New NOAA precision navigation program increases safety, efficiency for maritime commerce

By Capt. Liz Kretovic, Deputy Hydrographer of the Office of Coast Survey

Nowadays, many cars have sensors, video cameras, and other technology installed to help drivers park in tight spaces. Now imagine you are trying to parallel park a tractor-trailer on an icy hill, against a strong crosswind, with millions of dollars of products that depend on your precise execution. Dynamic conditions, tight spaces, and high stakes are exactly the scenario that many commercial vessels face as they move 95 percent of the United States’ foreign trade in and out of U.S. ports and waterways. In a manner comparable to the way car technology supports drivers, NOAA has launched a new program to develop the next generation of marine navigation tools that provide mariners with the information they need to safely and efficiently transport maritime commerce. This next generation of products is referred to as precision navigation.

Mariners face complex decisions as ever-larger vessels make their way through congested U.S. ports.
Mariners face complex decisions as ever-larger vessels make their way through congested U.S. ports.

Precision navigation seamlessly integrates high-resolution bathymetry with real-time and forecast data—such as water levels, currents, salinity, temperature, and precipitation—to produce a stronger decision support tool. As a result, mariners are better equipped to make critical go/no-go decisions. Since precision navigation involves many types and sources of data, it is a well coordinated effort across several NOAA offices, including the Office of Coast Survey, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, the National Geodetic Service, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, and the National Weather Service.

This year, NOAA offices involved with precision navigation were awarded additional funding to support foundational program management, and have established a dedicated team that will support the expansion of precision navigation to more ports throughout the country in the coming years. The precision navigation program team includes a program manager, requirements coordinator, and dissemination manager, as well as members from the other involved NOAA offices. In addition, the funding will support a socio-economic study that will look at the return on investment of the precision navigation program and fund a developer to work on the dissemination of NOAA’s data with private industries. Plans are underway to implement precision navigation in the Lower Mississippi River Port Complex as well as in the Port of New York/New Jersey. The program is currently developing a stakeholder engagement strategy to determine needs that can be addressed by precision navigation in these ports.

These new initiatives build on the success of a demonstration project in the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach, where NOAA and its partners created high resolution depth maps and improved wave prediction, and combined them with water levels from the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®).  The improved services, integrated into commercial navigation software packages, allowed the port to increase the maximum draft of tankers from 65 feet to 69 feet. Each extra foot of draft translates to an additional $2 million of product per tanker transit. In addition, the increased draft allowance decreased lightering, which saves shippers an estimated $10 million per year. Expanding precision navigation to other high volume ports will reap additional economic benefits for the nation. Private industry beneficiaries of precision navigation include sectors such as the oil and gas industry, port authorities, shipping, fisheries, agriculture, and intermodal transportation networks.

The new NOAA program highlights the importance of public-private partnerships in improving the U.S. maritime transportation system. Precision navigation greatly improves safety and efficiency within the maritime community by reducing the risk of collisions and groundings while allowing vessels carry more goods in a single transit, which means fewer total trips. These benefits to maritime safety, the environment, and the economy will continue to grow as the precision navigation program brings this decision support tool to more ports around the country.

The world of S-100: Updated framework of maritime data standards to be released in 2018

By Julia Powell, Deputy Chief of the Coast Survey Development Lab

As e-Navigation becomes more popular, mariners are provided with streams of maritime data from multiple sources that allow them to more safely and efficiently navigate the seas. However, as the amount of information and number of sources grows, there is a need to standardize the data so it can be easily integrated and seamlessly displayed on navigation systems. Later this year, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) will publish edition 4.0.0 of S-100 – Universal Hydrographic Data Model. S-100 is the IHO’s framework for the standardization of maritime data products such as high resolution bathymetry, surface currents, marine protected areas, and the new standards for electronic navigational charts (ENCs).

At its foundation, the S-100 framework uses machine readable catalogs that will lead to plug and play systems and allow for easier updating of data standards. In other words, the S-100 framework and corresponding standards will be easily applied to a suite of S-series hydrographic products. NOAA is an active participant in the development of S-100 and associated product specifications, and works to align new products and services to the S-100 suite of standards under development. This will enable mariners to have more information integrated within their navigation systems which helps them plan optimal routes and make critical decisions at sea.

