NOAA Ship Rainier is due to arrive at its homeport in Newport, Ore., on November 1, completing the ship’s 2012 hydrographic survey season. (Watch Rainier’s progress on NOAA’s Ship Tracker.) This survey season, Rainier departed Newport on May 17 and spent her summer mapping 604 square nautical miles of the ocean floor in Alaska, stretching from Kodiak to the Shumagin Islands, along the Alaskan archipelago.
Rainier has a long 1,769 nautical mile trip back to homeport in Newport, Oregon.
“We completed our last survey on October 24, and began the long 1,769 nautical mile trip back to Oregon,” said Rainier’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Richard Brennan. “The crew put a lot of great effort into their work, some of it under challenging weather conditions.”
Rainier and her four smaller survey vessels use multibeam echo-sounders to measure the depth of the ocean along her path, collecting millions of measurements. More than half of the area surveyed by Rainier this summer had never been surveyed before, leaving large sections of nautical charts void of ocean depth measurements. Commercial shippers, passenger vessels, and fishing fleets need updated charts, which NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will produce with the multibeam’s precise and accurate measurements.
“Simply put, we have better maps of the moon than of our oceans,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey. “Much of our knowledge of U.S. coastal seafloors dates from eras when ocean commerce was more limited, especially in Alaska.”
“At a time when Alaskan waterways are facing unprecedented demands from maritime commerce, Rainier is acquiring the data for navigational charts that are the foundation of the marine transportation system,” Glang explained.
The 231-foot Rainier, one of the most modern and productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world, is named for Mount Rainier, a massive volcanic cone rising 14,410 feet above sea level in Washington. At the time the ship was commissioned, in 1968, vessels of this class were named for geological features. Rainier underwent a major repair period from Nov. 2009 to Jan. 2011, when new systems and equipment were installed.
The ship’s sophisticated seafloor mapping systems allow researchers to acquire hydrographic data that is used to update the nation’s nautical charts. Rainier carries four survey launches that survey shallow, near-shore waters.
Rainier’s scientists, survey technicians, NOAA Corps officers, and crew bring a wide range of navigational and hydrographical expertise to the mission. Rainier has a total complement of 52 people: 12 NOAA Corps commissioned officers, 11 engineers, 14 deck/boatswains, 9 hydrographic survey technicians (in addition to the officers, who are all hydrographers), four stewards, and two electronic technicians.
The ship is part of NOAA’s fleet of research and survey ships operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
One of Rainier’s projects for 2012 was four surveys in the Shumagin Islands, constituting 2083.2 linear nautical miles of survey lines, and 112.85 square nautical miles of seafloor – most which were never surveyed before.
NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler departed from NOAA’s Marine Operation Center in Norfolk this morning, to start post-SANDY surveys of critical deep water channels.
NOAA’s newest survey ship, the Ferdinand R. Hassler, began survey operations today in support of the U.S. Coast Guard efforts to re-open the Port of Virginia. Hassler was in port at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center – Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia, for maintenance when Hurricane Sandy affected the area. The ship’s crew spent Monday completing the work and system tests necessary to get underway once the storm passed, and has now been returned to limited operational status.
Lt. Cmdr. Ben Evans, Hassler’s commanding officer, got the ship underway today (Tuesday), and will return Wednesday evening. The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Hampton Roads requested that the ship survey critical portions of Thimble Shoal Channel and Chesapeake Channel, the deep draft routes to the ports of Hampton Roads and Baltimore.
“Surveying the deepest draft channels will allow the Coast Guard to decide when to re-open the port to unrestricted traffic without unnecessary delay,” Evans explained. “The ports of the Chesapeake Bay are critical to the U.S. economy and national security, so we need to make this effort as soon as the ship is ready to sail.”
The need for hydrographic surveying is critical. There are 78 large vessels, including portions of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, waiting to transit through the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.
The Hassler was also a pivotal survey asset last year, as Hampton Roads resumed operations after Hurricane Irene. At that time, Hassler was one of the three NOAA survey vessels used to clear the port from dangers caused by underwater debris or shoaling. Their work enabled a rapid resumption of shipping and port operations in 2011.
