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 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.

NOAA quickly updates nautical chart, allowing large ships to dock with confidence in Port Everglades

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey quickly updated NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) to accurately reflect the 225 foot expansion of a slip in Port Everglades, Florida. Now at a total length of 1,125 feet, the elongated slip allows larger ships to dock with confidence. The Port Everglades Pilots – maritime pilots who maneuver ships through crowded harbors and confined waters – requested the chart update. With ENCs that accurately reflect the slip expansion in their hands, pilots can easily communicate to vessel captains that it is safe to dock their vessels in the slip.

Port Everglades is one of the top three cruise ports in the world, and is among the most active cargo ports in the United States. Every slip is kept in high use, and Coast Survey used a new data process that allowed the most critical and valuable information to be applied quickly and made available to the end user.

To update nautical charts, Coast Survey historically applied data that covered the entire shoreline. This process was cumbersome and time-consuming as updates were based on a print (not digital) cycle. However, in this case, Coast Survey utilized discrete shoreline snippets of the target areas, provided by National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division (RSD), to ensure a quick turnaround of the corrected charts.

The 190-meter bulk carrier "Port Shanghai" using the recently extended portion of Slip 2 before the ENC was updated (left image), making it appear as though the vessel bow has grounded. After the ENC update, the change in the slip length was reflected in ENC cell US5FL32 and US4FL31 (right image). Credit: NOAA
The 190-meter bulk carrier “Port Shanghai” using the recently extended portion of Slip 2 before the ENC was updated (left image), making it appear as though the vessel bow has grounded. After the ENC update, the change in the slip length was reflected in ENC cell US5FL32 and US4FL31 (right image). Credit: NOAA

Harbor bathymetric survey data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and shoreline revision data from a georeferenced WorldView-2 image, compiled by the RSD, were used to update the harbor (1:10,000) and approach (1:80,000) ENC charts. This ENC-first, digital structure as outlined in the National Charting Plan helps Coast Survey quickly apply updates to charts, increase efficiency, and streamline data workflows.

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.

 

 

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.

Catch the digital wave in NOAA navigation products #Data4Coasts

Navigation manager Kyle Ward explains some of Coast Survey's new products at the Savannah Boat Show.
Navigation manager Kyle Ward explains some of Coast Survey’s new products at the Savannah Boat Show.

This week, NOAA’s National Ocean Service is inviting you to explore #Data4Coasts that NOS provides to the public, to researchers and decision makers, and to the many industries involved in coastal resilience and maritime commerce. Much of Coast Survey’s data for the coasts is easily accessible by downloading or by using a web map. Other products, like our beautiful printed nautical charts, are available for purchase – as they have been since the mid-1800s – from chart agents.

We’ve been making charts for a long time – and we’ve never been more excited about it! A quickly evolving (r)evolution is transforming the way we plan voyages and navigate, and Coast Survey is reconstructing our nautical product line for the millions of boaters and commercial pilots who are catching the new digital wave.

IMPROVING NAUTICAL CHARTS

Keeping paper charts more up-to-date
Everyone recognizes the comfort of using paper charts. They are reliable, easy to use, and incredibly informative. They are undeniably beautiful. However, with the bulk printing process we’ve used for the last 150 years, paper charts were often out of date on the day you purchased them. Sometimes they were way out of date, and you would have to spend hours manually applying critical updates. With the vast improvements in digital technology, we can now offer paper charts that are printed-on-demand – delivered where and when you want them ‒ with the critical corrections already incorporated into the charts.

Improving shoreline and feature accuracy
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessor organizations, established the geospatial foundation of America, with surveyors setting the grid, so to speak, by triangulating their way down the coasts and across the continent. Now we have GPS. We find that although the manual positioning was incredibly accurate for its time, remote sensing by NOAA LiDAR systems can produce a correction of 10 meters or more for feature positions on charts at the 1:15,000 scale. Those are vital corrections for precision navigation by vessels that can exceed a thousand feet long. The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division is flying the missions and gathering the precise data that we apply to our charts, to improve chart accuracy and update the ever-changing coastline.

GETTING MORE NAVIGATION INFORMATION INTO BOATERS’ HANDS

Coast Survey's map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download your pick of over a thousand charts.
Coast Survey’s map-based interactive chart catalog makes it easy to find and download your pick of over a thousand charts.

Adding free PDF charts to the product line
Nearly 2.3 million charts were downloaded within 90 days of last autumn’s beta release of NOAA’s new free PDF nautical charts. To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to avoid an accident at sea. So we decided to keep the thousand free PDFs as a permanent NOAA chart product. (Find and download your chart from Coast Survey’s interactive chart catalog.)

The PDF charts are exact images of NOAA’s traditional nautical charts. It’s important to remember, though, that printing PDFs may alter a chart’s scale, color, or legibility. Ships that are required to carry a navigational chart published by the National Ocean Service should obtain up-to-date printed charts from chart agents.

Providing format choices for the United States Coast Pilot
There are literally thousands of pages of navigation information that we can’t fit on to the charts. Nine volumes of the United States Coast Pilot® provide information on navigation regulations, facility locations, weather, and more – and now you have a choice of formats. If you need information for a specific bay or harbor, you might want to download a chapter. If you’re planning a longer voyage, you may want to keep an entire volume handy – so you should order it from a print-on-demand chart agent. Either way, with the U.S. Coast Pilot, you’ve got authoritative information.

