NOAA surveys Lake Champlain for improved flood modeling and mitigation strategies

At the request of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL), NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey deployed a survey team and a new autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) to gather hydrographic data in and around the narrow causeway inlets that dot the Lake Champlain basin in Vermont. GLERL will use the data to improve flood forecast models and analyze flood mitigation strategies in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River system as part of a U.S. and Canada study led by the International Joint Commission.

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Navigation response team (NRT) members watch from the launch vessel as a new autonomous surface vehicle, the Echoboat, surveys shallow waters in Lake Champlain. The Coast Survey team included Mike Annis from headquarters and Alex Ligon and Josh Bergeron from NRT1 (Stennis, Mississippi) to support the ASV operations, as well as Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten, Eli Smith, and Michael Bloom of NRT5 (New London, Connecticut) to provide additional support.

Lake Champlain drains northward to the St. Lawrence River (via the Richelieu River) and is part of the Great Lakes system. In 2011, the lake reached record water levels due to large amounts of spring precipitation, snowmelt, and runoff. This water caused more than 60 consecutive days of severe flooding that affected thousands of U.S. and Canadian residents.

To gather hydrographic data that will improve lake modeling and forecasting going forward, a Coast Survey navigation response team (NRT) deployed a Seafloor Systems Echoboat to survey areas of the basin that are too shallow for traditional survey vessels to reach. In this way, the ASV acted as a force multiplier to the NRT survey vessel. Coast Survey acquired the Echoboat earlier this year, and it is Coast Survey’s first ASV to be equipped with multibeam sonar—the same type of sonar that larger NOAA survey vessels use to gather high resolution hydrographic data. With the use of this technology, the data gathered by the ASV system may be included on NOAA navigational products.

 

Video: The new autonomous surface vehicle, the Echoboat, surveys shallow waters in Lake Champlain. 

 

This was the inaugural operational use of the Echoboat, and allowed the team to gain experience setting up, running, and maintaining the ASV. Identifying and addressing software and hardware issues now prepares the team for future deployments.

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Survey data of a causeway in Lake Champlain collected by the ASV (in the green polygon) and the NRT survey vessel.

Prior to the survey, much of the hydrographic data for Lake Champlain was well over 100 years old and of sparse density. Developers at GLERL needed more detailed hydrographic information in several shallow water areas in the northern sections of the lake to complete hydrodynamic models. Lake Champlain is a complex system populated with islands spread across multiple basins, many of which are connected by bridges and causeways. Critical to the flow of water between the different basins of the lake are multiple narrow, shallow inlets bisecting these causeways. The survey dataset Coast Survey delivered to GLERL is key to knowing the volume of water that flows through these bottlenecks in order to model circulation, water levels, and the resulting floods in the lake.

From seaports to the deep blue sea, bathymetry matters on many scales

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By Rear Adm. Shep Smith, Director of the Office of Coast Survey

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. 

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Gap analysis of bathymetric data coverage in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (coverage indicated in purple).

Here in U.S. waters, we are working to help fill these gaps by supporting 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 and sharing 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.

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Rear Adm. Shep Smith (while serving as commanding officer of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson) discusses bathymetric data collection with Erin Weller, a physical scientist with Coast Survey.

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. 

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View from the M/V Ocean Wind as the ship transits down the Mississippi River. This region is the most congested waterway in the world as more than 10,000 ships pass through the port complexes between New Orleans to Baton Rouge each year. 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.

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.

The world of S-100: Updated framework of maritime data standards to be released in 2018

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.

The new edition of S-100 framework and standards will allow computer systems and software to better exchange and make use of hydrographic data. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency
The new edition of S-100 framework and standards will allow computer systems and software to better exchange and make use of hydrographic data. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency

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.

Navigation products that follow the updated S-100 framework will allow many aspects of maritime navigation to be better connected. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency
Navigation products that follow the updated S-100 framework will allow many aspects of maritime navigation to be better connected. Image credit: Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency

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.

U.S. and Cuba work on navigation safety improvements

First up, improving charts and geodesy for Straits of Florida 

Coast Survey welcomed Cuban colleagues to NOAA offices this week, as representatives of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy (ONHG) traveled to Maryland for the first time since last December. In March, NOAA and ONHG signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Havana.

“We’ve identified a broad sweep of navigation issues for collaboration, and we’ve started to produce tangible results,” said Dr. Russell Callender, assistant administrator of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, at the start of three days of work sessions. “On behalf of NOAA, I’d like to express my appreciation for the progress made by our two agencies.”

The MOU, which is focused on improving maritime navigation safety and related areas of mutual interest to protect lives and property at sea, is the framework for continuing consultations between NOAA’s National Ocean Service and ONHG.

“The collaboration between our two countries is the way to move forward,” said Dr. Candido Alfredo Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy. “We are here to work.”

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Cuba’s ONHG director, Dr. Candido Alfredo Regalado Gomez (left) and Coast Survey director Rear Adm. Shepard Smith greet each other at the beginning of the three-day working session, with translation offered by NOAA’s Gonzalo Cid (center).