“Delays in shipping, even minor ones, cost the economy millions each year,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “After Hurricane Irene last year, NOAA’s rapid maritime response paid dividends in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, where an average of $5 million worth of cargo is shipped in or out, every hour. This year, rapid response is just as critical.”
The Norfolk Custom District is the country’s 9th largest in terms of the value of total imports and exports moving through the port, with nearly $55 billion in total trade in 2011.
*** Learn more about how NOAA’s National Ocean Service responds to hurricanes.
Capt. Michael Watson and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan with the new memorandum of agreement
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation & Prediction, signed an agreement today that recognizes the longstanding working relationship between marine pilots and NOAA’s navigational services. Coast Survey has a long-term working relationship with the American Pilots’ Association, whose members include virtually all of the 1,200 state-licensed marine pilots working in the 24 coastal states and the Great Lakes. This agreement updates an earlier collaborative agreement between APA and NOAA.
Dr. Sullivan and Capt. Michael Watson, APA president, signed the MOA this morning, during the APA annual meeting.
The MOA lays out specific cooperative activities to promote safe navigation. Among a wide range of provisions, it encourages the 57 APA-member pilot groups to provide information to update NOAA’s nautical charts and the U.S. Coast Pilot. The MOA will also facilitate timely investigations of apparent discrepancies between actual and charted features, which could pose dangers to navigation or adversely affect shipping efficiencies.
How many geospatial products can be developed by one seafloor mapping project? As a phased-in project for Long Island Sound shows, a strong collaboration among diverse groups of researchers and technology developers can integrate temporal and geospatial data sources to produce dozens of products. In addition to updating NOAA’s nautical charts, ongoing collaborations in Long Island Sound will create products that depict physical, geological, ecological, geomorphological, and biological conditions and processes – all to balance the development of new ocean uses while protecting and restoring essential habitats.
In 2011, the Long Island Sound Program (representing a partnership between the State of Connecticut, State of New York, Connecticut and New York Sea Grant, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) requested assistance from NOAA. They asked for help in providing management and technical expertise; acquiring data; and developing products. They required key temporal and spatial information about seafloor conditions in the Sound. They needed bathymetry and backscatter, and biological and physical observational and sampling data, to produce all the products needed by governments, industry, academia, and the public.
Coast Survey already had plans for NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson to survey in Long Island Sound, to acquire new bathymetry for chart updates. With some adjustments to survey areas and project parameters, a mutually beneficial partnership was formed for long-term seafloor mapping of Long Island Sound habitats over the next several years, as an integrated ocean and coastal mapping project.
This summer, Thomas Jefferson conducted hydrographic surveys in the mid-Sound area of Stratford Shoal and vicinity, extending from New York on the north shore of Long Island to the Connecticut shoreline.
“Ocean floors are amazingly dynamic, and we have to chart those changes to provide precise and accurate navigational data for today’s maritime economy,” explained Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp, commanding officer of the Thomas Jefferson and the ship’s chief scientist. “Our data is used to update NOAA’s nautical charts, but the hydrographic information can also be used to support a number of non-navigation uses, ranging from benefits to fisheries management to support of regional ocean planning efforts like this.”
This digital terrain model, showing bathymetry in Long Island Sound, was created from Thomas Jefferson depth soundings.
This image is a digital terrain model that indicates the water depths in surveyed areas. In its final form, it will be geo-referenced to latitude and longitude. To produce this DTM, a NOAA Corps hydrographer, Lt.j.g. (sel) Anthony Klemm loaded Thomas Jefferson’s billions of depth soundings into an algorithum, powered by CARIS’s CSAR technology. By laying out a grid, and then using CUBE – combined uncertainty bathymetry estimator – Klemm is able to visually depict higher resolution depth measurements in shallow water, where the shapes on the seafloor may be navigationally significant, with resolution gradually decreasing as the depth increases.
Digital terrain models are useful for many environmental management activities. In this collaboration, seafloor topography products, like this DTM, will be the foundation for building products that address benthic habitats and other environmental conditions.