What does the age of the survey mean for nautical charts?   Leave a comment

Alaska’s nautical charts need to be updated — we all know that. The diagram below shows the vintage of survey data currently used for today’s charts in Alaska. The graphic includes all surveys done by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (and its predecessors), and some limited data acquired by other agencies, i.e., the U.S. Coast Guard. Areas that are not colored in have never been surveyed or have data acquired by another source — from Russia or Japan, for instance — before the U.S. was responsible for charting in that area.

Vintage of Alaska survey

What are the differences between data collected in 1900, 1940, or 1960? Let’s take a look at a…

Brief Historical Sketch of Survey Technologies

Nautical charts have a lot of information, but mariners especially are concerned with two major components: water depths (known as “soundings”) and obstructions (like underwater seamounts or wrecks).

Different eras used different technologies to find, measure, and determine the position of the two components. Note that adoption of new systems does not happen abruptly; rather, new technologies are phased in as techniques and equipment improves.

Measuring Water Depth (Soundings)

3.7 million years ago to present day: sounding pole

It isn’t inconceivable that the earliest humanoid, Australopithecus afarensis, used sticks to gauge water depths before crossing streams and rivers. People still do it today.

Egyptian use of sounding pole

Note the ancient Egyptian on the far right, using a sounding pole.

~ 2000 B.C. to 1930s: lead line

As good as they were for their eras, 19th and 20th century surveyors faced technological challenges. The first challenge was accounting for gaps between depth measurements. The second was the inability to be totally accurate in noting the position of the measurement. (In other words, a specific location out in the ocean may be 50 feet deep, but a surveyor must also accurately note the position of that specific location.)

Casting a lead line

This surveyor is casting a lead line.

Early Coast Survey hydrographers measured depths by lead lines — ropes with lead on one end — that were lowered into the water and read manually. Even though soundings were generally accurate, coverage between single soundings was lacking. And we need to remember that this was before the age of GPS. While sextants gave accurate positions when a hydrographer could fix on a shoreline feature, the further offshore the survey, the less accurate the position.

(Interesting fact: Hydrographers still use lead lines occasionally, in some circumstances — but not for a complete survey.)

There have been variations on lead lines through the centuries. From 1492 to the late 1870s, for instance, mariners used hemp rope for deep-sea soundings.

(Interesting fact: Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan each tried to measure mid-ocean depths with about 1,200 feet of hemp rope. Neither one of them found the sea bottom.)

In 1872, the hemp was replaced by small diameter piano wire (again, primarily for deep-sea work), and the weight of the lead was increased. Later, hydrographers added a motorized drum to wind and unwind the line, with a dial to record the length of the line.

(Interesting fact: In 1950, the British ship Challenger used piano wire in the first sounding that established Mariana Trench as the deepest place on earth.)

20th century to the present: echo sounders

comparison of survey technique coverage

Compare the bottom coverage achieved by the different survey methods.

1918 to 1990s: single beam echo sounder

Sonar came into its own in 1913. The first echo sounders (also known as “fathometers”) had single beams that measured the distance of the sea floor directly below a vessel. The echo sounders were able to take many more depth measurements than was possible with the lead line, but the technique still resulted in gaps between the lines where the beam measured the water depth.

The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (a NOAA predecessor agency) adopted this acoustic sounding technique in 1923, installing it on USCGS Ship Guide. But full-fledged change didn’t happen right away. These early sounding systems were too large to install on survey launches used in harbor and inshore work, so from 1924 until the early 1940s many surveys were still conducted with a lead line, and many were totally acoustic — and some were hybrid, using soundings from both methods, depending on coverage area and seafloor configuration.

→ 1940: U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey fully adopts single beam echo sounding technology

The development of smaller “portable” fathometers for shallow waters, about 1940, was a primary impetus in the obsolescence of lead line as survey technology and the adoption of acoustic systems. The development of World War II electronic navigation systems for bombing purposes led to the development in 1945 of the first survey-quality electronic navigation systems, which allowed for more accuracy in positioning.

1964 to current day: multibeam echo sounder

By mid-century, scientists were increasing the beams projected by the echo sounder, to get a broader swath of measurements. The multibeam echo sounder was developed for the Navy in 1964, but it remained secret until the late 1970s when commercially available systems were developed.

Coast Survey first used a MBES technique, called the “Bathymetric Swath Survey System,” in 1977 on NOAA Ship Davidson, for depths ranging from 160 to 2,000 feet. In 1980, NOAA Ship Surveyor installed a deep-water MBES system called “Sea Beam,” for depths from 1,600 to 33,000 feet.

