The crew of NOAA Ship Rainier (S-221) hosted a change of command on January 12 while moored in its homeport of Newport, Oregon.
Cmdr. John Lomnicky accepted command of Rainer, replacing Capt. Edward Van Den Ameele in a ceremony with crew and guests in attendance, including Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey; Capt. Todd Bridgeman, director of Marine Operations, OMAO; Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, Newport, Oregon; and Cmdr. Brian Parker, commanding officer of Pacific Marine Operations Center.
The official party (from left to right): Cdmr. John Lomnicky, Capt. Edward Van Den Ameele, Cdmr. Brian Parker, Mayor Sandra Roumagoux, Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, and Capt. Todd Bridgeman
Cmdr. Lomnicky follows nearly two dozen officers commanding Rainier in her 49-year history. He started his NOAA Corps career as a junior officer onboard Rainier and served as the ship’s executive officer for the past two years.
The commanding officer of a NOAA survey ship is not only a mariner. The CO is also the ship’s chief scientist and senior program representative. This means that, in addition to being responsible for the safe management of the vessel, the ship’s CO is also solely and ultimately responsible for the completion of the science mission: delivering quality hydrographic surveys.
Cmdr. John Lomnicky (left) accepts command of NOAA Ship Rainier, replacing Capt. Edward Van Den Ameele (right) as Cmdr. Brian Parker (center), commanding officer of the Pacific Marine Operations Center, facilitates the exchange.
Capt. Van Den Ameele has been the commanding officer of Rainer since June 2014. During 2015, Van Den Ameele led the ship on a trip into the Arctic Circle, surveying over 137 square nautical miles around Kotzebue Sound, Alaska. Surveying in Alaska is no easy task, and often presents a wealth of challenges — both hydrographically and operationally — that Van Den Ameele met and overcame.
Van Den Ameele’s dedication to the mariner was demonstrated during his pursuit of dangers to navigation on his projects around Kodiak Island, Alaska. Following meetings with the fishing community, the officers and crew of Rainier identified a considerable number of dangers to navigation, submitted those for charting, and followed through to ensure these made it to the chart.
During the last three field seasons of Van Den Ameele’s command, Rainier mapped nearly 1,000 square nautical miles and surveyed over 11,700 linear nautical miles -– enough miles to have sailed halfway around the world, if the miles were put end to end!
“The efforts of Capt. Van Den Ameele and the crew of Rainier have improved the products we provide to the world’s mariners and helped increase the safety and efficiency of American maritime commerce in those areas,” said Rear Adm. Smith. “On behalf of the Office of Coast Survey, I want to congratulate you on completing a successful sea tour and job well done.”
The 231-foot Rainier is one of the most modern and productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world. The ship is named for Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. Rainier’s officers, technicians, and scientists acquire and process the hydrographic data that NOAA cartographers use to create and update the nation’s nautical charts with ever-increasing data richness and precision.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey announced that they will homeport one of their six navigation response teams at the John C. Stennis Space Center, Mississippi. The team will be co-located with NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) and adjacent to other federal and state partners involved in seafloor mapping and unmanned hydrographic survey systems.
“Coast Survey strategically places navigation teams around the country, and having a team permanently based at Stennis will speed our response to navigational emergencies in the Gulf,” said Rear Admiral Shepard Smith, Coast Survey director. “We are also looking forward to potential collaboration on emerging hydrographic technologies with our partners there.”
NOAA plans to grow the navigation response team at Stennis initially to include five people and a suite of mobile survey equipment, including unmanned systems, that can perform a variety of coastal mapping missions and respond to urgent hydrographic survey needs.
Helmut Portmann, director of the National Data Buoy Center, and other NDBC staff provide Rear Admiral Shepard Smith and Lt. Cmdr. Jason Mansour a tour of NDBC at Stennis.
“The NOAA Data Buoy Center sees value in collaborating with Coast Survey’s navigation response team as the center is interested in broadening its activities from predominantly moored buoys to all manner of ocean observation tools, including maritime unmanned systems,” said Helmut Portmann, director of NDBC.
This long term facilities arrangement at Stennis will support the team’s basic operations and will also be conducive to the research, development, and implementation of unmanned systems. The use of these systems greatly increases survey efficiency, and their flexible deployment options make them a valuable tool for marine incident response.
NDBC staff demonstrate hourly buoy observations and other system capabilities at the center to Rear Admiral Smith and Lt. Cmdr. Mansour.
“Coast Survey has over a decade of experience working with unmanned systems, using both small and large vehicles – underwater and on the water’s surface. We are working toward increasing this capability with our navigation response teams,” Smith said.
In addition to the synergies with the NOAA’s Buoy Center, the Navy has unmanned maritime systems operations based out of Stennis, and the University of Southern Mississippi is developing unmanned systems training classes.
“Placing NOAA’s Coast Survey Navigation Team at Stennis strengthens the expertise and partnership that already exists between NOAA, Navy and the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Deputy Commander Bill Burnett, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. “Obviously, Stennis is the place you want to be as they continue to lead the nation in the employment of unmanned systems to conduct hydrography.”
In the years since Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf coast has emerged as a regional unmanned systems hotspot, with several commercial companies designing and manufacturing unmanned maritime systems.
NOAA’s navigation response teams, part of Coast Survey, survey the seafloor in ports and harbors that have undergone infrastructure updates, shoreline alterations, or seafloor changes. They measure depths and look for underwater hazards that could endanger vessels, to update nautical charts for commercial and recreational mariners.
How tall is that rock, really? Is that islet charted correctly? Mariners will have greater confidence in the location and height of charted features as NOAA’s hydrographic ships increase their use of newly adopted laser technology to measure and locate topographical features like rocks, islets, and small islands.
