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.

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 makes forecast data easier to display in marine navigation systems

By, Neil Weston, Office of Coast Survey Technical Director

Have you ever been on the water when weather and sea conditions suddenly change? As mariners can attest, decisions need to be made quickly. Many rely on NOAA operational forecast system (OFS) data—a national network of nowcast and forecast models—to make decisions about their situation on the water. NOAA OFS are available to the mariner as data streams through a variety of websites, including nowCOAST™. However, only recently has OFS data been viewable on marine navigation systems, making it even more convenient for those needing to make critical decisions on the water.

Rose Point’s Coastal Explorer displays NOAA surface current data.
Rose Point’s Coastal Explorer, one example of many navigation software packages available, displays NOAA surface current data.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey recently started producing OFS data in formats that are easily ingested by marine navigation systems, such as Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), portable pilot units (PPU), and electronic charting systems (ECS). These data not only have the potential to display nowcasts and forecasts in real-time on navigation system displays, but can also optimize route planning for commercial ships. Ultimately, these model forecast data will be available for machine-to-machine exchange, with data file sizes small enough to enable delivery from shore to vessel over existing communication and data networks.

Nowcasts and forecasts are scientific predictions about the present and near future state of a coastal marine environment including water levels, currents, salinity, and sea surface temperature for many coastal regions. OFS are national networks of operational nowcast and forecast models that consist of automated integration of observing system data, hydrodynamic model predictions, product dissemination, and continuous quality control monitoring. These versatile systems can be used for a variety of activities such as search and rescue, recreational boating, fishing, and storm effect tracking.

Seapilot Navigation computes the optimized route from start to finish via any waypoints, considering wind, current, land, shallow water and the properties of the boat.
Seapilot Navigation computes the optimized route from start to finish via any waypoints, considering wind, current, land, shallow water and the properties of the boat. This system also displays NOAA OFS data (surface currents).

Initially, the Coast Survey converted surface current data for several OFS regions from a format primarily used by scientists (netCDF), to a format more widely used in meteorology (GRIB 1 & 2). A parallel developmental effort is underway to include conversion of netCDF data to an internationally recognized format (HDF5) adopted by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). Within the IHO, many product specifications, including tides, water levels, and currents, are developed using HDF5 encoding. The goal is to produce products and services that comply to internationally accepted standards such as those adopted by the IHO. Compliance with these standards increases data interoperability, allowing navigation platforms to easily ingest and display the data. Coast Survey plans to disseminate OFS data in the HDF5 format by the end of 2018.

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 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 RNC Tile Service displays first ENC-only product

NOAA Office of Coast Survey released its 1:12,000 electronic navigational chart (NOAA ENC®of the Merrimack River, Massachusetts, in the RNC Tile Service. This is the first time a navigational chart—created solely as ENC product—is included in the tile service. The tile service renders a traditional depiction of the nautical chart for use with GPS-enabled electronic chart systems or other “chart plotter” display systems to provide real-time vessel positioning for recreational mariners. This chart is included in the single chart tile sets and the quilted tile sets both in the online and offline versions.

The Merrimack River, located in Massachusetts, is just south of the New Hampshire border.The single chart tile set is named​ 13274K0000_1.
The Merrimack River, located in Massachusetts, is just south of the New Hampshire border. The single chart tile set for this area is named​ 13274K0000_1.

The tile service version of the Merrimack chart retains the look of a NOAA paper chart but is derived from the ENC charting database. This gives users the opportunity to use ENC-only data with a traditional NOAA chart feel. NOAA intends to incorporate all future charts that are produced only as ENCs into the tile service (ENC-only charts are outlined in the National Charting Plan, page 25).

“This release represents a major milestone in nautical charting,”  said Rear Admiral Shepard Smith, the director of Coast Survey.  “This is the first chart that was digital from its inception, breaking with the longstanding practice of digital charts based on paper charts.”  

For professional mariners, it is important to note that there is no paper chart equivalent, and that this chart will not be served by the Notice to Mariners systems provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  Updates will be made as necessary by NOAA weekly.  Customers with compatible applications will get the updates automatically.

The original 1:12,000 ENC of the Merrimack River was released at this time last year. Recognizing the need for a more detailed chart, a group of local and state stakeholders concerned with the economic revitalization of the area contacted NOAA to create a new, larger-scale chart. The new, larger-scale ENC was compiled using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data, NOAA lidar data, and privately funded survey data. When shown in detail, the combined data provides mariners with a clearer picture of the overall conditions and dangers to navigation. The availability of this chart in the RNC tile service provides mariners greater flexibility in viewing the chart.