About 1986, Coast Survey began using GPS to calibrate medium-frequency navigation systems while operating in the far reaches of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. By the mid-1990s, GPS was the primary control for accurate positioning.

→ 2000: Coast Survey fully adopts multibeam surveying

By 2000, Coast Survey was performing full-coverage multibeam hydrographic surveys for charting purposes. NOAA survey ships now use multibeam echo sounders that measure navigable coastal depths from 45 to 1,000 feet. For shallower and more constricted waters, the ships deploy hydrographic survey launches with multibeam echo sounders that efficiently and safely survey areas from 12 to 200 feet deep. These systems make it possible to acquire 100% sea floor coverage in the survey grounds (excluding ultra-shallow, near-shore, or obstruction areas).

Finding Underwater Obstructions

1880s to early 1990s: wire drag

Surveyors used wire drag, not as a sounding system but as a way to look between the sounding lines to find obstructions to navigation and establish safe navigational channels. The first documented wire drag was conducted in the 1880s, in French Indochina, Gulf of Tonkin area, attaching the wire to buoys at each end and letting it drift with tidal currents.

Around 1900, the U. S. Lake Survey developed the technique of using a ¼-mile wire drag between two boats. In 1903, Coast Survey began using the technique, and within a few years was using it extensively in Alaskan waters as they looked for pinnacle rocks. Coast Survey’s Alaska wire drags were up to 3.5 miles long. (Initially, “least depths” over discovered obstructions were determined by lead line, then acoustic means and, ultimately, by divers with depth/pressure gauges.)

wire drag operations

Survey vessels conduct wire drag operations.

1960 to present day: side scan sonar

Side scan sonar is essentially the sonar equivalent of an aerial photograph. It improves the ability to identify submerged wrecks and obstructions. Evolving from submarine detection sonars of World War I and World War II, side scan sonar was fairly well developed by 1960, when the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office started using it regularly with their surveys.

→ 1990: Coast Survey fully adopts side scan sonar for East Coast and Gulf Coast surveys

NOAA Ship Whiting used the technology in 1984-1985 for approaches to New York. U.S. Coast Survey fully adopted side scan sonar (in place of wire drag) in the early 1990s.

lowering the tow fish for SSS

Side scan sonar operations use “towfish” like this one, lowered into the water and towed from the back of the vessel.

SSS image of wreck

Side scan sonar captures images of objects, which improves the ability to identify submerged objects.

Today’s Charts Reflect Different Tech Eras

Each of NOAA’s 1000-plus nautical charts, even today, can contain information collected by any or all of these sounding and positioning techniques.

Most nautical charts are an amalgamation of geospatial information collected using different techniques at different times. For example, one area of a specific current-day nautical chart might be based on a lead line and sextant survey conducted in 1910, and another area on the same chart might be based on a multibeam and GPS survey conducted in 2010. If we dig deep enough, we will probably find a sounding or two from the 18th century British explorer, Captain James Cook.

NOAA cartographers mold this disparate information so that it fits together as a coherent representation of the geographic area.

So when was the data acquired for the chart you’re using? NOAA cartographers add a “source diagram” to large-scale charts. (See the diagram on the current chart 16240, pictured below.) Check yours. That will give you the years of the surveys… and now you have a better idea on the technology used by the surveyor.

source diagram 16240

This is the source diagram on nautical chart 16240.

Coast Survey participates in international Arctic survey project   Leave a comment

By Edward Owens

Edward Owens

Coast Survey’s Edward Owens on the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St.-Laurent  as it approaches The Narrows near the city of St. John’s.

Hello to all from the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent (CCG LSSL), affectionately called the ‘Louis.’ She is an impressive 120 m long, 24.5 m wide with a cruising range of 23,000 nautical miles and carries two CCG helicopters. There are 86 cabins with 100 bunks and today she currently sails with 77 souls on board. I’ve gotten lost, turned around, and confused while navigating my way through the labyrinth of neat and tidy stairways, corridors, and doorways on numerous occasions. Luckily, I’m beginning to find my way around thanks to all the artwork and placards mounted on the walls which I’ve depended on as landmarks to help me get where I’m going. Everything is arranged on five main decks. I am berthed on the 300 level or the flight and boat deck conveniently near the acoustics science lab. The galley is three decks down and as long as I can find it, I’ll be just grand.