Recently, Lt. j.g. Patrick Debroisse, junior officer on NOAA Ship Fairweather, trained his NOAA Ship Rainier colleagues on how to use the topographic laser that they will soon be receiving.
“Fairweather used this laser throughout this past season for feature attribution, and I was tasked with creating the procedures and training other ships,” Debroisse reports. “Rainier will be the next ship to receive the lasers, followed by the East Coast ships [Thomas Jefferson and Ferdinand R. Hassler].”
NOAA charts features such as rocks, piles, islets, kelp beds, and buoys, to give the mariner a clear picture of the dangers that could be in the area. Along Alaska’s and Maine’s rocky shores, for instance, features can be especially important because the tide ranges can be large. It’s especially important to accurately measure a rock at low tide, so a mariner will know its depth when they can’t see it at high tide.
This area on chart 16604 illustrates features that could use the precision of topographic laser scanning.
Charted features are also used for visual points of reference during navigation.
Until recently, hydrographic ships’ launches were used to locate the features. To get a reasonable location, the launch would carefully approach the rock or other feature, and “kiss” it with their bow. They would then add the five feet from the boat’s GPS unit to the feature, and mark it on their field hydrographic sheets for use by the cartographers. If the seas are too heavy, or the area too rock-strewn, the surveyors stand on the ship or shore, and use a hand-held laser range finderto measure the height and distance of the feature, and then note the time so it can be corrected for the tide.
One of Rainier‘s four launches at work in Uganik Bay.
This laser technology will be safer than using a launch, and more precise than is possible with the human eye. The laser uses focused light to find and place objects accurately, similar to the way sonar is used to find the seafloor. The laser head produces sixteen laser beams, which reflect off the target object and are received back by the laser head. The computer then uses that data, along with precise positioning and attitude (roll, pitch, and yaw — or orientation) data, to determine the height and location of the object.
These infrared lasers are invisible and completely safe to the eyes of humans and any animals in the area. Also, unlike airborne lidar units that obtain shallow water bathymetry, the ships’ laser cannot penetrate the water.
“Fairweather worked with the Coast Survey Development Lab to test this laser scanner, to determine its feasibility as a topographical tool in the Alaskan environment,” Debroisse says. “We found that this laser method increased the speed and accuracy of data acquisition, and increased the safety of the boat crews completing these surveys.”
And safety, after all, is important for everyone from the NOAA charting teams to the millions of chart users.
Illustrated by Kristen Crossett, NOAA Office of Coast Survey
Thanks to a combination of determination and technical advancements, Coast Survey was able to locate, report, and chart a danger to navigation within two weeks – a major improvement over the three-to-ten-year chart update protocol of only a few years ago.
On Monday, November 14, a Coast Survey navigation response team hit the waters of St Simons Sound, off the coast of Georgia, when the U.S. Coast Guard asked us to find a sunken fishing vessel. By the next morning, the team of James Kirkpatrick and Kyle Ward (who augmented on the project, from his normal duty as navigation manager in Charleston), reported to the Coast Guard, noting that the wreck is very shoal. They also observed recreational vessels transiting the area every 10 to 15 minutes. Coast Survey quickly issued an official Danger to Navigation Report.
Location of the wreck
Wreck as seen with multibeam echo sounder
Wreck as seen with side scan sonar
The team’s hydrographic data determined a least depth of 0.4 meters (1.3 feet) at position 31-07-34.41N// 081-25-15.88W. The vessel appears to be lying on its port side with the bow pointing in an approximate SE orientation with the stern slightly higher than the bow. The least depth appears to be on some type of rigging or fishing gear protruding from the midship area.
Recognizing that a boat could easily hit the submerged wreck, the navigation response team asked Coast Survey cartographers to quickly add it to the charts. The cartographers acted immediately, applying the wreck symbol to paper, raster, and electronic charts of the area. The cartographers, working with branch chief Ken Forster, will publish the updated charts with the next cycle of weekly updates, scheduled for Wednesday, November 23.
Coast Survey is updating charts 11506 and 11502, and ENCs US5GA13M and US4GA11M
Finding and charting dangers to navigation are our highest priorities. We encourage mariners who suspect dangers, or who want to report any chart discrepancy, to file a fast and easy report on our website.
NOAA has issued a new nautical chart for the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, an important distribution center for commodities being shipped all over the world, and especially the Caribbean Basin.
The Port of Palm Beach operations include containerized, dry bulk, liquid bulk, break-bulk, and heavy-lift cargoes. It is the only port in South Florida with an on-dock rail where the Florida East Coast Railway provides twice-daily service to the port’s rail interchange.
The Palm Beach Harbor Pilots Association asked Coast Survey for the new chart, citing the dangers confronting navigators who approach the port and anchor offshore using the small scale coverage and corresponding lack of detail currently available on chart 11466 (1:80,000). With more and bigger vessels entering the port, the larger scale inset helps pilots navigating within the turning basin and surrounding infrastructure. This is especially important because it is located within the traffic flow of the Intracoastal Waterway.
In consultation with the Palm Beach Pilots, the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami, Port of Palm Beach (Operations Division), and the Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, Coast Survey developed the new chart specifications. All parties agreed that the new 1:15,000 scale chart and a 1:5,000 scale inset would enhance navigational safety and greatly benefit port operations.
In order to create the new chart, new data had to be collected. The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division collected additional bathymetric lidar data along the shoreline and Coast Survey’s navigation response team collected hydrographic data in the area just beyond where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data ends.
A larger scale chart for the Port of Palm Beach required additional data be collected by the National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division and Coast Survey’s navigation response team.