NOAA welcomes local and international attendees at 2018 Nautical Cartography Open House

Last week NOAA Coast Survey welcomed approximately 170 attendees representing 17 countries to the 2018 Nautical Cartography Open House. Industry partners, members of the public, and other government agencies attended, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Naval Hydrographic and Oceanic Service (SHOM) from France, Canadian Hydrographic Service, Dalian Naval Academy, National Taiwan Ocean University, and the Joint Hydrographic Center/Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (JHC/CCOM).

This one-day event featured posters, presentations, tours, and exhibits centered around four themes: Applied Cartography within the U.S., International Cartography, Electronic Navigational Chart Production and Validation, and Capacity Building. Capt. Marc van der Donck from the Royal Netherlands Navy gave the keynote speech, and Coast Survey’s Rear Adm. Shep Smith welcomed the attendees.

Capt. van der Donck spoke on the past, present, and future of cartography.
Capt. van der Donck (Netherlands) spoke on the past, present, and future of cartography.

The 2018 open house built on the success of last year’s inaugural event. This year, the event included informational stations on historic pen and ink cartographic processes as well as modern cartographic techniques and displays. Attendees were also able to join tours of NOAA Science on the Sphere® and see cartographic visualizations of oceanic and atmospheric data.

Coast Survey employees speak with Rear Adm. Gallaudet (Navy, Ret.) about cartographic processes before computers.
Coast Survey employees speak with Rear Adm. Gallaudet (Navy, Ret.) about cartographic processes before computers.

The goals of open house were to report on current and future activities in cartography and GIS, establish a regional and international network of cartographers in the field of nautical charting, create collaborative activities between international members, and identify challenges in generating, producing, maintaining, and distributing nautical charts. The open house provided the opportunity for international colleagues in marine cartography to network and share ideas.

Open house attendees interact during the poster session.
Open house attendees interact during the poster session.

The open house followed the International Cartographic Association (ICA) Working Group on Marine Cartography meeting and a three-day Chart Adequacy Workshop hosted by NOAA.

 

NOAA hosts 2018 Chart Adequacy Workshop

On July 23, NOAA Coast Survey hosted a three-day Chart Adequacy Workshop that included participants from 13 countries. This is the fourth Chart Adequacy Workshop held at NOAA’s Silver Spring, Maryland campus.

The participants of the 2018 Chart Adequacy Workshop.
Participants and instructors of the 2018 Chart Adequacy Workshop.

The main goal of the workshop is to provide training for professional cartographers and hydrographers on techniques for assessing nautical chart adequacy using publicly-available information, such as satellite images and maritime automatic identification system (AIS) data. The participants received an overview on Coast Survey datasets, processes, and requirements for nautical charts. They also learned about preprocessing hydrographic data, such as loading charts, uploading imagery, and applying electronic navigation charts (ENCs) and AIS point data. Through a series of lab units, the attendees practiced performing the concepts they learned.

Unlike previous years (2017, 2016, 2015), the focus of this class was on networking and support for the upcoming International Cartographic Association (ICA) Working Group on Marine Cartography meeting held on July 26 and in preparation for next year’s International Cartographic Conference (ICC). During the 2019 ICC in Tokyo, Japan, a key focus for the Working Group on Marine Cartography will be to return to the status of a Commission on Marine Cartography.

An attendee shares information about her home cartographic offices with other participants.
An attendee shares information about her home cartographic offices with other participants.

The 2018 participants were from Australia, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Taiwan, and Trinidad and Tobago. The international nature of the event allows the participants to meet and learn from cartographers from a variety of backgrounds and expertise. The individuals were nominated by their home hydrographic offices and their travel was sponsored by the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).

Rear Adm. Shep Smith greets the workshop attendees as they begin a tour of the Coast Survey offices in Silver Spring, Maryland
Rear Adm. Shep Smith greets the workshop attendees as they begin a tour of the Coast Survey office in Silver Spring, Maryland

The workshop was developed in part to address the need to improve the collection, quality, and availability of hydrographic data world-wide, and increase the standardization of chart adequacy evaluations across the globe. Coast Survey is currently working with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) to recommend participants for next year’s workshop.

First U.S. federal channel using USACE survey data receives improved quality classification from NOAA

By Rachel Medley

The U.S. federal channel in the Delaware Bay is vital to maritime commerce, leading deep draft vessel traffic to and from the major ports of Wilmington, Delaware,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey. To navigate this federally maintained waterway safely and efficiently, mariners rely on the surveyed depths displayed on nautical charts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Philadelphia District regularly surveys this area, utilizing sophisticated techniques and equipment to map the depths of the seafloor. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, in turn, adds quality classifications to these channel depths and displays them on the nautical chart.