MAKING DATA MORE ACCESSIBLE

More forecast information from nowCOAST
For the past 11 years, Coast Survey’s nowCOAST, a GIS-based web-mapping portal, has provided the coastal community with near-real-time surface observations, analyses, forecasts, model guidance, and selected warnings. Soon, nowCOAST will ask the public to test a new interactive map viewer that allows animation, and provides a suite of new “time-enabled” web map services.

NOAA ENC Online lets you see the ENC data without a specialized system.
NOAA ENC Online lets you see the ENC data without a specialized system.

ENC data available for viewing without a specialized system
Coast Survey provides free electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) to the public, but you need a specialized chart display system to use ENCs for navigation. Coast Survey recently introduced NOAA ENC Online, so you can view the data without the system. (IMMEDIATE CAVEAT FOR NAVIGATION: You still need a specialized display system to use the multi-layered functional data that makes ENCs so valuable.) Since NOAA ENC Online is web-based, there is nothing to download. Users can click on the web map and zoom to selected features or locations, to see the information contained in over a thousand ENCs of NOAA-charted waters.

ENC data available in GIS/CAD formats
While NOAA ENC Online lets you see the charted data and use it as a basemap, ENC Direct to GIS is a product for GIS experts who want to extract sets of features or themes for use in GIS analysis. Coast Survey has translated the electronic navigational chart data from S-57 format (the standard set by the International Hydrographic Organization) to a GIS-friendly format.

BUILDING ENCs FOR THE FUTURE

The International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires ships to carry to up-to-date nautical charts and publications for the intended voyage. Beginning in 2012, certain classes of vessels are required to use an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). The adoption of ECDIS is on a transition schedule, under U.S. Coast Guard regulations for ships in U.S. waters. Coast Survey is aggressively enlarging our suite of over a thousand ENC charts, as indicated by the recent addition of ENCs for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Coast Survey also worked with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to make their digital Panama Canal charts available as ENCs.

Why ENCs? They are the chart of the future, giving ships real-time navigation tools to avoid collisions and groundings. The navigation system software can continuously monitor the ship’s position relative to all of the features contained in the NOAA ENC, whether displayed or not, and sound alarms if it detects a hazardous situation. Similarly, the software can check that planned routes will provide safe passage for the vessel by checking for proximity to dangers and crossing areas with insufficient depth.

WHAT’S NEXT?

MyNOAACharts app popularity leads to better charting service for private innovation
As good as current electronic charting systems are, future possibilities hold even greater promise. While Coast Survey looks inward to build better ENCs, faster, we also look to the innovative power of private enterprise. We learned some productive lessons during a recent beta test of a limited (and very popular!) mobile app, MyNOAACharts. Coast Survey is removing the app from the Google Play Store on March 29, but cartographers are already working on the next level of innovation in the private mobile app and chart plotter markets. Our goal is to provide all mariners with access to the most updated charts and publications.

Tile services coming to application developers
Coast Survey is planning several initiatives to improve interfaces between charts and mobile apps. This summer, we plan to announce a new raster tile service that will make it easier for app developers to use NOAA charts in their products. By providing tilesets (both single chart and quilted) and metadata, we will bolster the new wave of digital charting services and products. And it’s just the beginning…

Better nautical chart images coming to electronic charting systems

Things are changing for U.S. nautical charts. We think you’re really going to like this improvement!

The NOAA RNC is a geo-referenced digital image of the traditional paper chart. When it comes to digital graphics, higher resolution is generally better than lower resolution. Dots per inch (dpi) measures the image resolution: the higher the dpi, the better the resolution, the clearer the image. Today, cartographers at Coast Survey are busy improving the resolution of NOAA RNCs, increasing the chart images from the current 254 dpi to 400 dpi. This change improves the clarity, readability, and aesthetics of this highly popular digital charting product.

Coast Survey maintains over a thousand RNCs that are available as free downloads. Our Marine Chart Division is transitioning the entire suite, updating and checking quality on all the charts, and we expect all RNCs to be upgraded to the 400 dpi by January 2014. Don’t worry, we aren’t taking anything offline. You won’t even notice that we’re changing the RNCs, except that you’ll see clearer images after your chart has been changed to 400 dpi.

RNC screengrab at 254 dpi
RNC screengrab at 254 dpi
RNC screengrab at 400 dpi
RNC screengrab at 400 dpi

This improvement in RNC clarity will make it easier and faster for mariners to interpret the information on the chart. Less time puzzling through ragged graphics means more time to increase situational awareness.

We’ve included a 400 dpi test dataset on the NOAA RNC webpage, so RNC users can give it a try. The test dataset includes BSBs for Detroit, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, and Tampa Bay. We hope that users and developers will let us know if you discover any problems with the test dataset. (Submit comments here.) We’ve listed some frequently asked questions below.

FAQs

Does this change the actual format of the RNC? No. The only change is the resolution of the chart image.

Will higher resolution files have bigger file sizes? The average increase in file size is around 50 percent, but that is easily handled by today’s computers, mobile apps, and display systems.

When will all the high-resolution RNCs be available for public download? If the transition goes as planned, NOAA expects to upgrade all RNCs to 400 dpi by the end of 2013.

I currently use the NOAA RNC suite in my chart plotter. Will the high-resolution RNCs work as well? We expect no compatibility issues in this upgrade. If you do have technical problems with this upgrade, contact your software provider for technical assistance. We encourage software providers to let us know of any difficulties during the testing period. Submit comments and questions to NOAA’s Nautical Inquiry & Comment System.