The new edition of S-100 framework and standards will allow computer systems and software to better exchange and make use of hydrographic data. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency
The new edition of S-100 framework and standards will allow computer systems and software to better exchange and make use of hydrographic data. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency

NOAA has several initiatives that align to S-100 products that are currently under development. For example, NOAA works to operationalize the soon-to-be published edition 1.0.0 of S-111 Surface Currents by extracting data from NOAA operational forecast systems and converting it into a format that can be ingested and displayed by navigation systems. In addition, the National Weather Service’s Ocean Prediction Center works through the World Meteorological Organization to produce S-412 Ocean Forecasts, which also utilizes the S-100 infrastructure. Other products, including S-102 – High Resolution Bathymetry, S-102 – Predicted Water Levels, and S-129 Underkeel Clearance Management Systems, are also in various stages of development that will eventually facilitate precision navigation in busy ports around the world.

Navigation products that follow the updated S-100 framework will allow many aspects of maritime navigation to be better connected. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency
Navigation products that follow the updated S-100 framework will allow many aspects of maritime navigation to be better connected. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency

The development of the S-100 infrastructure is governed by the IHO’s S-100 Working Group and is currently chaired by NOAA. A key item of focus for the S-100 Working Group during the next couple of years is the development of the S-100 Interoperability Specification, which provides a machine readable mechanism for front of bridge systems to portray different types of data in a harmonious fashion. Another focus area is the establishment of the S-100 Test Bed to support the testing of the wide range of S-100 based product specifications based on their intended use.

2018 represents a banner year in the development of S-100 and associated product specifications. The IHO is on track to release the latest edition of S-100, but also the product specifications for S-102 edition 2.0.0 – High Resolution Bathymetry, and the following first editions that will be used for system implementation:

  • S-101 – Electronic Navigational Charts
  • S-111 – Surface Currents
  • S-122 – Marine Protected Areas
  • S-123 – Radio Services

With the development of e-Navigation, an increasing number of stakeholders use the S-100 framework. By establishing and maintaining appropriate standards, the IHO’s release of edition 4.0.0 of the S-100 will assist in proper and efficient use of hydrographic data and information.

NOAA announces launch of crowdsourced bathymetry database

By Lt. Cmdr. Adam Reed, Integrated Oceans and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) Assistant Coordinator

Today NOAA announces the end of a testing phase in the development of a new crowdsourced bathymetry database. Bathymetric observations and measurements from participants in citizen science and crowdsourced programs are now archived and made available to the public through the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry (DCDB) Data Viewer. The operationalized database allows free access to millions of ocean depth data points, and serves as a powerful source of information to improve navigational products.

The crowdsourced bathymetry database, displayed in the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry Data Viewer, has an updated user interface.
The crowdsourced bathymetry database, displayed in the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry Data Viewer, has an updated user interface.

NOAA began database development in 2014 with the IHO Crowdsourced Bathymetry Working Group. The database is part of the IHO DCDB and is hosted at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which offers access to archives of oceanic, atmospheric, geophysical, and coastal data. Sea-ID, a maritime technology company, provided early testing and support and is currently working to encourage data contributions from the international yachting community. Ongoing participation from Rose Point Navigation Systems, a provider of marine navigation software, helped kickstart the stream of data from a crowd of mariners.

The crowdsourced bathymetry database now contains more than 117 million points of depth data, which have been used by hydrographers and cartographers to improve chart products and our knowledge of the seafloor. NOAA, working with George Mason University, is using the database depths to assess nautical chart adequacy, determine when areas require updated survey information, and identify chart discrepancies before an incident occurs. The Canadian Hydrographic Service used this dataset to update several charts of the Inside Passage, a network of coastal routes stretching from Seattle, Washington, to Juneau, Alaska.

