NOAA navigation response team has a harrowing start to a successful afternoon of surveying at Port Fourchon

Coast Survey navigation response teams know the meaning of “rapid” in Rapid Maritime Response, as their ongoing response following Hurricane Isaac demonstrates.

As we explained in yesterday’s post (NOAA looks for dangers to navigation at Port Fourchon), getting a navigation response team (NRT) into the water at the port, to search for underwater debris and shoaling ‒ ASAP ‒ was Coast Survey’s highest priority. It was also a priority for port authorities, who know more than anyone how important it is to resume maritime operations quickly at “The Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

The 3-person survey team (team lead Nick Forfinski, with Luke Pavilonis and David McIntire), with navigation managers Tim Osborn and Alan Bunn, first had to move the boat (complete with state-of-the-art multibeam sonar and side scan sonar equipment) 163 miles from Lafayette to Port Fourchon. The team was the first group to drive down closed Highway 1, only preceded by a harbor police officer who wanted to make sure roads weren’t washed out. To travel the last segment of the storm-savaged highway, which was covered in places by nearly two feet of sideways-moving water, averting downed utility poles with hanging wires, the small Coast Survey caravan received a police escort by Port Fourchon Harbor Police.

The Coast Survey caravan, taking NRT4 to Port Fourchon on Thursday morning, had to drive through sections of Hwy 1 that were covered with up to two feet of moving water.  The caravan was escorted by the Port Fourchon Harbor Police.
The  caravan had to skirt downed utility lines and hanging wires on closed Highway 1, north of Galliano, as they traveled from Lafayette to Port Fourchon on Thursday morning.

As anyone who has ever driven through bad conditions can imagine, the team arrived at Port Fourchon tensed and tired. But that didn’t stop them. After consulting with port authorities, NRT4 launched their 28′ Sea Ark, put the side scan sonar in the water, switched on the multibeam, calibrated equipment, and started searching for dangers to navigation in the deserted waters around the docks. They also did a quick reconnaissance of Belle Pass (see NOAA chart 11346), where conditions were such that they weren’t able to continue operations. (They are returning to Belle Pass today.)

NRT4 used the multibeam echo sounder and the side scan sonar (pictured here) as they searched for underwater hazards at Port Fourchon on Aug 30.

Port officials need the data ‒ quickly ‒ from the hydrographic surveys, so NRT4 survey technicians worked until the early morning hours, processing the depth measurements and images they acquired yesterday afternoon.

Today, NRT4 will intensify their search for underwater debris and shoaling, to make sure that ships and mariners can navigate safely ‒ without damage to lives, equipment, or the environment ‒ when ships start returning after the Coast Guard Captain of the Port lifts port restrictions.

NOAA looks for danger to navigation at Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” helps port resume operations

A rapid maritime response by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will likely pay dividends to the U.S. economy, as a high-tech survey team today began surveying the channels of Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” to search for dangers to navigation caused by Hurricane Isaac.

Coast Survey’s navigation response team, in the water at Port Fourchon, started searching for underwater dangers to navigation today, speeding the resumption of shipping.

“Time literally means money for U.S. consumers when it comes to navigation through many of the Gulf of Mexico ports,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, Office of Coast Survey director. “In this case, when a port can’t service offshore oil rigs, everyone — and most especially consumers — gets hit in the wallet.”

To help speed the resumption of maritime commerce following hurricanes and other disasters, Coast Survey deploys hydrographic survey assets for high priority port areas that need emergency assistance. Port Fourchon services about 90 percent of all deepwater oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also the host for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), which is the only port in the United States capable of handling Ultra Large Crude Carriers and Very Large Crude Carriers.

The Morgan City Captain of the Port, who has jurisdiction over Port Fourchon, anticipated they would need NOAA’s rapid maritime response as soon as conditions allowed boats in the water.

Hydrographic survey response priorities are set by U.S. Coast Guard Captains of the Port, coordinating with NOAA navigation managers who are working post-storm at Port Fourchon and NOAA’s new Disaster Response Center in Mobile. While NOAA hydrographers measure depths and look for underwater debris and other dangers to navigation, survey technicians process the data and send the information to the U.S. Coast Guard, who uses the information to make critical decisions on resuming port operations. After the Coast Survey navigation response team informs the Captain that no hidden dangers exist, the port can safely begin to resume shipping operations.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Port Fourchon surveys should take about two days.

