Coastal planners, fishery managers, and oceanographic researchers will soon reap important seafloor and water column data from the coast of Washington, when NOAA Ship Rainier undertakes a special project in the waters within and near the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in May.
The blue lines indicate NOAA Ship Rainier’s survey project areas. From north to south, the project encompasses Juan De Fuca Canyon (65 square nautical miles), Quinault Canyon (378 square nautical miles), and Willapa Canyon (189 square nautical miles). The teal dots in Quinault and Willapa canyons are the locations of deep underwater natural methane gas seeps being investigated in a University of Washington research project. The green shaded area is the extent of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
The project, which is being managed by NOAA’s Integrated Ocean and Coast Mapping program, grew from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science seafloor mapping prioritization exercise among coastal stakeholders from federal and state (Oregon and Washington) agencies, tribes, and academia. The group determined that one of the biggest needs by most of the organizations was a better understanding of canyon depths, seafloor, and habitat.
A scientific team of experts from the College of Charleston, University of Washington, and Oregon State University will contribute to the NOAA-led multi-disciplinary survey project, gathering data for a host of research projects and ocean management activities. In general, the data will collect swath bathymetry, acoustic backscatter, and water column data to:
- inform regulatory decisions on coastal development;
- provide benthic habitat mapping and seafloor characterization for sustainable fisheries initiatives, and to help assess fishery stocks and critical spawning aggregation locations;
- better understand and manage shelf and canyon resources;
- aid in resolving multiple-use conflicts;
- advance research in determining chemical and biological contamination levels; and
- provide a data repository for the development of ocean tourism and recreational fishing.
Some specific research projects are also planned.
- A University of Washington scientist will analyze the water column plumes over natural methane gas seeps in the planned survey areas. The university is a leader in the study of methane hydrates.
- Because Rainier heads to Alaska after the survey in the sanctuary, the ship will also conduct an exploratory survey to obtain seafloor imagery and data over a newly discovered mud volcano in the upper continental slope offshore of Dixon Entrance, just off the Inside Passage near Ketchikan, Alaska. California State researchers will use the data from this 40 square nautical mile survey to analyze the seafloor shape, assess the area for effects on potential tsunamis, and identify unique biological communities.
As part of her regular mission, Rainier will acquire depth measurements and other hydrographic data throughout the entire project to update NOAA nautical charts 18480 and 18500 off the coast of Washington, and chart 17400 in Alaskan waters. The corresponding electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) are US3WA03M, US3AK40M, and US3AK40M.
Chris Stubbs, from the College of Charleston, will serve as the project’s chief scientist. Cmdr. Edward J. Van Den Ameele is Rainier’s commanding officer.
NOAA ship Rainier, a 48-year-old survey vessel, is part of the NOAA fleet of ships operated, managed and maintained by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and civilian wage mariners.
How many geospatial products can be developed by one seafloor mapping project? As a phased-in project for Long Island Sound shows, a strong collaboration among diverse groups of researchers and technology developers can integrate temporal and geospatial data sources to produce dozens of products. In addition to updating NOAA’s nautical charts, ongoing collaborations in Long Island Sound will create products that depict physical, geological, ecological, geomorphological, and biological conditions and processes – all to balance the development of new ocean uses while protecting and restoring essential habitats.
In 2011, the Long Island Sound Program (representing a partnership between the State of Connecticut, State of New York, Connecticut and New York Sea Grant, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) requested assistance from NOAA. They asked for help in providing management and technical expertise; acquiring data; and developing products. They required key temporal and spatial information about seafloor conditions in the Sound. They needed bathymetry and backscatter, and biological and physical observational and sampling data, to produce all the products needed by governments, industry, academia, and the public.
Coast Survey already had plans for NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson to survey in Long Island Sound, to acquire new bathymetry for chart updates. With some adjustments to survey areas and project parameters, a mutually beneficial partnership was formed for long-term seafloor mapping of Long Island Sound habitats over the next several years, as an integrated ocean and coastal mapping project.
This summer, Thomas Jefferson conducted hydrographic surveys in the mid-Sound area of Stratford Shoal and vicinity, extending from New York on the north shore of Long Island to the Connecticut shoreline.
“Ocean floors are amazingly dynamic, and we have to chart those changes to provide precise and accurate navigational data for today’s maritime economy,” explained Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp, commanding officer of the Thomas Jefferson and the ship’s chief scientist. “Our data is used to update NOAA’s nautical charts, but the hydrographic information can also be used to support a number of non-navigation uses, ranging from benefits to fisheries management to support of regional ocean planning efforts like this.”
This digital terrain model, showing bathymetry in Long Island Sound, was created from Thomas Jefferson depth soundings.
This image is a digital terrain model that indicates the water depths in surveyed areas. In its final form, it will be geo-referenced to latitude and longitude. To produce this DTM, a NOAA Corps hydrographer, Lt.j.g. (sel) Anthony Klemm loaded Thomas Jefferson’s billions of depth soundings into an algorithum, powered by CARIS’s CSAR technology. By laying out a grid, and then using CUBE – combined uncertainty bathymetry estimator – Klemm is able to visually depict higher resolution depth measurements in shallow water, where the shapes on the seafloor may be navigationally significant, with resolution gradually decreasing as the depth increases.
Digital terrain models are useful for many environmental management activities. In this collaboration, seafloor topography products, like this DTM, will be the foundation for building products that address benthic habitats and other environmental conditions.