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.
History is never completely written. There are always new discoveries, new understanding.
NOAA historian John Cloud recently sent Coast Survey an intriguing report:
Yesterday I was looking for some historic Chesapeake Bay T sheets [topography drafts]… Anyway, down in the bottom of a folder, there was a zipped file, dated 2009, never unzipped. I thought: well, since I have noticed this now, why don’t I unzip it? It turned out to be two overly rescaled jpgs, but using my Keith Bridge tricks [a technique developed by a former Coast Survey historical chart expert] I found the two full-scale originals. It was one chart, with a small part cut off to make two separate files: the original 1838 hydrography for New Haven Harbour!
This is the basis for the 1838 engraved chart for Congress, the second published Coast Survey chart. (The first was based on Lt. Gedney’s partial survey of Newark Bay, NJ and the mouth of the Hackensack River, 1837.) The New Haven work was 1838. In 1839, the same Lt. Gedney and company captured the slave ship Amistad and brought the ship and captives to New Haven, claiming the escaped slaves as property. [UPDATE, 10/27/2016: Delving deeper into Gedney’s actions, it turns out he docked the ship in New London, while the captive Africans were brought to New Haven.] Then later, John Quincy Adams persuaded a judge they had freed themselves on the boat and were no longer slaves.
Unzipping the files happened within an hour or so of getting an email from Michelle Zacks, a scholar of marine environmental history who has explored historic Coast Survey field survey notebooks as sources for her ongoing project on the antebellum oyster industry and the lives of enslaved and free African Americans in the Chesapeake region. That research helped lead to her new job, as the associate director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, at Yale, which is in: New Haven!
It all happened just like that! Like the chart “wanted” to emerge back into the Amistad story.
We weren’t able to trace the origination of that zip file, but it was obviously created by someone who didn’t realize the value of the historical images. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we value historians.
National Weather Service image of Hurricane Matthew near Port Canaveral, Florida on October 7, 2016.
As Hurricane Matthew bore down on Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, Coast Survey pre-positioned hydrographic survey vessels for immediate deployment, to help speed the reopening of commercial shipping at ports hit by high winds and storm surge.
Currently, our Central Coast Gulf navigation manager, Tim Osborn, embedded in Port Canaveral, Florida, and our Southwest navigation manager, Kyle Ward, are coordinating marine transportation system recovery priorities with the U.S. Coast Guard and port stakeholders in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Speeding the resumption of commercial vessel traffic has important human and economic considerations. For instance, Port Canaveral experienced winds over 60 knots and wave heights over 30 feet. Cruise ships are awaiting port entry and with about 3,000 passengers per ship, that is over 30,000 passengers (~15,000 crew) waiting for the port to be re-opened.
Video: Port Canaveral experiencing high winds from Hurricane Matthew on October 7, 2016.
An additional aid in the preparation for a hydrographic survey response is anticipating where and how big the storm surge will be along the coast. Just prior to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, NOAA’s nowCOAST™ updated its system with the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) potential storm surge flooding map which depicts the risk associated with coastal storm surge flooding resulting from tropical cyclones.
NHC’s first potential storm surge flooding map for Hurricane Matthew on nowCOAST.
On September 15, 2016, President Obama designated the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument includes two areas: one that includes four undersea mountains, called “seamounts” – Bear, Mytilus, Physalia, and Retriever; and an area that includes three undersea canyons – Oceanographer, Lydonia, and Gilbert – that cut deep into the continental shelf. These sea features have monumental histories.
Coast Survey cartographer Leland Snyder used several data sources to create this map of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
Bear, Mytilus, and Physalia Seamounts were discovered by oceanographers with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and they were named for small Woods Hole vessels that began making forays into the deep sea in the 1950s. The Bureau of Geographical names does not know the origin of the name “Retriever Seamount,” but NOAA historian Skip Theberge thinks it was probably discovered and named for the Cable Repair Ship Retriever, which started service in 1961 working off the East Coast. The canyons were named in the 1930s, for U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey ships. (C&GS is the earliest NOAA predecessor agency.) Oceanographer Canyon was named for the C&GS Ship Oceanographer, which discovered many canyons incising the continental slope between the Georges Bank area and Cape Hatteras; Gilbert Canyon was named after the C&GS Ship Gilbert, which took an active part in the survey of the Georges Bank, 1930-32; and Lydonia Canyon was named for the C&GS Ship Lydonia.