Days before Hurricane Isaac hit the U.S., Coast Survey mobilized assets and personnel, getting ready to respond to navigational needs of the ports slammed by the slow-moving, and drenching, hurricane. Navigation response teams, who normally survey ports and coastal areas to acquire modern data for updating nautical charts, were moved to Louisiana and Florida’s panhandle, so they could hit the water as soon as sea conditions allowed.

NOAA survey ship uses multibeam echo sounder
This image depicts a NOAA survey ship using its multibeam echo sounder to measure ocean depths.

The experienced 3-person navigation response team (team lead Nick Forfinski, with Luke Pavilonis and David McIntire) is using specially designed sonar equipment to conduct the surveys: the side scan sonar uses sound to “see” debris in the waterways, and the multibeam echo sounder uses high-resolution depth information to detect shoaling.

Ports are critical arteries for American commerce, with the maritime transportation system contributing more than $1 trillion to the national economy and providing employment for more than 13 million people. Just as a car accident can snarl traffic for miles, shipping delays can snarl both the maritime system and land-based shipping that feeds into the ports.

Ready, set…

Coast Survey’s Rapid Maritime Response assets for Hurricane Isaac are now in place, and are ready to move in when the storm moves on.

The teams will search for underwater debris and other dangers to navigation in port areas, to speed the resumption of shipping in areas impacted by the storm. A rapid response — that gives Coast Guard officials vital information on the condition of ship channels — reduces economic losses in maritime trade, reduces potential disruptions in energy supplies when ports are serving energy providers and oil rigs, and keeps mariners safe. (For more, see Coast Survey Prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac.)

Navigation response team 4 (NRT4), a 3-person team who had been conducting surveys in Galveston, arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana, yesterday. They brought their 28’ foot Sea Ark and state-of-the-art survey equipment with them, and are already working with survey specialists at Coast Survey headquarters, laying out potential survey tracks based on initial indications of priorities from Coast Guard officials.

NRT2 trailered their boat from where they had been surveying on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and are now with NRT1 in Panama City (in Florida’s panhandle), ready to respond to requests for assistance from Captains of the Port in Alabama or Mississippi. They can also deploy to Louisiana, if needed.

The NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations / National Geodetic Survey remote sensing planes are “response ready” with pre-planned flight lines for aerial surveying of coastal areas hit with storm surge. The King Air is in Austin, Texas, and the Twin Otter is relocating to Mobile, Alabama.

NRT4 brought their boat and state-of-the-art survey equipment to Lafayette, Louisiana, yesterday.
NOAA navigation manager Michael Henderson (right) works with Billy Sasser, Dept. of Homeland Security’s maritime security liaison to the Florida emergency operations center. Henderson has spent the last four days working with state and federal officials as part of Florida’s State Emergency Response Team.
Chett Chaisson, of Port Fourchon, took this photo this morning at the Golden Meadow Flood Lock.

Update on Coast Survey pre-positioning for Rapid Maritime Response to Tropical Storm Isaac

As NOAA’s National Weather Service adjusts the track of Tropical Storm Isaac, so Coast Survey adjusts pre-response planning and deployment. (BTW, the New Orleans/Baton Rouge NWS Tropical Weather Briefing is a great resource for maritime observations, as is nowCOAST.) Based on updates in the hurricane models, and after multiple briefings with Coast Guard officials, Coast Survey is moving to pre-position two of the navigation response teams closer to the expected impact areas. (See response asset graphic, below.)

Major ports along in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will likely be closed later today, if they aren’t already. With over $153 billion in ocean-going trade through New Orleans annually, and another $31 billion a year in and out of Mobile, it is essential to get shipping channels cleared for the resumption of traffic as soon as possible after a storm. Just as important, the Gulf produces 23 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 7 percent of natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The resumption of operations at ports serving the energy industry is essential to keeping supplies flowing.

Several of Coast Survey’s regional navigation managers are gearing up coordination with state and port officials, and with the U.S. Coast Guard. Florida navigation manager Mike Henderson has been working since early Saturday morning at the State Emergency Center in Tallahassee. Gulf Coast (East) navigation manager Tim Osborn is relocating to the Louisiana emergency response center in Baton Rouge, and navigation liaison Patrick Fink will be working out of NOAA’s new Disaster Response Center in Mobile. Gulf Coast (West) navigation manager Alan Bunn, based in Texas, is moving to Lafayette to better handle on-the-ground logistics for the Rapid Maritime Response. The navigation managers coordinate requests for NOAA’s navigation response teams, as the NRTs are needed to help re-open shipping lanes and port areas by searching for underwater debris and shoaling.