Data are contributed to the database through a variety of trusted sources (e.g., partner companies, non-profit groups)—referred to as “trusted nodes”—that enable mariners to volunteer seafloor depths measured by their vessels. Contributors have the option to submit their data anonymously or provide additional information (vessel or instrument configuration) that can enrich the dataset. The trusted node compiles the observations and submits them to the crowdsourced bathymetry database, where anyone can access the near real-time data for commercial, scientific, or personal use.

Mariners provided millions of bathymetry data points to the crowdsourced bathymetry database by voluntarily submitting the depth data collected by their vessels.
Mariners provided millions of bathymetry data points to the crowdsourced bathymetry database by voluntarily submitting the depth data collected by their vessels.

NOAA invites maritime companies to support this crowdsourcing effort in their systems by making it simple for users to participate. For example, Rose Point Navigation Systems further promoted the IHO crowdsourced bathymetry initiative by moving the option to collect and contribute bathymetry data to a more visible section of their program options menu.

By submitting crowdsourced bathymetry data, mariners provide a powerful source of information to supplement current bathymetric coverage. Nautical charts need to be updated as marine sediments shift due to storm events, tides, and other coastal processes that affect busy maritime zones along the coast. Crowdsourced bathymetry data helps cartographers determine whether a charted area needs to be re-surveyed, or if they can make changes based on the information at hand. In some cases, crowdsourced bathymetry data can fill in gaps where bathymetric data is scarce, such as unexplored areas of the Arctic and open ocean and also shallow, complex coastlines that are difficult for traditional survey vessels to access. Crowdsourced bathymetry data is also used to identify dangers to navigation, in which case NOAA can issue a Notice to Mariners about the navigation hazard within 24 hours.

The utility of crowdsourced bathymetry data extends beyond the territory of the United States and into international mapping efforts. Seabed 2030 is a global mapping initiative to produce a complete, high-resolution bathymetric map of the world’s seafloor by 2030. GEBCO (which operates under the IHO and International Oceanographic Commission) and the Nippon Foundation launched the initiative in 2017, and received NOAA-wide commitment of resources and support.

Seafloor mapping is integral to many NOAA products, and crowdsourced bathymetric data supports NOAA’s Integrated Oceans and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) initiatives to maximize potential sources and use of mapping data. Crowdsourced efforts are poised to become a major source of information for improving nautical chart coverage and accuracy, and the crowdsourced bathymetry database contributes to national and international seafloor mapping efforts as a growing repository of bathymetric data.

Any mention of a commercial product is for informational purposes and does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Government or any of its employees or contractors.

NOAA adds grid overlay to chart anchorage areas in Port of New York and New Jersey

NOAA Coast Survey recently released updates for two NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) in the Port of New York and New Jersey, which added a permanent grid system overlay to anchorages in Bay Ridge, Graves End, and Stapleton. Coast Survey performed the update at the request of the Harbor Operations Steering Committee and collaborated with the Sandy Hook Pilots Association and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Sector New York’s Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). 

The overlays, created by the Sandy Hook Pilots, consist of parallel and vertical lines that are labeled and charted over the anchorage areas. The VTS adopted this grid system overlay and uses it to assign specific anchorage locations for ship pilots and captains of tug and barge combinations.

A grid overlay of anchorage grounds in the updated Port of New York and New Jersey ENCs, US5NY19M and US5NY1CM
A grid overlay of anchorage grounds in the updated Port of New York and New Jersey ENCs, US5NY19M and US5NY1CM.

“Incorporating these overlays in an ENC will increase safety and efficiency in the port’s limited anchorage space. VTS will be able to clearly direct a vessel to a specific grid location, and that vessel will be able to see the location on their electronic chart system,” said USCG Capt. M.H. Day, Captain of the Port, Sector New York.

Coast Survey prioritizes new data for chart updates as being either “critical” or “routine” (i.e. “non-critical.”)  Critical corrections – items that pose an immediate danger to mariners – are published by the USCG in their weekly Local Notices to Mariners. Mariners who purchased a paper copy of a NOAA chart may hand correct their chart or purchase an updated chart from one of NOAA’s certified print agents. Digital versions of the charts are updated each week with items published in the USCG Local Notice to Mariners. Mariners interested in seeing where both critical and routine corrections fall on a given chart each week can use the Weekly Updates Site. Updates to this site are underway which will provide mariners greater flexibility in viewing an accumulation of changes over a specified date range rather than viewing them week by week.

