Archive for the ‘Nautical charts’ Category

NOAA begins multiyear project to update Hudson River charts   Leave a comment

NOAA sets charting priorities by considering a range of factors. Some of the most important factors include requests by the maritime industry. So when the Hudson River Pilots asked a Coast Survey navigation manager to accompany them on a transit down the Hudson River for a first-hand look at the problems caused by out-of-date soundings, our Northeast navigation manager jumped at the opportunity. Coast Survey understood the pilots’ concerns, especially since the charts in areas outside the federal channel have not been surveyed since 1939, and in some areas the soundings are pre-1900.

MeghanMcGovern w CAPT Scott Ireland - Hudson River Pilot

Lt. Cmdr. Meghan McGovern, NOAA navigation manager for the Northeast, rode with Capt. Scott Ireland on a salt ship down the the Hudson River in October 2014, learning about the concerns of the Hudson River Pilots.

Late this last summer, Coast Survey started a multi-year effort to update the nautical charts of the Hudson River. The project, which involves collecting new hydrographic data and creating larger scale electronic navigational charts, began with an initial survey by one of Coast Survey’s navigation response teams, from August 14 to September 10.

The graphics below display the areas surveyed by NOAA’s Navigation Response Team 5 in August and September, 2015.

Hudson River_chart12347

Hudson River_chart12348

The age of the data on the Hudson River charts is, unfortunately, not a rare instance. If you examine any one of our 1000+ charts, you may find depths that originated from pre-1920 lead line and sextant surveys; some have been measured with single beam echo sounders, while others were measured by state-of-the-art multibeam echo sounders. You may find all of this information on a single chart, and it is a challenge that NOAA faces with many charts covering the 95,000 nautical miles of U.S. coastline.

Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, Coast Survey director, recently informed Capt. Ireland of our determination to fix the Hudson River charts. We hope to complete data collection by the end of 2017, and to produce larger scale electronic charts by 2019.

Ireland sent his appreciation to Coast Survey.

“I’m very grateful to Rear Admiral Glang and his staff at NOAA for recognizing the importance of accurate soundings on Hudson River,” Ireland wrote on Oct 28.

“The effort to update 75+ year old data began a year ago with a phone call to Lt. Cmdr. Meghan McGovern, NOAA’s Northeast Navigation Manager. Lt. Cmdr. McGovern recognized the problem and moved quickly to help, sending a survey team to ‘spot survey’ some vital areas that will make commercial traffic markedly safer. Her encouragement then led me to lobby NOAA for a full-scale resurvey of the river and a re-scheming of the charts.”

“I recognize that this will be an expensive multiyear effort and applaud NOAA for their decision. When completed, the new soundings and navigational charts will result in a safer river environment for boaters of all sizes.”

“Thanks to all who supported this effort. While long overdue, it seems that the Hudson River now has NOAA’s attention.”

On November 16, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) sent a letter to NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, emphasizing the importance of the project and calling for an immediate update of the charts.

For more information, see the letters exchanged between Capt. Scott Ireland (sent on Sept. 1, 2015) and Rear Adm. Gerd Glang (sent on October 9, 2015).

Posted November 17, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Happy birthday to the man whose scientific integrity laid NOAA’s cornerstone   1 comment


Ferdinand R. Hassler

Today, October 7, Coast Survey celebrates the 245th anniversary of the birth of Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, the Swiss immigrant whose plan to survey the U.S. coast was selected as the basis for the federal government’s first scientific foray, and who was to become the first superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey. Hassler’s determination and uncompromising adherence to accuracy, precision, and scientific integrity during the decades-long struggle to establish the nation’s charting agency is a cornerstone of the NOAA of today.

Retired NOAA Captain Albert “Skip” Theberge, the noted NOAA historian, has written THE definitive paper on “The Hassler Legacy,” available online at the NOAA Library website. Theberge notes the formal biographical details, but then he goes beyond that, explaining how Hassler’s training and temperament contrasted with – and perhaps played into – the political machinations that resulted in a decades-long delay in the effort to create the young nation’s nautical charts.