 

Among other hydrographic discussions, representatives from both agencies will review, revise, and hopefully approve a planned new international chart (INT chart 4149), the first cooperative charting product between the United States and Cuba during the modern era. NOAA expects to release the new chart in mid-December, at a meeting in Brazil of hydrographic officials from the Western Hemisphere. The chart covers south Florida, the Bahamas, and north Cuba, a popular area for both recreational boaters and commercial mariners.

The publication of the new international chart, along with alignment of U.S. and Cuba electronic navigational charts, will resolve many navigational issues as vessels move across the shared maritime border.

In addition to charting, the U.S.-Cuba dialogue has expanded to include an emerging geodetic component. NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey will discuss current datums (North American Datum of 1983 and North American Vertical Datum of 1988) and plans to transition to new datums by 2022. Discussions include both geometric (latitude and longitude) and geopotential (vertical coordinate referenced to Earth’s mean sea level) issues.

Representatives from both agencies have expressed additional interest in tide and current monitoring, modeling, and forecasting. The exchange of data and information will improve the accuracy and quality of these products, as closer direct dialogue between Cuban and NOAA hydrographic offices promises to improve navigation safety in the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico and the wider Caribbean.

NOAA hosts international “Chart Adequacy Workshop”

Cartographers and hydrographers from twelve countries gathered in Maryland last week to participate in a three-day NOAA workshop on evaluating the adequacy nautical charts. During the workshop, they learned techniques to evaluate the suitability of nautical chart products using chart quality information and publicly available information. The participants then generated key layers in adequacy assessments:

  • Using automatic identification systems (AIS) information to classify navigational routes, they generated a vessel traffic layer.
  • Comparing satellite-derived bathymetry or other surveys of opportunity with the existing chart, to identify areas that showed significant bathymetric changes, they generated a bathymetric difference layer.
  • Classifying chart quality information, they generated a hydrographic characteristics layer.

By involving the guest cartographers and hydrographers in hands-on layer development and use, instructors demonstrated that the procedure is a low-cost tool that can help any hydrographic office assess the adequacy of its charts.

Participants came from Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Vietnam, Netherlands, Mexico, and Thailand. Instructor presentations and GIS laboratory exercises were provided by Dr. Shachak Pe’eri and Lt. Anthony Klemm.

Coast Survey is planning another workshop training session in July 2017.

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NOAA Chart Adequacy Workshop participants and instructors

NOAA and Cuban chartmakers working together to improve maritime safety

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NOS Acting Assistant Administrator Russ Callender (left) and Coast Survey Director Rear Adm. Gerd Glang (right) welcome Colonel Candido Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s Office of Hydrography and Geodesy.

Following up on Coast Survey’s visit to Havana last spring, Cuban hydrographic officials traveled to Maryland on December 15-17, to meet with NOAA National Ocean Service leaders for discussions about potential future collaboration. High on the agenda for Coast Survey is improving nautical charts for maritime traffic transiting the increasingly busy Straits of Florida.

The historic meeting began with Dr. Russell Callender, NOS acting assistant administrator, welcoming the Cuban delegation, led by Colonel Candido Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy.

“You will receive briefings today as a backdrop to the hydrographic collaboration we are pursuing to make maritime navigation safer in the transboundary waters our nations share,” Callender told the group. “I hope your meetings this week in Silver Spring will contribute to your understanding of the breadth and work of NOAA firsthand, and strengthen our work together.”

The five Cuban officials and representatives from NOAA’s navigation services and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency worked through the day, explaining the ins-and-outs of each other’s responsibilities and processes. The teams were ready, by the end of the jam-packed agenda, to resolve charting challenges that interfere with smooth navigational transitions from Cuban waters to U.S. waters in the busy Straits of Florida.

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This heat density map of maritime traffic illustrates the high volume of traffic (the brown area south of Florida) needing seamless chart coverage.

First, Cuba’s Office of National Hydrography and Geodesy and Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division confirmed the division of responsibilities and updated each other on the progress for collaborating on international charts (known in mariner’s parlance as “INT Charts”) 4148, 4149, 4017, and 4021. Then, in a technical move sure to please recreational boaters and commercial mariners alike, the two countries conferred on adjusting Cuba and U.S. electronic navigational charts to eliminate overlaps and gaps in coverage.

U.S. and Cuban officials
U.S. and Cuban officials met at NOAA Coast Survey offices in Silver Spring, Maryland, for an intensive day of reports and collaboration. From left to right, Dr. Russell Callender, acting assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service; Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey; Richard Edwing, director of CO-OPS; John Lowell, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s chief hydrographer; Tim Wiley, environmental engagement officer, Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Captain Richard Brennan, chief of Coast Survey Development Laboratory; Sladjana Maksimovic, Coast Survey cartographer; Edenia Machin Gonzalez, scientist, Cuba’s National Cartographic Agency; Ramon Padron Diaz, frigate captain and chief of Hydrographic Department, Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography; Colonel Candido Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy; and Victor E. Aluija Urgell, lieutenant/general director, GEOCUBA Marine Studies.