Today is Monday, the 27 of July, and it is 08:40 UTC (ship’s time), 06:10 St. John’s time (we are just off the Newfoundland coast), and 05:40 along the U.S. East Coast. Sunday afternoon we made a short stop at The Narrows, the entrance to Newfoundland’s city of St. John’s. There was a slight wind and low sky with temperatures in the refreshing low 50°’s F. The fast boat was deployed to make a few runs to the harbor to collect additional personnel waiting to join the ship along with many parcels and packages that made their way on board before we set off on the main leg of our journey. As a good omen, numerous species of whales fed, frolicked, and spouted into the cool air about the ship bidding us on our way.

We had left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Friday from Canada’s impressive Bedford Institute of Oceanography, which sits nestled in the Bedford basin at the rear of Halifax harbor. Outside, the Coast Guard maintains a number of multi-purpose research vessels. I have been invited aboard on the first leg (Halifax – Tromsø, Norway) of a four-month Arctic voyage as part of an international scientific collaboration between Europe, Canada, and the U.S. to begin the long and complex task of mapping the seabed of the North Atlantic Ocean. The survey is the second to be launched by the alliance, formed in May 2013, following the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation (named such for the location of the documents signing in Ireland). The three signatories agreed to jointly undertake the challenge to better understand the North Atlantic Ocean, and to promote the sustainable management of its resources.

Canadian Coast Guard Ship

Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St.-Laurent, host of the four month Arctic voyage as part of an international scientific collaboration between Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

The first survey under these auspices was led by the INFOMAR team (integrated mapping for the sustainable development of Ireland’s marine resource) on the R. V. Celtic Explorer who were joined by representatives of each of the signatories of the Galway Statement: the Marine Institute (Canada), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (U.S.), and Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute (Portugal) and Marine Institute (Ireland) representing the European Union. The international team transited from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Galway in June 2015.

The second survey is hosted in July by the Canadian Government aboard the Louis as we transit from Halifax to Tromsø in Norway. The team is led by Paola Travaglini of the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) with Shauna Neary (CHS), Dave Levy (CHS), Kirk Regular (Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, Newfoundland), David O’Sullivan (Ireland’s Marine Institute and INFOMAR), and myself, Edward Owens, representing NOAA. The team is highly experienced and extremely enthusiastic about the mission at hand and the chance to collaborate with their international colleagues; speaking for myself, it’s an opportunity that is not only exciting but the outcomes are hugely beneficial to build relations, learn, and succeed with our partners as we cooperate in this effort. After the survey mission to Tromsø is complete (hopefully on August 4) the Louis will continue into the high Arctic after the international team departs and will re-enter Canadian waters in November via the Northwest Passage after sailing to the North Pole. Incidentally, the Louis was one of two surface vessels that were the first to cross the Arctic Ocean via the geographical North Pole in 1994. I find after a taste of the open ocean, the prospect of making another of these crossings tempts me as we are heading into the deep water for this transit north.

Computer screen showing route from Newfoundland, Canada, to Glaway, Norway.

Route the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St.-Laurent will be taking during its second survey mission from Halifax, Canada, to Tromsø, Norway.

The journey until now has been relatively uneventful as the team orientates itself and begins to acclimate to a daily survey routine. As we make our way off the Nova Scotian shelf, where ocean depths are not much greater than 200 meters deep, the sonar depths decline gradually down the Orphan Knoll Slump and into thousands of meters of ocean water. We are operating an EM122 multibeam echo sounder which sends and receives acoustic signals to/from the seabed giving accurate depth readings and also an indication of seafloor type.  Additionally, we are logging sub-bottom and mid-water bathymetry data to take full advantage of this crossing and provide data to a larger audience in the scientific and commercial community.  The EM122 is a deep-water echo sounder and will really come into its own in deeper waters off the edge of the shelf and return detailed, high-resolution imagery of the seabed. Here we expect to chart the deep ocean waters of the Atlantic Basin and up and over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

During the cruise I intend to describe life aboard a Canadian Coast Guard vessel and share the thoughts of the officers and the crew of the Louis as it crosses into the Arctic Circle. There is a strong community spirit already evident. A ship’s announcement has just said there is a ‘ceremony’ later for those who have never crossed into the Arctic Circle before…stories of reverse Mohawk haircuts and the like abound. There are nine new CCG cadets on board, so hopefully they’ll attract the most attention, but for once I’m quite content to be in the left lane on the freeway to baldness already! I’ll try and report on what could be dangerously interpreted as a kind of initiation of sorts…

…farewell from the Louis for now…

International team on Canadian Coast Guard Vessel.