On March 25, 1807 (after Congress passed “an act to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States”), Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin issued a notice to all interested scientific men in the United States, asking for plans to conduct the coastal survey. Hassler responded to Gallatin’s letter less than a week later, and his proposal for a trigonometrically-based survey was accepted in July. And then it gets really interesting. From Theberge’s article:

“However, no action was taken to begin the survey until 1811 because of the unsettled international political climate. Although Jefferson was among the most scientific of United States presidents, it was odd that he was instrumental in passing a law for the Survey of the Coast in early 1807; just three months before he had instituted an economic embargo against both England and France because of their depredations against American ships and seamen. This embargo resulted in the recall of over 20,000 American seamen on the high seas and effectively terminated the American merchant marine and international trade. The embargo continued until the end of his administration.”

“Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, reinstituted the Survey and sent Hassler to Great Britain in late 1811 to procure survey instruments. Because of continuing difficulties between the two nations, Madison declared war on Great Britain eight months after Hassler’s arrival in London.”

The inconvenience of being in England (and later, France) during the War of 1812 doesn’t come close to the inconvenience caused by “those penurious keepers of the public monies,” according to Theberge. Hassler went for long periods of not being paid, his purchase of survey instruments cost more than he was authorized (so he paid the difference out of his own pocket), and then the government refused to provide for his transportation home.

Florian Cajori, Hassler’s biographer, wrote:

“… A country of almost unlimited resources permitted this able scientist, who was giving his thoughts day after day to the advancement of science and to the glory of his adopted country, to return to America at his own expense and under financial embarrassment. The Government… permitted Hassler to be personally considerably poorer than he was before he undertook his mission to Europe.”

Despite the bad treatment, Hassler accepted the appointment as Superintendent of the Survey of the Coast on August 3, 1816, and he was soon on survey reconnaissance in New Jersey, accompanied by his son. In January 1817, after just a few months of work, the Treasury Secretary asked him to “state the probable time which will be required for the execution of this Survey.”

Theberge expounds nicely on the situation:

“Consider for a moment the utter lack of understanding by the national leaders of the nature of the task of charting the coast of the United States. There was a naivete, indicative of the state of scientific and engineering knowledge in the United States during the early nineteenth century, when Secretary Crawford asked a man, who had to construct his own measuring instruments, had no vessels, and had only his son for help, how long it would take to complete the Survey of the Coast.”

The next spring, the Survey of the Coast – and Hassler – took a major hit. Congress decided that only “persons belonging to the army or navy” should be employed for the survey. Hassler was out, and 15 years of scientific debate and survey ineptitude followed. It was during this time, cast off from the government, when Hassler laid out his vision. The task, he explained, was to construct a great triangulation network that would serve as the control for all nautical surveys as well as all national land surveys. In addition to the geodetic foundation for mapping the land and charting the coasts, Hassler envisioned the establishment of a national mapping organization.

Hassler, at age 62, was reappointed as superintendent on August 9, 1832, when the Survey was transferred back into civilian control within the Treasury Department. In 1834, the Survey of the Coast finally took its first ocean soundings. In 1836, the Survey of the Coast was renamed U.S. Coast Survey. Hassler served as superintendent until his death on November 20, 1843.

Ferdinand R. Hassler’s scientific achievements had laid the foundation for much of today’s NOAA.

Hassler's first triangulation diagram

Diagram of Hassler’s original triangulation from 1817 and 1833-1834. Library of Congress, “A collection of maps, charts, drawings, surveys, etc, published from time to time, by order of the two houses of Congress.”

New autonomous surface vehicles to deliver shoaler depth measurements for NOAA nautical charts   6 comments

If you look closely at any U.S. coastal nautical chart, you’ll likely find that the areas closest to the shore, shoals, and rocks do not have updated depth measurements. In many areas, safety concerns prohibit the use of NOAA ships or launches to survey the shoalest depths. In many areas, the water is too murky to be mapped with the airborne lidar systems used in clear waters. Now, however, charting those shallow areas is about to get safer, thanks to recent purchases of small, commercial off-the-shelf, unmanned survey vessels.