Navigation response team 4, which is surveying off the coast of Galveston, will deploy to Lafayette, Louisiana, on Tuesday morning. NRT4 will survey in Louisiana, as needed according to priorities established by the Captain of the Port (COTP).

Also on Tuesday, NRT2 will join NRT1 in Panama City, Florida, to be ready for deployment as soon as Hurricane Isaac moves away from the coast. These teams will each survey areas in Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana – again, as requested according to U.S. Coast Guard COTP priorities.

Some of NOAA’s major survey assets are the private contractors who conduct hydrographic surveys to acquire data necessary for nautical chart updates. Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division is working with the contractors currently surveying in the Gulf, to ascertain their current locations, determine how they may be impacted by the storm, and their potential response capabilities.

Coast Survey’s Mobile Integrated Survey Team remains ready to move as necessary, once Isaac has made landfall and we have assessed the storm damage and navigational needs. When called to action, the MIST will mobilize on a vessel of opportunity.

Coast Survey is more than surveying, charting, and maritime response. The Coast Survey Development Lab is providing visualizations of experimental storm surge simulations to the National Hurricane Center for each forecast cycle of Hurricane Isaac. These simulations are being created in partnership with several federal agencies and research groups, and show the significant storm surge threat Isaac poses to the Gulf Coast.

Coast Survey Response Assets for Isaac

Fairweather’s quick reminder of why we need to update Arctic nautical charts

This week the NOAA Ship Fairweather is completing her 30-day hydrographic reconnaissance survey in the Arctic. The crew’s personal observations during this successful cruise brings home the importance of measuring ocean depths and updating nautical charts with precise and accurate modern data. Ensign Owen provides Fairweather’s last blog post for this project.  – DF

by Ensign Hadley Owen, NOAA, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Fairweather (S-220)

1200 hours, Sunday, August 26, 2012:55°57.2’N  166°01.2’W, Bering Sea, approximately 100 nautical miles north of Unimak Pass

We are back in the Bering Sea, sloshing around amongst multiple low pressure systems on our way back south to finish out the Fairweather’s 30-day Arctic recon. While it has appeared a lonely transit at times, our AIS (Automatic Identification System) has proved that there are others along this Bering/Chukchi/Beaufort Seas route who will benefit from the updated hydrographic data we are recording.

We have seen more than 50 vessels over the past few weeks, including tugs and towing vessels; cargo ships; fishing vessels; tankers; research ships; U.S Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels; and even a couple of small passenger vessels. The ships have ranged from 12 meters to over 200 meters, with drafts of up to 15 meters.

We met mariners with a boat – essential to the region’s economy – whose crew has had frustrations with inaccurate charted soundings. The Greta Akpik is a lightering vessel operated by Bowhead Transport Company. The Fairweather stopped mid-trip outside of Barrow in order to disembark three scientists who were returning home, as well as to pick up stores to provide the remaining crew with food and supplies for the second half of our trip. As the town of Barrow does not have pier facilities, residents depend on the services of shallow-draft lightering vessels to transfer supplies between ships and shore. In casual conversation, the crew of the Greta reported soundings on a chart marked at 30 feet which in actuality read 5 feet on their depth-sounder – a somewhat nerve-wracking discrepancy but not impossible for their shallow-draft vessel. However, this kind of variation can prove a significant deterrent to other maritime traffic looking to enter the region.

Two examples of this “other” traffic that we encountered near Barrow were the 194-passenger Hanseatic and the 165-stateroom The World. Both vessels are considered luxury expedition cruise ships, offering their patrons unique opportunities to visit the world’s last remote outposts. The Hanseatic was on a 27-day trip from Nome, Alaska, to Reykjavik, Iceland. The World is a “privately-owned, residential yacht” for 130 families who collectively chose their vessel’s annual destinations. Both were traveling along the North Slope of Alaska, preparing to transit the Northwest Passage en route to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to bringing a modest level of tourism to the area, these expedition cruise ships also serve to increase the world’s awareness of the rarity of these remote Arctic Alaskan communities. They mark the beginning of increased and wider interest in the accessibility of the area and the ease with which services can be obtained.