The international team about to embark on the second leg of the Arctic survey mission, Kirk Regular (Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, Newfoundland), David O’Sullivan (Ireland’s Marine Institute and INFOMAR), Dave Levy (CHS), Edward Owens (NOAA), Shauna Neary (CHS), and Paola Travaglini (CHS).

Posted July 28, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

NOAA holds international workshop for nautical chart agencies   1 comment

Workshop participants.

Hydrographers from 11 different countries attended a workshop on nautical chart adequacy in Silver Spring, Maryland.

This week, hydrographers from 11 different countries traveled to Silver Spring, Maryland, to attend a workshop on nautical chart adequacy. Workshop participants included scholar students from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans Organization, and participants from Israel, Malaysia, South Korea and United Kingdom. The workshop, developed and hosted by Coast Survey and the Joint Hydrographic Center, University of New Hampshire, trained the hydrographers on procedures to assess the adequacy of their respective nautical charts using publicly-available information.

This workshop was developed in part to address the International Hydrographic Office C-55 publication recognizing the need to improve the collection, quality, and availability of hydrographic data world-wide. Evaluating the adequacy of charts can be challenging to many national hydrographic offices given the lack of reliable vessel traffic data and minimal resources to survey and assess the changing nature of the seafloor and shoreline.

During the workshop trainers incorporated the latest techniques, using data from the maritime automatic identification system (AIS) that displays actual vessel traffic, as well as depth measurements deduced from satellite images. The Silver Spring workshop is the first of several U.S.-planned training activities that will facilitate a global standardized procedure for assessing the adequacy of nautical charts used by mariners around the world.

Students at computers.

Dr. Shachak Pe’eri, from the University of New Hampshire’s Joint Hydrographic Center, assists Limor Gur-Arie from Israel, during the nautical chart adequacy workshop.

Instructor demonstrating use of publicly available information.

Lt.j.g. Anthony Klemm, from Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division, provides a demonstration on the use of marine automatic identification system (AIS) data in determining nautical chart adequacy.

Posted July 16, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Coast Survey attends first meeting of IHO’s Nautical Information Provisions Working Group   Leave a comment

Coast Survey attended the first meeting of the Nautical Information Provisions Working Group (NIPWG) held at the International Hydrographic Organization in Monaco.

During the meeting, Coast Survey’s Tom Loeper, chief of Navigation Services Division’s Coast Pilot branch and Great Lakes navigation manager, was reappointed as the secretary for the working group, a position he has held for 2 years. Two other working group members from the United States also attended the meeting, Briana Sullivan from the University of New Hampshire, and Mike Kushla from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

While in Monaco, the NIPWG had the opportunity to visit the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard moored at Port Hercule in Monaco Harbor. While onboard the Kojima, Robert Ward, President of the IHO, spoke about the importance of hydrography worldwide and of the long relationship between the IHO and the Grimaldi family of Monaco, dating back nearly 100 years. Representing the Grimaldi family at the event was His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco. To conclude the ceremony, crew members of the Kojima demonstrated a mock sword fight and the traditional method of making rice cakes.

NIPWG meets regularly to develop and maintain guidance, standards, and other supplemental information for charts, much like U.S. Coast Pilot.  This information is typically presented as an overlay for electronic navigational charts and are often used for voyage planning by the mariner.

Formerly the Standardization of Nautical Publications Working Group, NIPWG was established by the Hydrographic Services and Standards Committee as part of a restructuring effort to change its focus from paper-based to digital products and services.

His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco and Captain Tetsushi Mitsuya, commanding officer of the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard, stand alongside Robert Ward, President of the IHO, during his remarks on board the Kojima

His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco and Captain Tetsushi Mitsuya, commanding officer of the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard, stand alongside Robert Ward, President of the IHO, during his remarks onboard the Kojima.

Crew members of the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard demonstrate a traditional method of making rice cakes during the event on board the Kojima

Crew members of the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard demonstrate a traditional method of making rice cakes.

Coast Survey’s Tom Loeper and Captain Tetsushi Mitsuya, commanding officer of the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard, attend the IHO event onboard the Kojima.

Coast Survey’s Tom Loeper and Captain Tetsushi Mitsuya, commanding officer of the training ship Kojima of Japan Coast Guard, attend the IHO event onboard the Kojima.

Posted July 8, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Coast Survey aids U.S. Coast Guard in recovering sunken buoy   Leave a comment

Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Team (NRT) 6 responded to a request from the U.S. Coast Guard to locate and facilitate recovery of a sunken mooring buoy near Sausalito, California.

