Archive for the ‘Arctic’ Category
By Starla Robinson, project manager in Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division
Two hundred years after Otto von Kotzebue and the crew of the Ruiric explored what would later be named Kotzebue Sound, NOAA ships Fairweather and Rainer follow in the same tradition. Two centuries ago they were searching for the Northwest Passage in support of trade. Today, we explore to improve the science and safety of navigation in support of commerce, environmental protection, and local communities. Our bathymetric data and observations will also be used to better inform coastal decision-making.
Original chart of Kotzebue Sound (left). 1973 chart of Kotzebue Sound (right). Today’s chart of the project area is not significantly different from that of 1973.
Many things have changed since the crew of the Ruiric braved these waters. However, operations in the Arctic are still challenging. For much of the year Kotzebue Sound is frozen over. The remote location makes arriving and maintaining basic needs of the ships and crew difficult–just being here is a success.
Technology has made navigation safer and surveying more efficient. For example, rather than the discrete lead lines that were once used to obtain depth measurement data in this project area (which is about the size of Delaware), multibeam echo sounders acquire the same amount of data in just one square meter. For multibeam surveys, the speed of sound must be measured in the water column and the motion of the vessel must be recorded and corrected in the data. We use side scan sonar to produce imagery of the sea floor. GPS is used to triangulate our position rather than sailors taking bearings on shore stations. To better refine our precision, we construct horizontal and vertical control stations that must be operational before bathymetry data can even be collected.
It takes teamwork on and off the ship and NOAA has brought together many resources. Contractors are used to establish vertical control stations recording water levels. The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) monitors the data and creates tide models. Subject matter experts in side scan sonar assist with the surveying effort. Teams on land plan and support the expedition and continue to process the data for the chart after the ships have left. Many things have to align to make our charting efforts a success.
On the ship, our exposed location limits survey activities. The small boats for survey can only be deployed when the sea state is safe. Teams must brave the surf to maintain the control stations. The crews of the Rainier and Fairweather work hard to take advantage of windows of good weather. They work long hours, in rough conditions, away from convenience and family, in pursuit of the chart. We are today’s explorers seeing the full picture of the seafloor for the first time.
NOAA survey progress map highlighting hydrographic survey coverage by NOAA ships Fairweather and Rainier as of August 17, 2015.
In 2015, NOAA survey ships Thomas Jefferson and Ferdinand R. Hassler are scheduled to survey nearly 1,800 square nautical miles in the U.S. coastal waters of the lower 48 states, collecting data that will update nautical charts for navigation and other uses. In Alaska, NOAA ships Fairweather and Rainier will increase their Arctic operations, planning to acquire 12,000 nautical miles of “trackline” depth measurements of the U.S. Coast Guard’s proposed shipping route. (See this NOAA article.) The ships will also conduct several “full bottom” hydrographic survey projects, acquiring data from over 2,800 square nautical miles in survey areas along the Alaskan coastline.
We are also planning several projects for our contractual private sector survey partners, and those projects will be announced after work orders are finalized.
The Office of Coast Survey will manage the surveys that measure water depths and collect ocean floor data for charting, identifying navigational hazards, informing wind farm decisions, mapping fish habitats, and assisting with coastal resilience. Check the useful story map, 2015 Hydrographic Survey projects, for the survey outlines and more information. Coast Survey will update the map as weather and operational constraints dictate.
See the story map for all 2015 in-house projects.
Briefly, this year’s NOAA survey projects include:
1. Gulf of Maine, where chart soundings in heavily trafficked and fished areas are decades old and need updating for navigational safety
2. Buzzards Bay (Massachusetts and Rhode Island), where increased use of deeper-draft double-hull barges – and possible installation of marine transmission cable routes and wind energy development — requires updated soundings
3. Rhode Island Sound, where the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has identified a wind energy lease area
4. Approaches to Chesapeake (North Carolina), where charts of critical navigational areas need updating for navigation and to assist the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management manage windfarm activity.