The monument, which encompasses 4,913 square miles, has been the subject of scientific exploration and discovery since the 1970s. But the original discoveries of the canyons were made more than 80 years ago, when the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey surveyed the canyons with TNT bombs.
Yes, you read that right.
Some of the C&GS ships in the 1930s were anchored-station vessels, hanging a hydrophone over the side at a well-determined point. TNT bombs were thrown over the sides at about fifteen minute intervals. The explosion being “time zero,” the sound waves traveled through the water to the hydrophone, which in turn activated an automatic radio signal back to the survey vessel. The time interval between reception of radio signal and time of explosion, times the velocity of sound in sea water, gave the distance. This system, called “radio-acoustic ranging,” was developed by C&GS as the first non-visual survey system.
The survey of these canyons, using (for then) modern methods gave an unprecedented view of the seafloor generating debates as to the cause of the canyons, and in a larger sense, generating the birth of marine geology. Indeed, Dr. Francis Shepard, recognized by many as the “father of marine geology,” got his start on these surveys.
This excerpt from International Aspects of Oceanography, a National Science Foundation publication, was written by Wayland Vaughn of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1937. He describes the contribution of both echo-sounding and the navigation system termed “radio-acoustic ranging” to the mapping of the seafloor. C&GS developed RAR and used it to survey U.S. continental margins in the 1930s.
The history of these early explorations is fascinating. So as not to give it short shrift, we are going beyond our normal blog post format and including a full-length article contributed by NOAA’s historian, retired Capt. Skip Theberge.
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A History of Exploration and Discovery in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
By Capt. Albert “Skip” Theberge, Jr., NOAA (retired), Acting Chief of Reference, NOAA Central Library
The recent designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the culmination of over eighty years’ involvement in this area by NOAA and its predecessor agencies. It is no accident that the canyons in this area were named for ships of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS), NOAA’s oldest ancestor agency. Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia Canyons were named for three of the four ships that conducted surveys of the area between the years 1930 and 1932. The fourth ship, Welker, is commemorated by the naming of Welker Canyon, just to the west of the new monument boundaries, and a fifth ship, Hydrographer, was commemorated by the naming of the next canyon to the west of Welker Canyon. These ships completed the first comprehensive survey of the continental slope in this area, using the most modern equipment available: a combination of advanced echo-sounding equipment and the radio-acoustic ranging system, the first survey-quality non-visual navigation system. This system was developed in the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
C&GS map of submarine valleys on Georges Bank, 1932
Besides being used for navigational charts, the data from these surveys was used in a number of scientific publications, first by Francis Shepard, known as the father of marine geology. Although going on to become a famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist, some of his earliest work was initially published in the Bulletin of the Field Engineers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. However, the greatest work associated with these surveys was a paper published in 1939 by the geologist A.C. Veatch and the brilliant C&GS officer Lieutenant Paul Smith. This paper was titled “Atlantic Submarine Valleys of the United States and the Congo Submarine Valley” and was Geological Society of America Special Papers Number 7. Included in this paper was a beautiful map that extended from Lydonia Canyon on its northeast corner to Norfolk Canyon off Chesapeake Bay at its southern limit. Shown on this map were thirteen named canyons as well as a number of other canyons incised in the continental shelf.
This map served to call the attention of the geological community to the rugged and grand nature of the seafloor, previously believed by many to be bland and featureless. It also served to ignite a fierce debate in the scientific community regarding the mode of formation of canyons. There were two competing theories. The first theory was that the canyons formed sub-aerially with sea level dropping as much as 10,000 feet worldwide. The second theory was that sediment-laden density currents carved out the canyons. Both theories had influential backers but, ultimately, as a result of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) sediment sampling in the early 1950s on the oceanic extension of Hudson Canyon, the density current theory won out as layers of poorly graded sands and gravels were found far at sea. This, combined with knowledge of the sequential breaking of further downslope submarine cables over a period of 13 hours following the 1929 earthquake on the Grand Banks, served to prove the concept of density currents.
The Second World War brought new studies in this area as the continental shelf and slopes of the United States were the locus of fierce submarine warfare. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Coast and Geodetic Survey combined efforts to map the location of known shipwrecks and bottom sediment types on a series of charts extending from east of Georges Bank to the tip of Florida. This was not WHOI’s first work in the area, as Maurice Ewing had conducted early seismic reflection and refraction experiments in this area before the war.