Although not a threat to surface navigation, there are two reasons for this recovery effort. The first is to protect mariners from getting their anchors caught on the buoy or tangled in the mooring chain. Recovery will also allow the U.S. Coast Guard to repair and possibly reuse the buoy.

A mooring buoy is an anchored buoy fitted to receive a ship’s mooring chain. It essentially allows mariners to secure their ships without the use of an anchor. The lost mooring buoy is four feet in diameter connected to a chain 117 feet in length.

Using sonar, NRT6 created a ten centimeter resolution grid (a network of horizontal and vertical lines superimposed over a chart) and located five features on the seafloor that could be the lost mooring buoy.

This is a chartlet showing the location as well as measurements of the five different features found through multibeam sonar surveys of the NRT6.

Chartlet showing the locations and measurements of five features found through multibeam sonar surveys of the NRT6. These five features are potentially the lost mooring buoy.

The first feature is the strongest candidate. Its length, width, and height appear similar to that of the lost buoy and there is a notable lack of scouring. Scouring occurs when swift moving water flows over submerged objects over time. The lack of scouring on feature one indicates that it has not been underwater for long.

This is a chartlet showing images and information about feature one

Chartlet displaying feature one, the feature most likely to be the lost mooring buoy.

Features two and three appear to be the two buoy blocks that are square in nature and and have established scouring. Feature three also has what appears to be a mound of rubble resting next to it which is thought to be a mooring chain. Features four and five are merely curiosities that are being considered. The following video tour further illustrates and explains these five features.

Although we have not yet concluded which (if any) of the five features is the lost buoy, the U.S. Coast Guard has recovery operations planned for July 1st. We will then know for sure if NRT6 indeed located the lost buoy.

UPDATE (July 9, 2015)

The U.S. Coast Guard Ship Aspen successfully recovered the sunken Sausalito mooring buoy last week. They were able to hook onto the chain on the second attempt with the aid of NRT6’s images.

“Knowing exactly where to drag our grappling hook really helped, and made what could have been a day-long, frustrating, and risky evolution relatively quick and painless,” said LTJG Sarah Jane Sapiano, Aspen operations officer.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship Aspen successfully recovers lost mooring buoy.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship Aspen successfully recovers lost mooring buoy. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Posted June 24, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

NOAA dedicates memorial at Absecon Lighthouse   Leave a comment

Sunday, June 21, was World Hydrography Day, a day set aside to recognize the important work of hydrographers.  Measuring and describing the physical features of oceans, seas, and coastal areas is essential not only to the safe navigation of the everyday mariner, but to our nation’s economic development, security and defense, scientific research, and environmental protection.

Absecon lighthouse with NOAA flag

The NOAA flag flies at the Absecon Lighthouse during the memorial dedication. Photo by David Hall

This year’s observation was particularly noteworthy for NOAA, as we honored the lost crew members of the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker, by dedicating a memorial at the Absecon Lighthouse in New Jersey.

On June 21, 1860, the Robert J. Walker was hit by a commercial schooner while transiting from Norfolk to New York after months of surveying in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship sank 12 miles offshore, as they were heading to the Absecon Lighthouse after they were hit. Coast Survey lost twenty crew members that night, and another man died from his injuries the next day, in the largest single loss of life in Coast Survey and NOAA history.

Dr. James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, described the events of that long-ago day, and spoke of the partnership between NOAA and the New Jersey diving community in identifying the previously unidentified wreck.

Steve Nagiewicz, co-director of the Robert J. Walker Mapping Project, recognized a dozen private citizens who assisted with the project, as he talked about the importance of collaborative efforts in conserving the nation’s maritime history.

Recognizing private citizens

Steve Nagiewicz (center) and Dr. James Delgado (second from left) recognized the collaboration between NOAA and private citizens in identifying and conserving the Robert J. Walker wreck. Photo by Dawn Forsythe

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, dedicated the memorial.

“With this memorial duly dedicated, we are assured that future generations will know what happened off these shores,” Glang said. “They will remember the sacrifices made to make our nation’s coasts safe.  And they will give these crew members a permanent honor that was so long denied.”

A historic hydrographer’s bell rang for every crew member that lost their life, similar to the memorial service held two years ago.

