NOAA releases 2018 hydrographic survey season plans

NOAA hydrographic survey ships and contractors are preparing for the 2018 hydrographic survey season. Operations are scheduled for maritime priority areas around the country and are outlined in Coast Survey’s living story map.

Story map of planned NOAA hydrographic survey projects in 2017.
Story map of planned NOAA hydrographic survey projects in 2018.

2018 planned survey projects:


  • North Coast of Kodiak Island – Last surveyed in 1932, this survey project focuses on areas inadequate for safe navigation, particularly along the corridor of vessel traffic transiting from Kodiak.
  • West of Prince of Wales Island – These complex waterways are critical to the economic success of local coastal communities on Prince of Wales Island. This survey project updates previous surveys dating back to 1916.
  • Tracy Arm Fjord – Frequently visited by cruise ships and tourist vessels, modern surveys will increase maritime safety and address the needs of the maritime pilot community.
  • Lisianski Strait and Inlet – This navigationally complex area experiences a large volume of marine traffic, with the vast majority of the inlet last surveyed in 1917. This project provides contemporary surveys for the area.
  • Southwest Alaskan Peninsula – This survey project updates nautical charting products to support the increase in vessel traffic in Unimak Passage. Fishing fleets in Bristol Bay and Bering Sea frequent this area.
  • Morzhovoi Bay – With parts of the bay last surveyed in the 1920s and 1950s, this survey project focuses on  areas inadequate for safe navigation.
  • Point Hope and Vicinity – Vessel traffic is increasing each year as sea ice recedes. Seventy percent of the area remains unsurveyed.

 Pacific Coast and Puget Sound

  • Puget Sound, Washington –This moderate to high traffic density area includes several ferry routes. Current surveys of the area consist of partial bottom coverage and in some areas, lesser coverage.
  • Channel Islands and Vicinity, California – This survey project provides data for crucial nautical chart updates and also generates backscatter data used in habitat mapping in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

 Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River

  • Chandeleur, Louisiana – This survey area includes active oil and gas exploration areas and future state-leasing waters and is also shoaler than 20 fathoms throughout. This survey will identify hazards and changes in bathymetry.
  • Mississippi River, Louisiana – The ports of the southern Mississippi River represent the largest part complex in the world and one of the most heavily trafficked waterways in the United States. This survey project supports new, high-resolution charting products for maritime commerce.
  • Louisiana Coast – This survey project addresses concerns of migrating shoals and exposed hazards in the vicinity of the Atchafalaya River Delta and Port of Morgan City.
  • Approaches to Houston, Texas – The current chart coverage of the area between Galveston Bay and Sabine Bank Channels shows numerous reported wrecks and obstructions. This survey will identify changes to the bathymetry and resolve position uncertainty in known hazards.
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida – This survey project provides updates to nautical charting products of the area and supports marine habitat research projects through the National Center for Coastal Ocean Science and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

 Atlantic Coast and Puerto Rico

  • Approaches to Chesapeake Bay – This multi-year survey covers the approaches to Chesapeake Bay to support the safety of commerce and monitor the environmental health of the region.
  • Approaches to Jacksonville, Florida – The Port of Jacksonville entrance channel is in need of updated charts to meet the needs of larger ships.
  • Puerto Rico – NOAA will return to the island of Puerto Rico and conduct surveys to update the nautical charts in critical need of revisions following Hurricane Maria.

The 2018 field season will begin in April. That is when NOAA’s four hydrographic survey ships–Thomas JeffersonFerdinand HasslerRainier, and Fairweatherand private survey companies on contract with NOAA will tackle their assigned survey projects.

The NOAA ships are operated and maintained by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, with hydrographic survey projects managed by the Office of Coast Survey.

The second launching of the first Coast and Geodetic Survey ship PATHFINDER

Today the NOAA Central Library unveiled the newly restored painting, Pathfinder, painted in 1899 by renowned maritime artist, Antonio Jacobsen. Included as part of the NOAA Central Library Rare Books collection, the painting is the oldest extant painting of a NOAA ancestor ship in the possession of NOAA.

Capt. Skip Theberge, NOAA ret., Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, NOAA, and ear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, USN ret.,
Capt. Skip Theberge, NOAA ret., Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, NOAA, and Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, USN ret., unveil the newly restored Pathfinder painting.


Craig McLean, director of the Office of Oceans and Atmospheric Research, Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director Office of Coast Survey, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, NOAA assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, Cheryl Oliver, director of NOAA Preserve America Initiative, Deirdre Clarkin, director of NOAA Central Library, and Capt. Skip Theberge, NOAA ret.