Online NOAA Custom Chart lets boaters create their own charts

A prototype version of a powerful new online tool, NOAA Custom Chart, is now available for boaters and other nautical chart users. The application enables users to define the scale and paper size of custom-made nautical charts centered on a position of their choosing. Once the functionality of this prototype is fully developed, NOAA Custom Chart will be an easy way for boaters to create a paper or digital back-up for the electronic chart system or other GPS-enabled chart display that they are using on board.

NOAA Custom Chart creates a geospatially referenced PDF (GeoPDF) from the NOAA electronic navigational chart (NOAA ENC®) database. In the final operational version of the application, chart notes and other margin notes will be placed at the bottom, below the chart neatline, similar to USGS topographic (US Topo) maps. The user may download, view, and print the output.

NOAA Custom Chart makes it easy for users to create a personalized chart.
NOAA Custom Chart makes it easy for users to create a personalized chart.

There are several options for customizing the appearance of the chart data. The prototype creates charts with either the “traditional” or “simplified” symbology of the Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) used by professional mariners. Future versions of NOAA Custom Chart will add a full paper chart symbology option.

U.S.CustomChart_Interface
Simple interface lets users choose a scale, paper size, and the center of their own chart.

If you are interested in customizing your own nautical charts, visit NOAA Custom Chart. Then tell us your ideas for improving it through NOAA’s Nautical Inquiry & Comment System. 

 

NOAA mobile integrated survey team prepares for hurricane season

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the federal leader in emergency hydrographic response. Consecutive strong storms during the 2017 hurricane season made response efforts challenging, and emphasized the importance of having a well-trained and versatile staff. Coast Survey’s regional navigation managers, navigation response teams (NRTs), and mobile integrated survey team (MIST) worked with partners before and after the storms to quickly and safely reopen ports and waterways.

The MIST equipment is a mobile, quick-install side scan and single beam sonar kit that can be quickly set up on a vessel of opportunity. Recently, Coast Survey sent the MIST team to Astoria, Oregon to conduct a hydrographic survey of the Mott Basin area, which the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requested to confirm charted depth and obstruction data.

The MIST group used this as an opportunity to give NRTs experience with setup, usage, and tear down of MIST equipment, as well as to perform a system test prior to the upcoming hurricane season.

Data collection in the Mott Basin aboard the USCG Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (TANB) vessel
Data collection in the Mott Basin aboard the USCG Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (TANB) vessel

The team installed and integrated the MIST equipment on a USCG Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (TANB) vessel. TANB vessels are normally used for navigation aid maintenance, but can serve as a vessel of opportunity for hydrographic surveys using MIST equipment. During the 2017 hurricane season, NOAA used USCG vessels of opportunity in Florida and Puerto Rico for rapid hydrographic survey response.

Setting up the MIST equipment on a USCG TANB vessel
Setting up the MIST equipment on a USCG TANB vessel

The deployment to Mott Basin in not only provided USCG with hydrographic data to meet their operational mission, but also allowed NOAA to exercise equipment that will be critical to any upcoming storm or emergency response.

The MIST and USCG survey crew. Tim Wilkinson (NRT3, far left),Erin Diurba (NRT4, second from left), Alex Ligon (NRT1, second from right) and Mike Annis (HQ, far right) represented Coast Survey.
The MIST and USCG survey crew. Tim Wilkinson (NRT3, far left), Erin Diurba (NRT4, second from left), Alex Ligon (NRT1, second from right) and Mike Annis (HQ, far right) represented Coast Survey.

Coast Survey’s NRTs conduct hydrographic surveys to update NOAA’s suite of nautical charts. The teams are strategically located around the country and remain on call to respond to emergencies speeding the resumption of shipping after storms, and protecting life and property from underwater dangers to navigation.