Glang, Delgado, and Oliver

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang dedicated the Walker memorial, with James Delgado and Cheryl Oliver. Photo by Dawn Forsythe

On the grounds of the Absecon Lighthouse you will now find a memorial consisting of a NOAA commemorative geodetic marker, as well as a plaque honoring the lost crew members, placed in a compass rose on the grounds outside the lighthouse entrance. The plaque is an iconic image that was proposed by NOAA Corps Basic Officer Training Class 102, in a design project headed by Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Shoup.

In expressing NOAA’s appreciation for all involved in the project, Glang thanked two people in particular. First, he noted the persistent efforts of Skip Theberge, our NOAA historian and a retired NOAA commissioned officer.

“I would dare say that very few people in NOAA even knew about the Robert J. Walker until Captain Theberge told us about this tragic event,” Glang said. “It is because of his knowledge — and especially his persistence in telling the story — that NOAA made the effort to find and identify the Walker.”

Glang also offered special appreciation to Cheryl Oliver, exhibit manager for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the senior program advisor for NOAA’s Preserve America Initiative. She is also the president of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Heritage Society. Cheryl was NOAA’s moving force behind the development of this memorial.

Cheryl Oliver and James Delgado

NOAA Preserve America Initiative advisor Cheryl Oliver and Maritime Heritage Program Director James Delgado at the Robert J. Walker interpretive sign at Absecon Lighthouse. Photo by David Hall

The Robert J. Walker was positively identified in 2013 after NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson set aside a day to survey the site while it was in the area conducting operations after post tropical storm Sandy. The ship’s physical scientists were guided by historical accounts in the 1860 Coast Survey Annual Report. Then, using the Thomas Jefferson data and armed with additional information from researchers and archaeological advisers, divers pinpointed the exact location and confirmed the ship’s identity.

NOAA would like to express our appreciation to U.S. Coast Guard Station Atlantic City (in particular, Seaman Philip Zinna and Fireman Apprentice Christopher Barreras) for presenting the colors at the event.

A color guard from U.S. Coast Guard Station Atlantic City presents the colors. Photo by David Hall

A color guard from U.S. Coast Guard Station Atlantic City presents the colors. Photo by David Hall

Jean Muchanic

Absecon Lighthouse Executive Director Jean Muchanic welcomed the crowd of 50 people to the Walker memorial dedication. Photo by David Hall

Over 35,000 conductivity, temperature, and depth profiles added to public oceanographic database   Leave a comment

Well before the invention of the computer and the following onslaught of digital data, S.R. Ranganathan in his 1939 book, “Theory of Library Catalogue,” described in detail how a library catalog should work and be prepared. Since then, the way we develop and maintain information databases and archives has dramatically changed. The format has morphed beyond traditional books and journals to large amounts of digital data.

The Office of Coast Survey alone produces digital data on order of several terabytes a year, and much of this data is collected by NOAA hydrographic survey vessels. In order to make the data easily accessible and available to the public, it is formatted and submitted to the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) ocean data archive. Here, the basic principles of library cataloging apply – find the appropriate information quickly and in the location it is supposed to be stored.

In 2014, while seeking oceanographic data profiles in the Arctic, Coast Survey made a discovery. Some of the data collected by NOAA hydrographic survey vessels were missing in the oceanographic database at the National Oceanographic Data Center, now the NCEI ocean data archive. A follow up investigation revealed a breakdown in data stewardship protocols and the oceanographic data were only stored in the multibeam sonar data archive, preventing direct access to the data by the general public.

Map showing locations of recovered oceanographic profiles

Locations of recovered oceanographic profiles.

An effort was initiated to recover the data and translate it into a format suitable for searchable databases. Data from a total of 466 hydrographic surveys (acquired from 2005 to 2013) were recovered. The recovered data were acquired by a host of sensors in various digital formats and varying stages of completeness of digital metadata, making the data validation a challenge.

Chen Zhang and Mashkoor Malik, along with two interns from the University of Maryland, Walther Rodriguez and Heather Lam, initially started processing the profiles manually, but soon developed several automated tools to validate and convert the data. Once complete, a total of 35,373 oceanographic profiles were sent to NCEI’s ocean data archive and cataloged appropriately, where researchers from all over the world can easily access this data for their specific scientific applications.

University of Maryland students, Walther Rodriguez and Heather

With the help of University of Maryland students, Walther Rodriguez and Heather Lam, over 35,000 oceanographic profiles were sent to NCEI’s ocean data archive.

Coast Survey is grateful to NCEI staff David Fischman, Thomas Carey, and Christopher Paver, in providing support to recover, process, and archive the oceanographic data.

Posted June 17, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

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