The Pathfinder vessel was one of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey’s early ships, in service from 1899-1941. The history of the Pathfinder is unique, as its career spanned 40 years charting Philippine waters before its loss in the early days of World War II. In addition to helping open the Philippine Islands to then modern ship-borne commerce, its pre-war work was instrumental for both strategic and tactical purposes in the retaking of the Philippine Islands during World War II.  

At the ceremony, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet (USN, ret.), NOAA assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, described the importance of hydrography to the nation, and the importance to preserving NOAA heritage. Rear Adm. Shep Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, offered appreciation for the officers on board the Pathfinder, their mission, and the ship’s legacy. 

Restoring the painting

Prior to coming into possession of the NOAA Central Library around 2007, the Pathfinder painting suffered damage during the mounting process and was not properly stored in a climate-controlled environment. This resulted in paint loss, bubbling at the surface, and torn edges. Although once heavily restored in the mid-20th century, it was time for the painting to be restored once again. The NOAA Central Library consulted with the Smithsonian Institution Lunder Conservation Center and obtained guidance and the conservation steps necessary to assure the painting will be available to future generations. The library received a grant from the NOAA Preserve America Initiative to have the painting cleaned, restored, and reframed by John Hartmann of Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services, Inc.

Amber Kerr of the Smithsonian’s Lunder Center examines the Pathfinder painting.


Schuyler Miller of Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services, Inc.
Schuyler Miller of Hartmann Fine Art Conservation Services, Inc., works on restoring the Pathfinder painting.


A brief history of the ship

The Pathfinder was originally built for surveys of the Bering Sea and maritime approaches to the Klondike and Nome gold fields up in Alaska. Because of its projected working areas and mission, it was designed to be a particularly sturdy little vessel at 196 feet long and with a breadth of beam of 36 feet 6 inches. Although built for Alaskan service, the Pathfinder only completed two missions there when they received orders directing the ship to the Philippine Islands.

U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey ship Pathfinder.

This was a time when the U.S. military presence had increased in the Philippines. In the decade following the Spanish American War—after Spain had ceded the Philippine Islands to the U.S.—many in the Philippines had hoped for independence. This  ultimately led to the Philippine Insurrection. Inaccurate and inadequate charts of the area caused frequent groundings of U.S. military vessels operating in the Philippines. The Navy lost the USS Charleston when it struck an uncharted rock. In response to defense needs, the Army and Navy called for hydrographic surveys by the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey.  

The Pathfinder never returned to the United States and remained in the Philippine Islands, surveying its waters for the next forty years. As with the Coast & Geodetic Survey headquarters building located in Manilla, the Pathfinder met its end at the beginning of World War II. The headquarters was bombed on Christmas Eve 1941 and Pathfinder endured bombing raids over the next few days and was ultimately destroyed.

“Transcending the story of the Coast Surveyors is the sum total of their work,” Capt. Albert “Skip” Theberge (NOAA ret.) said while speaking at the ceremony. “Besides helping open up modern commerce and increasing maritime safety, the charts and surveys produced by the Coast and Geodetic Survey were an invaluable aid to the armed forces of the United States during General Douglas MacArthur’s campaign to retake the Philippine Islands during the second World War.”   

Culture and legacy

For many of the officers on board the Pathfinder, the Philippines was an exotic and exciting place to explore.  The ship’s crew was comprised of officers from the United States with much of the crew being native to the Philippines. They used cutting edge technology for the time and prided themselves on accuracy, precision, and integrity while conducting their work through language and cultural barriers. Coast & Geodetic Survey officers trained generations of Filipinos to conduct survey work from the most basic labor to highly skilled geodesists, topographers, and hydrographers.

Mapping shoreline topography with plane table and alidade.
Mapping shoreline topography with plane table and alidade. Because of crocodiles, working in water was particularly dangerous.

Before the Pathfinder was lost, it was briefly renamed the Research, and served as a training ground for native cadets of the Philippine Coast & Geodetic Survey.  Following the war, this work was continued by the Coast & Geodetic Survey until turning over the work completely to the Philippine government in 1950. Then named the Bureau of the Coast & Geodetic Survey, today it is part of the Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Authority. This early contribution of the Coast & Geodetic Survey to nation-building is a virtually unique cultural achievement.

Learn more

NOAA Central Library has created a webpage providing an extensive history of the ship including highlights from launching during the era of the Spanish American War to ultimate loss in the Philippine Islands in the early days of World War II.  The page provides a bibliography for further exploration.  

Coast Survey thanks the NOAA Central Library for contributing the content of this blog post.