C&GS issued chart 1107-A in 1943, showing names of canyons. This was a restricted chart (used in anti-submarine warfare) overprinted with bottom characteristics and known shipwrecks.
Following the war, WHOI sent numerous expeditions into the Atlantic and discovered three of the seamounts included in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument. These three were Bear, Mytilus, and Physalia and were named for small inshore vessels operated by WHOI. Although the earliest mention of these seamounts in the unclassified literature was in 1962, John Ziegler of WHOI first discovered and named these features in 1955 on a classified survey. A prototype Heezen-Tharp physiographic diagram that was probably produced in the mid-1950s clearly shows the New England Seamount Chain and seamounts in the vicinity of the three Woods Hole seamounts of the monument. The fourth seamount in the monument, Retriever Seamount, was probably discovered by and named for the cable repair ship Retriever which operated off the east coast of the United States in the early 1960s.
Geological discovery and interpretation of the canyons and seamounts dominated research until the late 1960s. At this time, studies began of the dynamic oceanography of Oceanographer and other New England canyons. The first manned submersible dives into the canyon also occurred at this time, with 1966 Alvin dives followed in 1972 and 1974 by dives in the Navy’s nuclear research submersible NR-1. Oceanographer Bruce Heezen was aboard and suggested a “balanced concept in which canyons are created by some tectonic forces or drowned river valleys, are shaped and kept alive by the tides and are coursed by turbidity currents at certain long term intervals when especially large supplies of sediment are delivered to the heads of their system.” In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, there were sporadic efforts to begin studying the biology of the canyon systems, which has continued up to the present day. Since 2000, there has been a significant increase in studies related to these systems. The first dive on a seamount of the new monument was made on July 24, 1968, on Bear Seamount, by K. O. Emery in the submersible Alvin. Minimal information was obtained, but in 1974 a series of dives was made from the vicinity of Corner Seamount to Mytilus Seamount under the direction of James Heirtzler as chief scientist. In his words, this was the first time that “man had directly viewed the expanse of the earth between the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the North American continent.” Dive 7, the final dive, was made on Mytilus Seamount; it was described as “unique” as it is capped by approximately 300 meters of shallow water reef material. As this occurs at a depth of over 3,000 meters, it is apparent that this seamount has subsided over two miles while being rafted to the northwest from its original location over the Great Meteor hotspot.
Biological studies of these seamounts did not begin in earnest until 2000, when NOAA Ship Delaware II made 20 exploratory trawls in the vicinity of Bear Seamount. Over 270 species were collected including 115 fish species, 26 cephalopod species, and 46 crustacean species. Over the next thirteen years, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) followed up the fisheries cruise with a number of expeditions to the vicinity of the newly designated national monument. The first of these cruises was the 2003 Mountains in the Sea Expedition which, following in the footsteps of Heirtzler years earlier, used the submersible Alvin to dive on Manning and Kelvin seamounts and conduct multibeam surveys of Bear Seamount. As opposed to the primarily geologic emphasis of the earlier dives, though, these concentrated on the remarkable biological diversity of the New England Seamount Chain. This expedition was followed by Mountains in the Sea 2004, in which the use of robotic vehicles instead of a manned submersible was used to conduct explorations. 2004 saw Retriever, Balanus, and Bear Seamounts explored and the acquisition of hundreds of spectacular photos of the seafloor. 2005 saw the North Atlantic Stepping Stones expedition which, although not studying seamounts in the national monuments, did explore a number of seamounts of the New England Chain. In 2012, NOAA ocean exploration ship Okeanos Explorer returned to the northeast continental shelf and slope area on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Canyons mapping expedition. This expedition was primarily concerned with multibeam mapping of the various canyons, including those in the monument, as preparation for the 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition that investigated Oceanographer, Lydonia, and Gilbert Canyons, other large canyons of the regions, and Mytilus Seamount. This expedition marked the first use of NOAA’s 6,000 meter-rated remotely operated vehicle, Deep Discoverer and its accompanying Seirios camera sled which enabled telepresence ocean exploration. With this technology, OER was able to provide scientific and public audiences onshore a real-time view of ocean discovery in the grand canyons and hidden mountains of our Atlantic Ocean frontier.
Over eighty years of discovery and exploration, much of it accomplished by NOAA, its predecessor agencies, and academic partners have led to President Obama’s presidential proclamation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The monument will assure that the unique ecosystems of this fragile area will be protected for posterity.