patch test.

 

5-nf-from-cw77

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster as seen from the C-Worker 5 USV. During this mission, the USV and Nancy Foster surveyed approximately three km apart from each other and will continue for three to four days before the USV is recovered to fuel and exchange data storage drives.

 

 

Posted September 13, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Assisting tow industry along Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route   Leave a comment

The Inner Harbor Navigation Channel in New Orleans facilitates the transportation of tens of millions of tons of cargo each year. Since the channel was recently closed for repairs, a temporary Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route was established to ensure the flow of commerce between the western and eastern reaches of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. NOAA experts assisted with the alternate route development in various ways, collaborating with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the maritime industry.

Navigation manager Tim Osborn represented NOAA on the Coast Guard’s weekly conference calls on the alternate route, asking for industry suggestions on how we could assist. Based on these collaborations, Coast Survey updated the nautical charts with the newly installed Aids to Navigation, while the National Weather Service began providing localized weather forecasts and warnings along the route. In addition, Coast Survey contracted David Evans and Associates (DEA) to survey the southern 33 miles of the total 66-mile proposed route. The survey required object detection survey coverage, with DEA submitting all observed soundings or obstructions shoaler than 12 feet as dangers to navigation. DEA found three dangers to navigation, and they were subsequently announced in the Local Notice to Mariners and applied to the applicable nautical charts.

NOAA survey Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route

Alternate Route DTONs

NOAA will continue to support the tow industry using the alternate route by adding new navigation data to the chart as we receive it, as well as by providing specialized weather reports along the route throughout the estimated three-month closure of the Inner Harbor Navigation lock in New Orleans.

NOAA Ship Fairweather begins multi-mission projects in Alaska   1 comment

In a unique deployment of resources, last week NOAA Ship Fairweather split its scientific team and vessels to tackle two distinct projects in Alaska. Coast Survey physical scientist Katrina Wyllie and Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler report on the multi-mission projects.

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On August 9, NOAA Ship Fairweather departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for a FISHPAC project, led by Dr. Bob McConnaughey from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. This project’s primary mission is to statistically associate acoustic backscatter returns with the abundances of fish and crabs that frequent the Bering Sea seafloor. The science team accomplishes this with acoustic data from multibeam, single beam, and side scan sonars. Understanding the value of acoustic backscatter as a habitat-defining character will help scientists understand where fish live and the importance of different habitats. The acoustic data will also be used to correct for differences in the performance of research bottom trawls on different seafloor types, so that stock assessments and fishery management can be improved. To make sure the scientists understand what the acoustic data are showing, each day the ship will stop and collect physical bottom samples of the seafloor to see, touch, and interpret their findings. Further increasing the effectiveness of this mission, all of the multibeam bathymetry data acquired will directly support NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey as the data will be used to update soundings on the nautical charts for the eastern Bering Sea where the ship will be operating.

NOAA Ship Fairweather will survey the red tracklines for the FISHPAC project this year. The green lines will be surveyed at a later date.

NOAA Ship Fairweather will survey the red tracklines for the FISHPAC project this year. The green lines will be surveyed at a later date.

Fig2

FISHPAC mission equipment on deck of NOAA Ship Fairweather

With Fairweather actively conducting 24-hour ship survey operations in Bristol Bay, there wouldn’t be any chance to deploy her four survey launches for additional acquisition. Sensing an opportunity, the Office of Coast Survey, the command of the Fairweather, and Marine Operations Center-Pacific collaboratively came up with a multi-mission plan to maximize the capabilities of Fairweather during the FISHPAC project. Before departing Dutch Harbor, Fairweather deployed a shore team with the four survey launches to stay in Dutch Harbor and address some critical navigation needs identified by the port.

Two of the NOAA Ship Fairweather launches depart for a day of hydrographic surveying

Two of the NOAA Ship Fairweather launches depart for a day of hydrographic surveying.