Introducing New Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System

This month, NOAA unveiled the new Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System (GoMOFS). This system provides users with real-time and forecasts of surface water levels, 3-D fields of water currents, water temperature, and salinity out to 72 hours. GoMOFS predictions support safe and efficient marine navigation, allowing mariners to plan their routes and avoid accidents. The system’s nowcasts and forecasts can also aid in emergency response, ecological applications, coastal management, and harmful algal bloom forecasts.

Sample display of the Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System.
Sample display of the Gulf of Maine Operational Forecast System’s nowcast output of the surface current field (white arrows) and water levels (background color) on 12:00 UTC, January 10, 2018.

The system domain covers the Gulf of Maine region, including eastern Long Island Sound, Georges Bank, and the coast of Nova Scotia. GoMOFS uses the Regional Ocean Modeling System developed by the ocean modeling community and supported by Rutgers University as its core hydrodynamic model. The system is able to resolve coastal ocean hydrodynamic features as fine as 700 meters.

The development and implementation of GoMOFS is the result of over three years of collaboration among offices within NOAA. The Office of Coast Survey led model development while the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services tested the model and transitioned it to operations. National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction Central Operations hosts and operates the system.

GoMOFS outputs are accessible to public users and will also be available on the nowCOAST web mapping portal.



Surveyor Spotlight: NOAA navigation response team member, Erin Diurba

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work on a NOAA navigation response team (NRT) or what makes our team members experts in their field?

The Office of Coast Survey deploys NRTs across the country to conduct emergency hydrographic surveys requested by the U.S. Coast Guard, port officials, and other first responders in the wake of accidents and natural events that create navigation hazards. In their day‐to‐day, non‐emergency role, the NRTs work in the nation’s busiest ports, surveying for dangers to navigation and updating nautical chart products.

Meet Erin Diurba, a NOAA navigation response team member homeported in Galveston, Texas. Her self-described “survey wanderlust” has taken her across the globe to gain hydrographic surveying expertise on diverse teams and in unique environments. She tells her story here in this story map.

Erin Diurba, hydrographic surveyor on NOAA navigation response team 4, homeported in Galveston, Texas.

NOAA navigation response team responds after ferry strikes submerged object

By, LT. j.g. Dylan Kosten

On November 27, 2017, a New York City ferry departing from Pier 11 in the East River struck an underwater pylon, stranding over 100 passengers. The pylon was most likely from the remains of an old pier demolished several years earlier. At the request of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), NOAA’s navigation response team 5 (NRT 5), homeported in New London, Connecticut, assisted in the investigation.

NRT 5 boat S3007 on trailer, with Eli Smith (left) and Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten (right).

NRT 5 arrived in Jersey City, New Jersey, on December 4, to prepare for surveying. The following day, the team picked up an investigator from the USCG, deployed the boat, and headed towards Pier 11. Using the team’s multibeam echo sounder and with guidance from the investigator, the team surveyed the remains of the former pier.

Multibeam echo sounder data of the submerged pier near Pier 11, East River, New York. A danger to navigation (DTON) report was submitted to the USCG for this area.


NRT 5 surveying ruins of former pier, with USCG Chief Warrant Officer Leathers (left), Eli Smith (front right), and Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten (back right).

With the pier investigation finished, the team received an additional request from the USCG to survey a wrecked sailboat in Raritan Bay, a water body between New York and New Jersey. The sailboat was quickly surveyed, allowing the team time for good training opportunities.

Subset of water column data showing the top of the sailboat’s mast sitting at approximately 12.3 feet below the surface. A DTON report was submitted for this wreck.


Lt. j.g. Dylan Dylan Kosten instructing Michael Bloom on proper navigation and “rules of the road.”

With the mission completed, NRT 5 headed back north to Connecticut, where the data will be processed and products created to help the USCG in their investigation.

NOAA Corps officers play important role in hydrography at NOAA

By, Nick Perugini

In 2017, we celebrated the NOAA Corps Centennial, marking 100 years of valued service to the nation. Today’s NOAA Corps officers play an important role in the Office of Coast Survey. Officers serve as field hydrographers, technical experts, and managers throughout the charting organization. There is a distinct career path for NOAA Corps officers in Coast Survey that provides the opportunity to develop technical expertise in hydrography and at the same time, advance in rank in the NOAA Corps.  

From a historical perspective, the Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps—the NOAA Corps predecessor—was created in 1917 primarily to conduct hydrographic and geodetic surveys in the coastal waters of the U.S. As NOAA was formed in 1970, NOAA Corps officers were afforded new opportunities in environmental programs, such as oceanographic, fisheries, weather, and other environmental activities.     