5. Approaches to Charleston (South Carolina), where updated soundings will provide the correct under-keel clearance information for the expected transit of larger and deeper-draft ships
6. Approaches to Savannah (Georgia), where the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will increase the authorized depth of the harbor from 42 to 47 feet and updated soundings will provide the correct under-keel clearance information for the expected transit of larger and deeper-draft ships
7. Chatham Strait (Alaska), where charts need to be updated for cruise liners, ferries, Coast Guard cutters, Navy vessels, tugs, and barges that use this waterway on a regular basis or when avoiding storms in the Gulf of Alaska
8. Approaches to Kotzebue (Alaska), where deep-draft vessels have their cargo lightered to shore by shallow draft barges
9. Point Hope (Alaska), where shipping traffic is increasing due to receding ice but charted soundings are sparse and date back to the 1960s
10. West Prince of Wales Island (Alaska), where updated charts are needed by smaller vessels that use Televak Narrows as an alternate passage during foul weather
11. Shumagin Islands (Alaska), where Coast Survey needs data to create a new, larger scale, nautical chart
12. Port Clarence (Alaska), where Coast Survey needs data to create a new, larger scale, nautical chart
13. South Arctic Reconnaissance Route, where trackline data will assist consideration of the U.S. Coast Guard’s proposed Bering Strait Port Access Route Study
14. North Coast of Kodiak Island (Alaska), where we need to update charts for Kodiak’s large fishing fleet and increasing levels of passenger vessel traffic
By Ashley Chappell, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping coordinator
With 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. waters to survey and chart, Coast Survey is up against some big challenges in keeping nautical charts current. A complete survey of those waters would require over 500 ship years and $5 billion ‒ just to acquire the data. It is no wonder that we put substantial effort into a program known as integrated ocean and coastal mapping (IOCM), where trusted partners can provide high quality, standards-compliant hydrographic survey data for a multitude of uses, including chart creation.
One of our biggest challenges is in the Arctic. Whether you knew it or not, the U.S. is an Arctic nation thanks to Alaska, and this formerly frozen region is becoming more accessible to ship traffic as sea ice melts. But much of our Arctic coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.
So NOAA has a dilemma: how do we survey and chart an ice-diminished Arctic when we have limited resources and limited seasonal access? We assessed data age and quality, we reviewed our chart coverage, and we developed the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan for where we would improve chart coverage if we get new data. But our resources for ship and contract surveys can only do so much, and we need more data…
Hydrographic survey monitors were installed on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar.
Enter our maritime partners, the U.S. Coast Guard. Since 2008, NOAA has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska to improve shipping safety. For instance, the Coast Guard buoy tenders, that set buoys and dayboards used to mark the safe passage through waterways throughout Alaska, were finding that some of the natural channels moved from year to year, and so they started using single beam sonar to find the channels. Seeing a way to support this effort, NOAA experts joined U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders as they headed into the Bering Sea, helping to train Coast Guard personnel to set the buoys safely, quickly, and accurately.
We also started exploring the possibility of the Coast Guard collecting hydrographic data for nautical charts. In 2012, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Blankenship was NOAA’s lead on a joint NOAA/USCG Arctic hydrographic project aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory from Homer, helping to develop an operational procedure to get Coast Guard survey data to NOAA. This year, we are happy to see that professionalism, enthusiasm, and teamwork has resulted in Coast Guard Cutter SPAR providing Bechevin Bay data that will help guide our decision-making for survey priorities.
SPAR commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Michele Schallip signed the data set on September 10, and highlighted the contributions of Boatswain Mate 1st Class Michael Cobb, who spearheaded the project, with the assistance of NOAA chief survey technician Tami Beduhn, navigation manager Lt. Matt Forney, and Lt. j.g. Jon Andvick.
With the Alaskan coast comprising 57% of the U.S. navigationally significant waters, a multi-agency partnership for hydro survey data is necessary for maritime safety. This year’s successful SPAR survey is an important step in that effort. We look forward to continuing this work with our fantastic Coast Guard partners, and we hope to expand the IOCM concept to other vessels that have survey capability in the Arctic.
Size comparison of Alaska and the contiguious states. The blue areas depict the extent of navigationally significant areas for surveying purposes.
NOAA Office of Coast Survey has released a new nautical chart for the Arctic, which will help mariners navigate the Bering Strait. Chart 16190 (Bering Strait North) incorporates precise depth measurements acquired recently by NOAA Ship Fairweather hydrographic surveys.
Coast Survey has also released a new edition of Chart 16220 (St Lawrence Island to Bering Strait).
“Our Arctic Nautical Charting Plan identified the need for 14 new charts in the Arctic,” explains Commander Shep Smith, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “Chart 16190 was high on our list of priorities, since the Bering Strait is the maritime gateway from the Bering Sea in the Pacific Ocean to the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean.”
“Charting the gateway is absolutely vital for safe navigation, but it is more than that,” Smith says. “In addition to the very practical aspects, this chart also symbolizes an opening to the growing opportunities for maritime transportation in the Arctic.”
Charts 16190 and 16220 include recent hydrographic information in U.S. waters between Cape Prince of Wales and the immediate waters surrounding Little Diomede Island. They also include recent NOAA shoreline surveys of the Diomede Islands and Cape Prince of Wales.