By examining adjacent and adjoining ENCs, both sides were able to confer on ways to improve chart coverage in the busy Straits of Florida, where chart misalignments can play havoc with navigational systems as a vessel moves across maritime borders. Countries around the world regularly resolve these issues, as the U.S. does with Canada and Mexico, through regional consultations hosted by the International Hydrographic Organization but, until now, the U.S. and Cuba were unable to work together on their common set of challenges.

Coast Survey initiated the charting discussions earlier this year, when a team of cartographic professionals traveled to Havana in February for three days of meetings with Cuban officials from the Office of National Hydrography and Geodesy and GEOCUBA. During the visit, the Americans and Cubans agreed to work together on a new international paper chart, INT Chart 4149, which will cover south Florida, the Bahamas, and north Cuba. The Office of Coast Survey is now creating the chart, using data supplied by the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and the Cubans in addition to U.S. data, and plans to publish the new chart in 2016.

This week’s charting progress follows closely on another major accomplishment. Last month, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan and Dr. Holly Bamford, acting assistant secretary of conservation and management, traveled to Havana to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Marine Protected Area cooperation between our two countries. The agreement provides an opportunity for the U.S and Cuba to develop science, education, and management programs between sister sites in both countries, and will strengthen our collaborative relationship.

“The Cuban maritime industry, like many U.S. ports, is building new infrastructure to support commerce and tourism,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of Coast Survey. “Like us, they are improving their charts as port and coastal uses evolve, to support expanding maritime commerce.”

“We are now able to work together, as we do with other nations, to coordinate chart coverage and data acquisition.”

Katie Ries with Cuban delegation
In addition to hours of indoor meetings, the Cuban delegation was able to spend some time discussing data acquisition onboard Coast Survey’s research vessel, Bay Hydro II, homeported in Solomons, Maryland. Kathryn Ries (in blue jacket), deputy director of Coast Survey, hosted Ramon Padron Diaz, frigate captain and chief of the Hydrographic Department, Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography; Victor E. Aluija Urgell, lieutenant/general director, GEOCUBA Marine Studies; Edenia Machin Gonzalez, scientist, National Cartographic Agency – Cuba; Yanet Stable Cardenas, first secretary, Embassy of the Republic of Cuba; and Colonel Candido Regalado Gomez, chief of Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy.

 

Nigerian naval officer augments on NOAA survey ship

by Ensign Kaitlyn Seberger, Junior Officer, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

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Sub-Lt. Uchechukwu Erege deploys a conductivity-temperature-depth cast to obtain sound speed.

This fall, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has had the pleasure of hosting Sub-Lieutenant Uchechukwu Erege. Sub-Lieutenant Erege, known to the ship’s crew as “UK,” is a hydrographer in the Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Office. The Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Office is the national hydrographic authority for the country and is responsible for conducting hydrographic surveys in territorial waters, ensuring nautical charts are up-to-date, processing bathymetric data, and providing Notice to Mariners for hazards to navigation.

UK joined the Nigerian Navy in 2012 after graduating with distinction from the University of Lagos with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in geoinformatics. He then completed a 10-month training program at the Nigerian Defense Academy before transitioning to his current position in the hydrography branch.

“At the time, the Nigerian Navy was searching for graduates in various technical fields,” UK says, “and joining the Navy was a great opportunity to serve my country and secure a job in my field of study.”

The United States and Nigeria are both member States of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), whose primary aim is to ensure the world’s oceans and navigable waterways are surveyed and charted. Through a grant funded by IHO and the government of South Korea, members of developing countries are able to attain higher education in the field of hydrography. UK was awarded this grant in 2014 and used it to attend the University of Mississippi’s 12-month master’s program in hydrographic science.

“My wife, Ezinne, has been very supportive during my time in the U.S.,” UK explains. “I would not have had as much success here without her.”

During his time at the University of Mississippi, a professor put him in contact with Captain Shep Smith, commanding officer of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. Through a recommendation from the Nigerian Chief of Naval Staff and Capt. Smith, UK augmented for three months on Thomas Jefferson.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how hydrography is practiced outside of Africa,” UK says. “I wanted to develop new skills that would be an asset to my office. My experience at the University of Mississippi and on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has been a great way to network with other hydrographic entities and build international partnerships.”

While on Thomas Jefferson, UK gained hands-on experience as a sheet project manager, and in ship and hydrographic survey launch acquisition of multibeam and side scan sonar data, conductivity-temperature-depth casts, system integration, and troubleshooting.

“As a project manager, I was responsible for ensuring adequate data collection and maintaining good data management. The skills I gained on TJ will be a valuable asset when I return to Nigeria.”

UK proposes creating standard operating procedures in his office, for processing efficiency. An SOP for public affairs can also help inform the country of hydrographic survey projects. UK would also like to recommend more collaboration with international agencies, such as NOAA, and with Nigeria’s West African neighbors in regards to hydrography.

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Ensign Peter Gleichauf presents Sub-Lt. Uchechukwu Erege with the NOAA Corps flag that Thomas Jefferson sailed with during his time augmenting on the ship. The entire crew signed the flag.

Sub-Lieutenant Uchechukwu Erege has been a valuable asset to the Thomas Jefferson crew and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. Fair winds and following seas!