This update to the RNC tile service also includes the ArcGIS Tile Metadata Service, adding support for source chart metadata from within ArcMap and other GIS applications. Instructions for loading the tile metadata into ArcMap have been added to the developer’s website.

merrimack-tileservice3
Instructions for loading tile metadata into ArcMap are available from the tile service website.

The ArcGIS Tile Metadata Service can be accessed from a web application, as shown below in our ArcGIS sample viewer for the quilted tile set.

merrimack-tileservice4
ArcGIS sample viewer for the quilted tile set.

 

 

Assisting tow industry along Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route

The Inner Harbor Navigation Channel in New Orleans facilitates the transportation of tens of millions of tons of cargo each year. Since the channel was recently closed for repairs, a temporary Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route was established to ensure the flow of commerce between the western and eastern reaches of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. NOAA experts assisted with the alternate route development in various ways, collaborating with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the maritime industry.

Navigation manager Tim Osborn represented NOAA on the Coast Guard’s weekly conference calls on the alternate route, asking for industry suggestions on how we could assist. Based on these collaborations, Coast Survey updated the nautical charts with the newly installed Aids to Navigation, while the National Weather Service began providing localized weather forecasts and warnings along the route. In addition, Coast Survey contracted David Evans and Associates (DEA) to survey the southern 33 miles of the total 66-mile proposed route. The survey required object detection survey coverage, with DEA submitting all observed soundings or obstructions shoaler than 12 feet as dangers to navigation. DEA found three dangers to navigation, and they were subsequently announced in the Local Notice to Mariners and applied to the applicable nautical charts.

NOAA survey Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route

Alternate Route DTONs

NOAA will continue to support the tow industry using the alternate route by adding new navigation data to the chart as we receive it, as well as by providing specialized weather reports along the route throughout the estimated three-month closure of the Inner Harbor Navigation lock in New Orleans.

NOAA Coast Survey, Coast Guard, and Army Corps of Engineers schedule public “listening sessions”

Over the past few decades, mariners have witnessed the rapid development, reliability, and availability of e-navigation components, such as the global positioning system (GPS) and electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS). These systems, and other technology, have fundamentally changed mariners’ reliance on traditional navigation services. In addition, the ability to manage data and information provided to the mariner through the automatic identification system (AIS) and cellular service has enhanced the interconnectivity between shore side information providers and shipboard users. These technological advances and data flow will help the mariner receive data, transmit data, and generally improve bridge resource management, situational awareness, and navigational safety.

These fundamental changes present the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey with an opportunity to take the next steps in modernizing federal navigation services. Technology development compels these federal agencies to optimize the current aids to navigation, other maritime information systems, and nautical charting.

We want to hear from you, as we develop a federal development portfolio that will provide coordinated and timely delivery of navigational information and services. We invite you to attend one of our listening sessions, to tell us your emerging requirements for navigational information and service delivery systems in an eNAV environment.

  • Juneau, Alaska:  1 May, 1600-1700 hrs, Prospector Hotel
  • New Orleans, Louisiana:  7 May, 0900-1130 hrs, Port of New Orleans Auditorium
  • Honolulu, Hawaii:  19 May, Harbor View Center, 1129 N. Nimitz Hwy.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida:  22 May, 1700-1900 hrs, Embassy Suites, 110 SE 17th St.
  • Hampton Roads, Virginia:  22 May, 1700 hrs, Renaissance Hotel and Waterfront Conference Center, 425 Water St., Portsmouth
  • Boston, Massachusetts:  3 June, 1000-1200 hrs, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, 55 Broadway, Cambridge
  • Seattle, Washington:  3 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Downtown Seattle Public Library
  • New York, New York:  10 June, 1000-1200 hrs, Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, 1 Bowling Green, Manhattan
  • Oakland, California: 10 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Oakland Marriott, 1001 Broadway
  • Port Huron, Michigan:  12 June, time 1700 hrs, Double Tree Hotel, 800 Harker St.
  • Long Beach, California, 17 June, 1800-2000 hrs, Hyatt Regency Long Beach (Shoreline Ballroom), 200 South Pine Ave
  • St. Louis, Missouri:  18 June, 0900-1100 hrs, USACE National Great Rivers Museum (adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, in Alton, Illinois)

The Coast Guard is also developing an online survey tool for public comments. It will be available on or about 15 June.

Use the response box below to let us know if you want more information about any or all of the sessions.