NOAA Chart 16190, Bering Strait North
Chart 16190 provides 1:100,000 scale coverage, including a 1:40,000 scale inset of Little Diomede Island. Chart 16220 provides 1:315,350 scale coverage. Prior to these charts, the best available information was from Chart 16005, at a scale of 1:700,000. At that scale, every charted depth was separated by about two nautical miles and the chart depicted only a handful of depths. Most of the old charted depths were from 1950 and provided incomplete information about the depths or possible hazards on the sea floor.
Chart 16190 is the second new chart resulting from the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan. Coast Survey created the first of the new Arctic charts, Chart 16161 (Kotzebue and Approaches), in April 2012. (See New Alaska navigational chart makes increased Arctic shipping safer.) Chart 16220 had previously been maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, but Coast Survey assumed responsibility for it in 2010.
The equivalent NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) for 16190 will be available this summer. Watch for US4AK8D (Bering Strait North), and US5AK8D (Little Diomede Island). The 16220 ENC equivalent — US3AK89M — was created in 2012 and included the new Fairweather hydro.
Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division is responsible for updating the nation’s 1,023 nautical charts. Chart 16190 was compiled by Kieumy Dinh and reviewed by Eric Wallner, under the management of Andew Kampia. Chart 16220 was updated by Pravin Shrestha (compiler) and Yan Xu (reviewer).
By Andrew Kampia, chief of Products Branch A, Marine Chart Division, Office of Coast Survey
When we say that many Arctic charts are lacking information critical to navigation, we’re not overstating the issue. A case in point was the 2005 edition of Chart 16304, depicting the mouth of Kuskokwim River to the City of Bethel, in Alaska. This was a preliminary chart with no hydrography, no depth measurements whatsoever.
Preliminary Chart 16304, issued in 2005
Coast Survey just released updated NOAA Chart 16304, which now includes contemporary shoreline and hydrography. (The NOAA ENC® equivalent — US4AK85M — will be available in a month or two.)
New edition of Chart 16304 has depth measurements and other charted features.
Bethel is the supply hub for this region of Alaska and the river is essential for transporting petroleum products, commercial salmon, supplies, and other cargo during limited ice season (generally June through September). However, navigating the Kuskokwim River is a unique and risky experience. As you can see from the nautical chart, the 40-mile approach to Bethel is a maze of shifting sandbars, both visible and covered, and blind channels. The channels in the river undergo constant change from year to year, because of the action of the sea, currents, and ice. A small pilot boat often precedes the vessel through these waters, constantly feeling out the channels and monitoring soundings.
Vitus Marine serves Western Alaska Coast villages and interior river ports with bulk fuel and freight transport. Mark Smith, their chief executive officer, applauded Coast Survey for mapping the Lower Kuskokwim and releasing Chart 16304, noting that “mapping greatly reduces the risk of grounding and facilitates safe and efficient marine traffic.”
“All petroleum and other critical bulk cargoes are transported via watercraft to Western Alaska ports through similar river entrances,” observed CEO Mark Smith. “Along with all navigators, Vitus encourages NOAA to aggressively address the many other, yet uncharted river entrances, where commerce regularly transits dynamic areas to reach each community.”
The Kuskokwim River forms a portion of the “Arctic” border, as provided in the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984.
In June 2011, Coast Survey issued the first edition of the Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, a major effort to improve Arctic chart coverage that is inadequate for modern needs. After consultations with maritime interests and the public, as well as with other federal, state, and local agencies, we have issued the updated Arctic Nautical Charting Plan: A plan to support sustainable marine transportation in the Alaska and the Arctic.
“Maritime challenges are increasing in the Arctic. As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear at a rapid rate, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey’s director. “This is leading to new maritime concerns, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise liners.”
“Given the lack of emergency response infrastructure in remote Arctic waters, nautical charts are even more important to protect lives and fragile coastal areas,” Glang points out.
Commercial vessels depend on NOAA to provide charts and publications with the latest depth information, but many regions of Alaska’s coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys — and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s.
“Ships need updated charts with precise and accurate measurements,” explained Capt. Doug Baird, chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. “We do not have decades to get it done; ice diminishment is here, now.”
We appreciate the perspectives offered by Alaska’s mariners in response to the 2011 Arctic Charting Plan. For instance, feedback called for adding a large-scale inset to the layout for the “Kotzebue Harbor and Approaches” chart, which we published as the first plan-inspired new chart, in April 2012.