The portion of the federal channel from Newbold Channel Range down to the mouth of the Delaware Bay is the first waterway in the U.S. to have an improved quality classification assigned to USACE survey data—category of zone of confidence (CATZOC)  A2. Improving survey quality and upgrading the CATZOC classification allows operators to accommodate smaller margins of error while still ensuring that navigating maritime approaches and constrained environments remain safe. These decreased tolerances allow ships to maximize their loads, ultimately increasing inbound and outbound cargoes.

“This is a huge leap forward toward the sophistication of nautical charts, and will help the maritime sector along the Delaware River. I want to commend the men and women at NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers District Philadelphia for working together to provide safer timely high-quality data for maritime commerce. I applaud Commerce Secretary Ross for recognizing the vital role that NOAA’s Coast Survey provides to the maritime industry and thank him for this outcome. This synergy between NOAA and the Army Corps is exciting to see, and I support efforts to replicate this pilot project in other ports and waterways around the country.”

  • U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)
View of the Delaware River from MSC Gayane outbound off Fort Miffilin Range.
View of the Delaware River from MSC Gayane outbound off Fort Mifflin Range. Credit: Captain J. Stuart Griffin, Mariners’ Advisory Committee Chairman (MAC) and Delaware River and Bay Pilot.

Allowing additional draft. What’s it worth?

Upgrading how NOAA encodes USACE channel depth data reduces additional safety margins applied to the draft of large ships during transit and berthing operations. The USACE District Philadelphia is in the process of deepening the Delaware River from Philadelphia to the sea, with a controlling depth in the federal channel from 40 feet to 45 feet (from Beckett Street Terminal north the channel remains authorized at 40 feet). Every foot of draft represents a significant dollar amount in the shipping industry depending on the type of cargo the ship is carrying. For instance in Long Beach, California, for every extra foot of draft allowed by the port, tank vessels can add $2 million of extra product. As ships load cargo, the draft of the ship increases—in the case of the Delaware River, the draft cannot exceed the 45-foot controlling depth (once USACE completes dredging) or the ship will run aground.

Shipping companies and insurance underwriters determine the maximum draft allowed for a vessel during transits of waterways in U.S. ports, adding a margin of error to the draft for safety. In some cases a safety margin of 25-30% may be added, ultimately resulting in dollars lost for the shipping and terminal operators. Not to mention, negating the expense and time involved in dredging a channel. The navigational tolerances are determined using guidelines that include the known quality of survey data in a particular waterway. The better the quality of the survey, the lower the risk associated with the ship transit, resulting in additional cargo loading per transit.

What is CATZOC?

Survey data within an electronic navigation chart (ENC) is encoded with a data quality indication known as CATZOC. CATZOC quality helps the mariner determine the accuracy of charted conditions on the seafloor at the time of the last survey. In particular, the mariner should understand that nautical chart data, especially when displayed on navigation systems and mobile apps, possess inherent accuracy limitations. CATZOC quality designations, A1-D, are the specifications that were met at the time of the survey.

Currently all federal channels are designated as a CATZOC B if the USACE has collected the data. This a recent development as previously all federal channels were designated as a CATZOC ‘U’ for Unassessed. Rear Adm. Shep Smith, Director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, was asked by Intertanko, a maritime association that represents the interests of the tanker industry, to remove the ‘U’ designation on ENCs as it was impeding the industry’s ability to do a proper risk model assessment of ships entering U.S. ports. Nationwide, the USACE is the federal authority for maintaining federal channels; NOAA does not normally assess USACE surveys and as such designated all surveys as a CATZOC B.

USACE survey techniques factor into CATZOC quality

The maintenance of all federal channels falls under the jurisdiction of the USACE, and as such, Coast Survey recognizes the USACE as the authority for survey data acquired in these active waterways. USACE districts around the country help the flow of commerce in and out of the nation’s busiest ports and Coast Survey applies data from 22 of these districts to nautical charts for safe navigation by deep draft vessels. The USACE districts use sonar equipment to measure sediment movement within the channel to maintain channel-controlling depths and determine dredging needs.

The USACE Philadelphia District is unique in that it is fully utilizing its multibeam sonar equipment, which has the capacity to survey large swaths of the seafloor and detect features and obstructions that might be harmful to deep draft vessels. As vessels in the nation’s waterways continue to grow in size, USACE districts that are utilizing their multibeam systems are helping to ensure that the general bathymetry of the seafloor bottom is well known at the time of the survey. This is particularly important as vessel drafts are nearing the seafloor bottom in port areas across the country, running higher risk of hitting a feature or object in the waterway.