 

Although its location is remote, the port of Dutch Harbor is a vibrant and bustling port serving full-size container ships. It is the country’s top fishing port in terms of landings for the past 18 years. Deep draft and ice-free year-round, Dutch Harbor provides a critical link in America’s transportation infrastructure. Trivia buffs may also know that Dutch Harbor is the only other American soil, in addition to Pearl Harbor, to be bombed during World War II. (For more on Alaska in World War II, see USC&GS Ship Hydrographer contributes to significant Allied victory.)

With the increase in commerce flowing into and out of the harbor, local maritime pilots asked Coast Survey navigation manager Lt. Timothy Smith for updated nautical charts to improve the safety of maritime traffic. This need was underscored in July 2015, when a polar ice class vessel ran aground in an area of the chart which hadn’t been surveyed since before World War II. Shortly after this grounding, Fairweather was able to alter their schedule to conduct a response survey in the area of the grounding (green area in project sheet layout, below). Additionally, Fairweather had previously surveyed small high priority areas in 2011 (orange areas).

Project area of the north coast of Unalaska Island hydrographic survey project being conducted by NOAA Ship Fairweather launches.

Project area of the north coast of Unalaska Island hydrographic survey project being conducted by NOAA Ship Fairweather launches.

 

This month’s collaborative project, performed in conjunction with FISHPAC, provided the perfect opportunity to address these navigational needs. With the survey launches remaining in Dutch Harbor, with a team of scientists, coxswains, and engineers to support them, Fairweather’s shore team will acquire complete coverage multibeam data in the entire project area, totaling approximately 38 square nautical miles, as outlined by the blue shapes in the project sheet layout.

The City of Unalaska has graciously facilitated this unique mission by providing pier space for all four launches for the project’s duration. The team itself has established a base of operations at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, where they have converted a conference room into a command center to process the day’s freshly collected data, while preparing the mission for the subsequent day.

The shore team has plenty of work to keep them busy until August 27, when Fairweather returns to Dutch Harbor after completing the more than 4,000 line-mile  FISHPAC mission and recovers the survey team and launches. Fairweather then transits back to Kodiak, Alaska, for a scheduled inport and well deserved break before hydrographic survey operations resume in the vicinity of Sitkalidak Strait.

Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler review multibeam bathymetry data in the shore team base of operations room.

Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler review multibeam bathymetry data in the shore team base of operations room.

Launch crews hold morning safety meeting at the pier.

Launch crews hold morning safety meeting at the pier.

The four launches tie up alongside at the Robert Storrs International Small Boat Harbor facility.

The four launches tie up alongside at the Robert Storrs International Small Boat Harbor facility.

 

Additional resource:Combining expertise makes for better nautical charts and better understanding of fish habitats in Alaska, Oct. 9, 2012

“Ordinary people, called on to do the extraordinary” in the search for TWA Flight #800   Leave a comment

On this date in 1996, twenty years ago, the crew of NOAA Ship Rude completed her special mission and headed back to regular survey duties. Throughout the previous two weeks, Rude’s officers and crew were pivotal in finding the wreckage of – and helping to bring closure to – one of the worst aviation disasters in U.S. history.

From a 1996 report by then-Cmdr. Nick Perugini, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, we have this description:

“When TWA Flight 800 exploded out of the sky this summer, NOAA hydrographic survey vessel Rude began a dramatic journey which would test to the limit skills and resources of its officers and crew, and bring to national attention the agency’s hydrographic capabilities.

Rude was the second U.S. government rescue vessel to arrive at the scene and contributed information critical to the subsequent recovery effort and ensuing investigation…

“The day after the TWA crash, President Clinton pledged all resources the federal government could bring to bear to determine why a Boeing 747 fell out of the sky in a blazing fireball, killing all 230 aboard. By that time, Rude was already on the crash site, eight miles off the coast of Moriches Bay, Long Island. Reports over the marine radio of a plane crash in that area prompted Cmdr. [Sam] DeBow to contact the Coast Guard and offer assistance.