The 2013 plan specifies 14 additional new charts, to complement existing chart coverage. Seven of the charts will fill gaps in medium-scale chart coverage from the Alaska Peninsula to Cape Lisburne at the edge of the North Slope, for coastal transits along the west coast of Alaska. Larger scale charts will provide for safer passage though the Etolin and Bering Straits, or for entry into harbors such as Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States.
The revised plan also adds NOAA chart numbers for all of the 14 future charts, and provides updated information and graphics describing the infrastructure and data needed to compile the charts.
The charting plan continues as a “living document,” as new concerns and challenges emerge. Anyone can submit comments through the Coast Survey Inquiry and Discrepancy System.
Today’s post is written by a guest blogger, Dr. Bob McConnaughey. Bob is the FISHPAC project chief scientist, with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
Fishery biologists and hydrographers in NOAA are working together to solve two very important problems in the eastern Bering Sea. This area is one of the richest and most productive fishing grounds in the world. Careful management of harvest levels is one part of the effort to sustain these populations into the future. However, it is also important to understand the habitat requirements of the managed species so we can protect the foundation for these high levels of production.
To this end, a team of scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) is developing mathematical models to explain the distribution and abundance of groundfish, such as pollock and cod, and benthic invertebrates, such as red king crab, in order to determine their essential habitats. The research team gathers new environmental data at locations where other AFSC scientists sample fish populations during annual bottom-trawl surveys. In many cases, existing habitat information is very limited, but studies will identify useful variables and the best tools for measuring them over large areas of the continental shelf.
NOAA hydrographers working in Alaska are likewise challenged by the sheer size of the offshore areas and the dearth of recent depth measurements. This region includes over 47,000 miles of coastline and roughly 70% of the nation’s continental shelf. Soundings data for nautical charts are usually quite old and coverage is incomplete. Similar to the habitat studies, there is a great need to gather new data, efficiently and cost-effectively.
A diverse team of NOAA personnel and external partners are collaborating to address the critical need for new habitat data and new hydrographic data from the eastern Bering Sea. Beginning in 2006, NOAA Ship Fairweather has conducted multi-mission cruises to simultaneously achieve these two objectives. The so-called FISHPAC project has developed procedures to collect acoustic backscatter data to characterize seafloor habitats while also collecting high-quality bathymetric data for updating nautical charts.
This joint effort has been a great challenge for two groups that have typically worked alone, generally focusing on a single specialized activity. The successful integration of these activities makes efficient use of valuable ship time and will ultimately increase the amount of data collected for both purposes in a single survey season.
The prototype long-range side scan sonar is prepared for deployment. An emergency locator beacon is activated to help locate the towfish if it becomes detached from the double armored tow cable.
The AFSC scientists have introduced new types of equipment on Fairweather for this work, including a prototype side scan sonar capable of very broad coverage (up to 1 km) at a fast tow speed (up to 12 kts), an acoustic underwater tracking system that provides accurate positions for towed instruments, and several “groundtruthing” instruments to help interpret the backscatter data for habitat purposes. The partners have worked out safety and deployment details, and now the ship can simultaneously acquire acoustic data from the ship’s two multibeam echosounders and a towed side scan sonar, while underway and collecting sound velocity profiles and geotechnical data from the seafloor with a free-fall cone penetrometer! Operating this way, the ship does not need to stop; they can conduct survey operations around the clock during the entire time at sea.
Fairweather hosted a major FISHPAC cruise during July-August 2012. A team of 12 scientists joined the Fairweather’s standard crew of officers, physical scientists and seamen to conduct a combined fish-habitat and hydrographic-survey effort in the eastern Bering Sea. The group worked together ‒ night and day ‒ to acquire the multi-purpose data. They tested five different sonar systems in an experiment designed to identify the most cost-effective system for characterizing the seafloor and improving the existing fish-habitat models. At the same time, the ship collected over 1,000 nautical miles of hydrographic data in an area with outdated or non-existent information.
Technicians from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (Keyport, Washington) and a retired NOAA engineer and hydrographer provided valuable assistance.
Neither high seas, nor fatigue, nor equipment problems stopped the intrepid group. The project was fully successful in the end and Fairweather safely returned to port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska to discharge some scientists and then head back out on her Arctic Reconnaissance voyage.
The towed auto-compensating optical system (TACOS) is a two-part towed video system consisting of a weight sled connected to the ship’s fiber optic winch, with a camera sled trailing approximately 20 meters behind the weight sled. The camera sled includes an analog video camera, a digital video camera, six high intensity discharge lights as well as an acoustic release/buoy for emergency recovery. TACOS creates high-quality downward-looking video mosaics.