“The Delaware River port community is taking steps to utilize the planned deepening of the main channel.  We are already seeing arrivals of post-Panamax sized vessels that require special transit considerations and planning. Our valued partnerships with USCG, USACE, and NOAA are critical to the safe movement of deep-draft commercial traffic in our waterway. As the USACE nears completion of the project to deepen the main shipping channel, improvements in sounding data quality have enabled NOAA to provide safety assurances to shippers in the form of improved CATZOC designation for the estuary. This has real-world relevance to ship owners and charterers who move vessels on the Delaware and will allow them to more effectively utilize the full channel depth upon completion of the deepening project.”

  • Capt. J. Stuart Griffin, Chair of the Mariners’ Advisory Committee (MAC) and Delaware River & Bay Pilot

Updating NOAA nautical charts

Coast Survey is exploring various ways of changing and improving charted information for the mariner as outlined in the National Charting Plan. Coast Survey is working with USACE Philadelphia District to determine the CATZOC quality of the survey data acquired in the Delaware River. The CATZOC value of the surveys collected over the past year by USACE District Philadelphia have been designated by Coast Survey as meeting a CATZOC A2 standard. There is a significant improvement in survey quality designation from a CATZOC B to a CATZOC A2. CATZOC A2 seafloor coverage indicates that the full area was surveyed and allows for the detection of significant seafloor features. CATZOC B seafloor coverage does not have sufficient quality or resolution, indicating that while hazardous objects are not expected, they may exist and may be undetected because of the survey quality.

Coast Survey has encoded ENCs with the CATZOC A2 quality in portions of the federal channel along the Delaware River that are surveyed by the USACE District Philadelphia utilizing robust multibeam survey methods. There is not a refresh rate or time frame required with international CATZOC standards, however, USACE Philadelphia District typically resurveys the main navigation channel on an annual basis using the same multibeam survey techniques that NOAA used to assess the current CATZOC value.

Potential impact to shipping companies and terminal operators

For the portion of the federal navigation channel from Newbold Channel Range down to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, this designation will decrease the risk margin placed on ships transiting the waterway and make fuller use of the actual controlling depths in this waterway.  Additionally, “this could potentially help to lessen the expense and risk of lightering operations,” reports Eric Clarke, marine operations cargomaster at Philadelphia Energy Solutions.  Commonly, shipping companies whose risk models are calculated using the CATZOC B quality levels mandate lightering operations before transiting to terminals where water depths are more restrictive.

Through coordination efforts between USACE Districts and Coast Survey, federal agencies are working to serve up better data and information to the mariner so they can make more informed decisions to keep commerce moving effectively and safely in the nation’s busiest waterways.


The author, Rachel Medley, is chief of the Customer Affairs Branch at NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. She also serves as the NOAA liaison to the Delaware River and Bay for navigation issues. For more information, please contact Rachel.Medley@noaa.gov

Poster symposium marks milestone for inaugural class of the NOAA certification program in nautical cartography

NOAA’s Christie Ence (left), Megan Bartlett (third from left), and Noel Dyer (right) explain their posters to attendees of the poster symposium at the University of Maryland.
NOAA’s Christie Ence (left), Megan Bartlett (third from left), and Noel Dyer (right) explain their posters to attendees of the poster symposium at the University of Maryland.

Students of NOAA’s certification program in nautical cartography completed their final projects and presented them along with other Master of Professional Studies in GIS students during a poster symposium at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences. At the event, NOAA students explained their capstone projects and described how their research benefits nautical charting at NOAA. Project topics included:

  • Improving Shoreline Application to NOAA Electronic Navigational Charts, Megan Bartlet
  • An Automated Approach to Generate Nautical Vector Features from Raster Bathymetric Attributed Grid Data, Noel Dyer
  • Developing a Rasterization Procedure for Vector Chart Data, Christie Ence
  • NOAA Chart Discrepancies: A Temporal and Spatial Analysis for Navigation Response Teams, Lt. Cmdr. Matt Forney
  • Airborne Lidar Bathymetry’s Impact on NOAA Charts, Andres Garrido
  • Validating and Refining the Proposed Rescheming of NOAA Electronic Navigational Charts, Colby Harmon
  • High Resolution Bathymetry as an Alternative to Charting Controlling Depths in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Channels, Craig Winn
  • Satellite Derived Bathymetry: An Alternative Analysis to Nautical Chart Updates, Aleah Worthem

This inaugural class will complete an internship as part of the program over the summer and receive their certificates in September 2018.

NOAA’s Colby Harmon (center) and Craig Winn (right) talk nautical charting with capstone course instructor Dr. Jonathan Resop at the poster symposium.
NOAA’s Colby Harmon (center) and Craig Winn (right) talk nautical charting with capstone course instructor Dr. Jonathan Resop at the poster symposium.
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Lt. Cmdr. Matt Forney (right) explains nautical chart discrepancies and their importance to NOAA’s navigation response teams.