The officers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, the NOAA Corps predecessor service, were world renowned for their expertise and accuracy in leveling and triangulation.

For an ensign who graduates from Basic Officer Training Class, a NOAA Corps officer’s first assignment is typically aboard a NOAA ship. New officers assigned to NOAA ships are expected to develop their seamanship skills on their way to becoming a qualified officer of the deck. Aboard hydrographic ships, there is also an expectation that junior officers will develop technical competency in the field of hydrography. This includes developing expertise in positioning equipment, sonar instrumentation, and computer systems that are used aboard ships and launches to acquire and process hydrographic data.

ENS Michelle Levano helps guide a launch back to NOAA Ship Rainier during a hydrographic surveying project in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California.

In addition to developing technical expertise, junior officers aboard hydro ships have the opportunity to develop supervisory and management skills. After becoming familiar with the ship’s operation, they can quickly become an officer in charge (OIC) of a survey launch. This entails being in charge of a 30-foot hydrographic launch with a crew of two or more people, whose job it is to collect hydrographic data. The OIC is ultimately responsible for the safety of the launch and its hydrographic production. Many officers enjoy the combination of working outside, battling the elements, managing people, and working with sophisticated data acquisition systems. For many, the work is challenging—but also very rewarding.

IMG_0585 (2)
Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan French, officer in charge of navigation response team 1, homeported in Stennis, Mississippi, adjusts a side scan sonar in preparation for surveying the Port of Miami following Hurricane Irma.

After a first tour aboard a hydro ship, many officers will look to other NOAA programs for a shore assignment. However, for those who have caught the “hydro bug,” there are many opportunities to continue a hydrographic career path within Coast Survey. For example, there are OIC and JOIC billets aboard the Bay Hydrographer II working in Chesapeake Bay; officer in charge of a navigation response team; Hydrographic Systems and Technology Programs field support liaison. All of these billets give NOAA Corps officers the ability to increase their technical prowess, sharpen their management and interpersonal skills, and develop a broad understanding of Coast Survey activities.

Officers who follow a career path within Coast Survey typically have an opportunity to become operations officer (Ops) aboard one of NOAA’s four hydrographic ships. As third officer (behind the commanding officer (CO) and executive officer (XO))—typically with a rank of lieutenant—the Ops is responsible for planning the details of day-to-day hydrographic operations. The Ops is required to be a competent hydrographer, as well as a skilled supervisor and manager. The Ops also has the opportunity to sharpen his or her public speaking and communications skills—often being called upon to give presentations to senior officials within the agency.     

As a NOAA Corps officer progresses in a Coast Survey career path, there are ample opportunities to gain valuable mid-level and upper management skills. Lieutenant commanders can occupy billets as navigational managers—positions where an officer is expected to communicate Coast Survey’s interests and activities to the public. Navigational managers interface with a wide variety of commercial, recreational, and military maritime interests. Other mid-level management positions are available in Coast Survey’s Navigational Services Division, Hydrographic Survey Division and the Coast Survey Development Lab.

FEMA RISC (McGovern) (4)
Lt. Cmdr. Meghan McGovern (left) presents NOAA navigation support capabilities to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Portsmouth, NH, during her position as northeast region navigation manager at Coast Survey. Credit: Mr. Montoya

As an officer’s career progresses, CO and XO billets are available for individuals at or nearing the 0-5 (commander) level. Commanding a hydrographic survey ship that performs combined operations is the penultimate experience for a field hydrographer. As senior officers come ashore, there are high level management opportunities available for captains in Coast Survey and throughout NOAA. In Coast Survey or example, NOAA Corps officers serve as division chiefs in the Coast Survey Development Lab, the Hydrographic Surveys Division, and the Navigation Services Division, as well as many senior level positions throughout NOAA.

Cmdr. Ben Evans, commanding officer of NOAA Ship Rainier (right), and Peter Holmberg, physical scientist in Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division (left), observe a launch deployment on Rainier.

While there are many challenging positions for NOAA Corps officers within Coast Survey, it is important to note that the organization also welcomes officers with experience outside the charting program. Individuals who have held positions in other parts of NOAA can readily contribute a fresh perspective to Coast Survey’s mission.  

NOAA Corps is currently accepting applications for Basic Officer Training Class 132, which will begin in July 2018. The application deadline is January 17, 2018.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey wraps up a busy 2017 hurricane season

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was powerful, with the strongest storms occurring consecutively from late August to early October. The sequential magnitude of four hurricanes in particular—Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate—made response efforts challenging for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. Coast Survey summarized this season’s response efforts along with the efforts of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations) in the following story map.