NOAA navigation response team investigates hazardous shoal off Rockaway Point, NY

Recently, NOAA navigation response team 5 (NRT5), responded to a survey request from U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Sector New York following several groundings near Rockaway Point in Queens, New York. Waves and currents often influence the size and shape of nearshore sandbars, and the USCG was concerned that a sandbar may have expanded beyond the area depicted on the nautical chart. Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten, Eli Smith, and Michael Bloom traveled from New London, Connecticut, to Jersey City, New Jersey, to launch their vessel and start the survey of the area.

NRT5’s survey area around the large sandbar off Rockaway Point.
NRT5’s survey area around the large sandbar off Rockaway Point.

The location of the shoal and characteristics of the sandbar created challenging conditions for the survey team. In addition, the crew was asked to survey at a tighter contour (6-foot) than the standard 4-meter (13.1-foot) contour so that they could more clearly define the boundaries of the shoal. To fulfill this requirement, the crew of NRT5 took strong precautions to mitigate risks associated with surveying in shallow water with breaking waves and strong currents, and closely monitored conditions for changes throughout the day.

The shoal, located off Rockaway Point at the northern end of Raritan Bay, is exposed to both open ocean swells and strong tidal currents (left image, from surveyed area). The interaction of tides, currents, and waves surrounding the shoal produce rolling breakers (right photo). Wave energy stirs up the sediment and suspends large volumes of sand in the water column. Wave energy fluctuates as the tide ebbs and flows, and sand is washed away and deposited elsewhere – in this case, it formed a mostly permanent sand bar off of Rockaway Point.
The shoal, located off Rockaway Point at the northern end of Raritan Bay, is exposed to both open ocean swells and strong tidal currents (left image, from surveyed area). The interaction of tides, currents, and waves surrounding the shoal produce rolling breakers (right photo). Wave energy stirs up the sediment and suspends large volumes of sand in the water column. Wave energy fluctuates as the tide ebbs and flows, and sand is washed away and deposited elsewhere – in this case, it formed a mostly permanent sandbar off of Rockaway Point.

Conditions changed quickly. The northeast experienced unseasonably warm temperatures, and a thick blanket of fog engulfed New York Harbor as the warm air met the cold water of the ocean, harbors, and bays. With weather conditions thought to be better outside of the harbor and to likely improve later in the morning, the team cautiously transited to the project area and found conditions were indeed much more favorable.

Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten keeping a steady watch through the thick fog.
Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten keeping a steady watch through the thick fog.

Despite the challenges, NRT5 successfully completed the survey of the area by the end of the week. While the 6-foot contour was not reached in all areas due to breaking waves, the data was interpolated to that scale using lines of data run across the shoal in between wave sets. NRT5 has processed and analyzed the acquired data and Coast Survey will use it to create products to improve the resolution of the charted shoal and prevent future incidents.

During NRT5’s responses in areas surrounding the New York Harbor, the USCG Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) in Bayonne, New Jersey, offered the team a spot to dock their vessel at the end of the day. This sheltered station provided safety from poor weather conditions and allowed the team to quickly transit to project areas. Here, NOAA survey vessel S3007 is moored alongside at the USCG station.
During NRT5’s responses in areas surrounding the New York Harbor, the USCG Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) in Bayonne, New Jersey, offered the team a spot to dock their vessel at the end of the day. This sheltered station provided safety from poor weather conditions and allowed the team to quickly transit to project areas. Here, NOAA survey vessel S3007 is moored alongside at the USCG station.
Survey data coverage acquired around the sandbar. The black line marks the 12-foot depth contour and the red dashed line marks the interpolated 6-foot depth contour. The wreck symbols indicate where vessel groundings occurred in the weeks prior to this survey.
Survey data coverage acquired around the sandbar. The black line marks the 12-foot depth contour and the red dashed line marks the interpolated 6-foot depth contour. The wreck symbols indicate where vessel groundings occurred in the weeks prior to this survey.

Coast Survey’s NRTs conduct hydrographic surveys to update NOAA’s suite of nautical charts. The teams are strategically located around the country and remain on call to respond to emergencies speeding the resumption of shipping after storms, and protecting life and property from underwater dangers to navigation. NRT5 team members contributed the content of this story.