NOAA’s certification program in nautical cartography, recognized and approved by the International Board on Standards and Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers (IBSC), grants certificates to up to 13 cartographers per year. Students learn through a combination of lectures, hands-on chart production experience, work details to various branches within the Coast Survey, and field trips to working hydrographic survey vessels. The first class began in fall 2017 at Coast Survey headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The duration of the program is 51 weeks and comprises six courses.

The 2018 certification program in nautical cartography starts in August 2018. The class is already full with another 13 students, 12 from NOAA and one from the Nigerian Navy.

 

 

 

 

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.

Navigating waters before GPS: Why some mariners still refer to Loran-C

by Nick Perugini

One of the most popular recurring questions received by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey involves customers – typically fishermen – wanting to obtain a chart with a Loran-C navigation grid on it. Here are a few inquiries from NOAA’s Nautical Inquiry & Comment System:

  • Hello, I was wondering if it is still possible to purchase or locate older editions of Lake Huron charts (14862-3-4) with the LORAN-C overlay. Many older wrecks and reported snags are still in Loran and have not been converted to GPS. Artificial algorithms are difficult to use when plotting grids. Any help you can give me is much appreciated.
  • Is it possible to access Loran-C charts of New England from prior to 2009 when NOAA stopped published with the LORAN-C lines? THANKS!
  • I was wondering if there was a way for me to buy a chart that has LORAN lines and notes on it? I understand that all of the new charts no longer have this information on them. I am most interested in Chart 11520, Cape Hatteras to Charleston. I didn’t know if there might be an archived form of this chart that shows the LORAN features. Any help in finding a chart like this would be greatly appreciated.

A quick history lesson on Loran-C: Loran (Long range navigation) was a hyperbolic radio navigation system developed in World War II. Loran grid lines (actually hyperbolas) first appeared on nautical charts during the 1950’s. The intersection of these electronic lines of position generated from shore transmitters provided mariners with accurate positions, within hundreds of feet, as their vessels operated nearshore as well as many hundreds of miles offshore. In the 1970’s, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) upgraded Loran-A to Loran-C, a system that was even more accurate and much easier to use.

However, positioning technology marches on. With the dawning of a high accuracy Global Positioning System (GPS) in the early 1990s, Loran-C slowly became antiquated and finally the USCG took Loran-C transmitting stations offline in 2010. With no Loran-C signal, Coast Survey followed suit and began to eliminate Loran-C lattices from nautical charts. Most charting customers welcomed the removal of the busy lattices from the chart as it made the chart more readable.

The entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, Chart 12221, with a Loran-C grid on the 2009 edition (left) and without Loran-C (right).
The entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, Chart 12221, with a Loran-C grid on the 2009 edition (left) and without Loran-C (right).

So why do some people still want nautical charts with a Loran-C lattice? Prior to GPS, many fishermen and commercial diving operations did not use a true latitude and longitude (Lat/Lon) geographic coordinate system to position their offshore features. They identified their favorite fishing or diving locations by Loran-C time delay coordinates. When Loran-C lattices were removed from NOAA charts, many fishermen were left with Loran-C coordinates that had no corresponding Lat/Lon. Therefore, they did not have a way of plotting their Loran-C coordinates on current charts.

The Office of Coast Survey Historical Map & Chart Collection provides one way to address the problem. Users can find editions of their charts published prior to 2010 that would likely contain a Loran-C lattice. While historical charts should not be used for navigation today since they have not been updated, they can be used to convert Loran-C coordinates to Lat/Lon (GPS coordinates). Customers can download charts as high-resolution images, transfer the files to a flash drive, and take it to a local printer who can print the charts in a large format. Alternatively, some electronic chart systems allow you to display Loran-C lattices over current up-to-date charts, or to import a chart image, define its Lat/Lon origin, and utilize it with chart plotter software.

So is Loran gone forever? Not quite. In fact, Loran is making a comeback as Enhanced Loran, i.e. “eLoran.” With increased awareness of the vulnerabilities of satellite positioning systems, there is a growing consensus in the national security community that an independent back-up positioning system is required. The USCG and other organizations within the Department of Homeland Security are conducting tests on eLoran. Like the original Loran-C, the new system would have shore-based transmitters that generate hyperbolic grids. Unlike the old system, eLoran would be much more accurate with differential corrections built into the signal transmissions. When and if eLoran comes to fruition, you will not see Loran grid lines returning to NOAA charts since receivers will likely be working in a Lat/Lon coordinate system.

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.