On Thursday, June 21, we celebrate World Hydrography Day. This year’s theme—Bathymetry – the foundation for sustainable seas, oceans and waterways—is very timely as many hydrographic organizations worldwide are focusing on bathymetry at local and global scales. While we work to perfect real-time data and high-resolution bathymetry for ports, we are still working to build a foundational baseline dataset of the global seafloor. Our work at both scales have implications for the local and global economies.
Let me start with the global seafloor. For the untrained eye, particularly those looking at a Google Earth image, it would appear that the monumental task of mapping the seafloor is accomplished. Geologic features appear detailed under a deep sea of blue. Little do most people know, however, that the majority of this surface is interpolated. In other words, we do a good job filling in the blank spaces between the sparse depth measurements we have. This creates a pretty picture, but does not provide valuable and much needed data for resource management, offshore energy planning, mineral extraction, and other fields of research that require high-resolution data to do meaningful work and build on existing scientific knowledge. In fact, the United Nations proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and calls for an increase in scientific knowledge of the ocean to support the sustainable management of marine resources and development of the blue economy.
Here in U.S. waters, we are working to help fill these gaps bysupporting the Seabed 2030 initiative and maximizing the societal value of the data that is collected. Using multibeam echo sounders that survey large swaths of the ocean floor, we can collect a tremendous volume of bathymetry data along with water column and acoustic backscatter data aiding in habitat mapping. There is also increasing activity in seabed mapping to support offshore wind development and seabed minerals mining. Further, we are working with partners, state and federal agencies, and citizen science and crowdsourced programs to coordinate the collection andsharing of data. These efforts enable us to work toward increasing the breadth of data collection by covering an expanded geographic scope but also the depth of data by collecting data beyond simply bathymetry.
Zooming in from the global scale to individual ports, our focus changes. Our concern is no longer building a baseline dataset for longer-term research needs but getting ships in and out of port in the safest and most efficient way possible. Based on the success of the Long Beach pilot project, NOAA offices involved with precision navigation were awarded additional funding to support foundational program management, and established a dedicated team to support the expansion of precision navigation to more ports throughout the country in the coming years.
Whether working on the building blocks of a global high resolution bathymetric data set or customizing precision navigation port-by-port, the key to success is standardization. The latest edition of the International Hydrographic Organization’s (IHO) S-100 framework—increased standardization of maritime data products—will be published this December. NOAA plans to develop new services in line with these new standards, which will begin a new era in electronic navigation.
It is an interesting time in our field. We are still learning, still discovering, still building. We are working every day toward mapping the ocean and developing precision navigation for our major ports. The global community first recognized World Hydrography Day in 2005 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/60/30. We have made a lot of progress in the past 13 years. In another 13 year’s time, we will have just surpassed the 2030 mark. I anticipate that by that time, we will be able to review with pride both our improved understanding of the ocean and sustainable growth of our blue economy.
We are celebrating World Hydrography Day all week! Check our website to see new hydrography- and bathymetry-related stories added each day.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.