Even with this level of traffic, we are quickly reminded of how much the area’s nautical charts need to be updated, as we transit across a 28 nautical mile square region, south of St Lawrence Island in the Bering — which is totally lacking in soundings. To date, vessels have operated safely by relying on a great degree of local knowledge and nautical good sense. Our recent transit, however, has not only emphasized the degree to which our charts of the area need to be updated, but reminded us of the range of traffic that will benefit from these corrections and additions.

Coast Survey prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac

With the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac, headed toward the state of Florida, Coast Survey navigation managers and navigation response teams have moved into Rapid Maritime Response preparations. Coast Survey is often called upon to speed the resumption of ocean shipping — slowed or shut down by hurricane damage — by searching for submerged debris or other dangers to navigation in port areas or shipping lanes. After navigation response teams survey the areas, ports can resume operations safely and efficiently.

Our navigation managers work with port representatives, and state and federal officials in the area, to coordinate their requests for NOAA data and services, and our manager for Florida is already fielding requests from port officials and the U.S. Coast Guard in Florida.

Navigation response teams deploy with small boats trailerable by truck to any U.S. destination. In addition to regular assignments that make shipping safe in and around ports, they are prepared to respond to disasters.

Coast Survey deploys six navigation response teams, at all times, to conduct long-term hydrographic projects in critical maritime areas. While surveying, the teams remain on alert to respond to emergencies anywhere on the nation’s coasts. The teams are three-person crews who can transport the hydrographic equipment and 28’ survey boats to coastal locations where submerged debris or shoaling would cause a danger to navigation.

Two teams, currently surveying in Florida (NRT1 and NRT2), are now going through hurricane response checklists and ensuring fuel supplies. They are monitoring the storm and will put the equipment into a safe location if conditions require, so they are ready to roll when called. Two other teams (NRT4 surveying in Texas and NRT5 in Massachusetts) are continuing on their current survey assignments while remaining on call for emergency deployment, depending on where Isaac is headed.

The Coast Survey MIST — a mobile integrated survey team, equipped with side scan sonar equipment and an autonomous underwater vehicle — is ready to deploy from Coast Survey headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Additionally, a Twin Otter airplane is equipped and ready to conduct remote sensing and aerial photography.

NOAA also has several survey ships currently working in the Atlantic. The Thomas Jefferson, Ferdinand R. Hassler, and Nancy Foster are able to join the Rapid Maritime Response if needed.

Coast Survey will update this graphic as survey assets are deployed.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler submits survey of historic wrecks acquired during test and evaluation operations

by Lt. Madeleine Adler, NOAA, Navigation Officer, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler

Three-dimensional model of the seabed in the vicinity of USS New Jersey (north) and USS Virginia (south) created with Hassler multibeam echo sounder data.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler recently submitted a multibeam echo sounder survey of two sunken World War I era battleships to the Office of Coast Survey. Hassler, which was commissioned earlier this summer, surveyed the site of these two wrecks while transiting through the area during test and evaluation operations in 2011, and has been using the resulting dataset for calibration purposes since then. Although the wreck locations were well known, they had never been surveyed with modern techniques.

The ships are USS New Jersey and USS Virginia, which were intentionally sunk during aerial bombing experiments in 1923. U.S. Army Colonel Billy Mitchell, a pioneer of military aviation, urged the Navy to investigate the effectiveness of aerial bombing against surface vessels. As part of a series of tests, the Navy anchored the two obsolete “White Fleet” battleships off Cape Hatteras in September 1923 to serve as targets. Bombers under Mitchell’s direction sank both ships in short order. The success of these tests had a significant influence on subsequent development of U.S. air power and air defense for naval vessels.

Hydrographic survey systems require thorough calibration and testing before data can be accepted for application to NOAA nautical charts. New Jersey and Virginia rest in water approximately 100 meters deep, making them excellent test targets for Hassler’s Reson 7111 mid-water depth multibeam echo sounder system. Hassler surveyed the wrecks during a trial voyage from Pascagoula, Miss., to Norfolk, Va., in 2011, and the crew used this dataset and others to calibrate the echo sounder. Hassler’s survey systems are now fully operational, and the survey is ready for submission.

Coast Survey will use the survey of USS New Jersey and USS Virginia to update nautical charts of the area, and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries personnel will study it to further their understanding of marine archeology and the seafloor in the vicinity of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler was commissioned on 8 June 2012, and continues to survey mid-Atlantic coastal waters for charting, fisheries and ocean exploration.

Surveyed wreck site (lower right corner) overlaid on Chart 11555. Site is 16 nautical miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.