“The Coast Guard directed Rude to the crash site immediately. The ship steamed all night and arrived on site about 7:00 a.m.

Rude immediately began assisting in the search… Rude’s people knew what had to be done. The job entailed running a series of systematic side scan sonar lines over an area in search of a feature who position was approximate… DeBow and his crew felt that no vessel or group of people were better qualified to meet the task.”

Cmdr. Sam DeBow

Retired NOAA Rear Admiral Sam DeBow, when he was Rude‘s commanding officer, from a Newsday article on August 5, 1996

 

The narrative of the crew’s actions over the next two weeks is fascinating. GPS World has given us permission to post their extensive article from February 1997, “Sounding the Depths: Mapping the Wreckage of TWA Flight 800.” It’s well worth a read, to follow along as Rude makes the initial discovery of the debris field, and then works to works to document hundreds of contacts, guiding divers as they retrieve bodies and pieces of the jetliner. As Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said after the event: “Accurate mapping of the wreckage on the ocean floor was essential… The sonargrams provided by the Rude proved invaluable to the recovery effort.”

Larkyyn Lynn Dwyer

The crew of NOAA Ship Rude was inspired by this photo of Larkyn Lynn Dwyer, an 11-year-old lost in the crash of TWA Flight #800.

The dedication of the crew, the smart use of technology, the long hours of processing data and interpreting it – it’s awe-inspiring. But something else touches the heart about this operation. The Los Angeles Times, on July 24, 1996, headlined an article, “11-year-old inspires searchers.”

Times staff writer James Gerstenzang reported from aboard Rude, off Long Island: “In a picture taped to a blue metal case that houses sophisticated navigational equipment on this ship, 11-year-old Larkyn Lynn Dwyer smiles broadly, her dimples deep and her bangs hanging almost into her eyes.

“’This is what we’re here for, guys,’ Cmdr. Sam DeBow, skipper of this 90-foot hydrographic survey ship, told his crew Tuesday as he posted the picture on the case that houses the vessel’s global positioning system, which can pinpoint its location within a few feet on a featureless sea.

“As the ship plows the Atlantic water in the recovery zone where TWA Flight 800 crashed in flames last Wednesday, Larkyn Lynn, who was the aboard the airplane bound for Paris, has come to personify the 230 victims for the vessel’s 11-member crew.

“’I have a daughter that age. That’s what really hit home for us,’ said DeBow.”

Rude’s crew was honored for their heroic work in the tragedy’s aftermath. In a speech at a ceremony honoring the critical contributions to search and recovery efforts, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Frederico Pena said, “As horrible as this ordeal has been for all of you, it has reminded our nation of two simple truths.

“We’re reminded, first, that America always pulls together in times of need. Everyone out there was part of the team… Whatever problems arose, people stepped in to solve them – together. For that, the President and I are proud, and the nation is grateful.

“Second, we’re reminded that our nation’s heroes are not just famous names. Our nation’s heroes are ordinary people, called on to do the extraordinary. As you searched the sea, making yourselves special to the families of the loved ones, you made yourselves special to America. You moved our spirit. Everyone in the country knows of your heroics. And they thank you.”

Officers and crew of Rude during the TWA response: Cmdr. Sam DeBow, Lt. Cheryl Thacker, Lt. Jonathan Klay, Lt.j.g. Nathan Hill, chief engineer Lance Klein, engine utilityman Ed Watson, chief steward Eward Jones, chief boatswain Gordon Pringle, seaman surveyor Jeffrey Brawley, survey technician Charles Neely, survey technician Mark Lathrop, electrical technician Clovis Thompson; with augmentors Lt. Don Haines, Robert Wint, and Charles Karlsson. The NOAA Shore Support Team, who input and portrayed the data: Cmdr. Nick Perugini, Lt. Eddie Radford, Lt.j.g. Shepard Smith, Lt. Cmdr. Emily Christman, Lt.j.g. Edward van den Ameele, and Lt. Gerd Glang.

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