This summer, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson will deploy a “Z-Boat,” offered by Teledyne Oceanscience out of Carlsbad, California.

Lt. Carrier deploys Z-Boat

Lt. Joseph Carrier, operations officer on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, deploys a Z-Boat from the ship.

The Z-Boat complements the ship’s existing hydrographic toolkit.

  • Thomas Jefferson uses its multibeam echo sounder to measure depths from 45 to 1000 feet.
  • For shallower and more constricted waters, the ship’s two hydrographic survey launches with multibeam echo sounders efficiently and safely survey areas from 12 to 200 feet deep.
  • With the new Z-Boat (using a single beam echo sounder), Thomas Jefferson can measure depths in areas as shallow as one foot, and get that data into processing almost immediately. The boats are highly maneuverable, turning in their own 5.5-foot length, meaning they can get much closer to piers, pilings, and the shoreline than a full-sized launch.

This new capability is important to improving charts for smaller vessels operating near the coast, and in the inlets, bays, and harbors so critical to many small coastal towns. In the 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration – through its massive Depression-era public works program – hired hundreds of men to survey shallow Intracoastal Waterway areas. However, NOAA has done very little survey work in shallow water in the 80 years since then. Not surprisingly, there is a backlog of reported shoals, rocks, wrecks, and obstructions in shallow water, leading to an increased risk of grounding for those smaller vessels. Knowing the depth in these inlets is also important to accurately predicting coastal inundation during storms.

Thomas Jefferson, with the support of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations’ innovative platform program, plans to use two Z-Boats this summer in Massachusetts to investigate shoals and rocks in Buzzard’s Bay and Vineyard Sound. This December, they will use them in a project near Chesapeake Bay.

Doug Wood deploys Z-Boat

Doug Wood, physical scientist on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, deploys a Z-Boat from the ship’s fantail.

“Coast Survey has been exploring the use of autonomous underwater vehicles – AUVs – to support nautical charting for over a decade,” explains Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, Coast Survey director. “Autonomous surface vehicle – ASV – technologies have advanced in recent years, and NOAA is now also exploring these for our hydrographic operations. The Z-Boat is one of several autonomous surface vehicles that we are experimenting with.”

Through a hydrographic survey contract with NOAA, TerraSond (Palmer, Alaska) is using an ASV in addition to their traditional manned boats. (See this article in Marine Technology News.)

One of the benefits of using off-the-shelf vehicles like Z-Boats is that hydrographers are able to calibrate the boats and put them into use quickly, without the need for additional installation and integration of a survey system. Thomas Jefferson took delivery of the boats on August 13. They now have qualified the system for hydrographic use, developed first-generation deployment and retrieval systems, and trained a cadre of Z-boat “pilots.”

“Two weeks from delivery to a calibrated system with trained operators is a significant achievement,” said Capt. Shepard Smith, Thomas Jefferson’s commanding officer. “We have already used them to conduct a small survey in Newport, Rhode Island, and we are thrilled with the new capability this boat will give us in our coastal projects.”

Thomas Jefferson will operate the boats from a control station on the ship or one of their launches. Depending on the circumstances, technicians have several options to control the boats, by using: 1) a handheld remote control; 2) a networked radio link with one-mile range; or 3) an onboard autonomy module. NOAA is working with Teledyne and with researchers at the University of New Hampshire-NOAA Joint Hydrography Center to develop improvements to the boat’s autonomy system that will permit it to gradually work more independently of the operator. With more Z-Boat autonomy, survey ships can operate a larger fleet of boats without adding additional operators.

ENS Head pilots Z-Boat

Ensign Marybeth Head pilots a Z-Boat in preparation for autonomous operations during training.

Capt. Richard T. Brennan, chief of the Coast Survey Development Laboratory, puts this move into a strategic technology context.

“NOAA envisions unmanned and autonomous systems working in conjunction with our manned systems, deployed and controlled from our hydrographic survey ships,” Brennan explained. “The Z-Boats are the first step towards unmanned surface vessels. We are looking forward to the lessons learned to drive further innovation in communications and automation technology.”

Thomas Jefferson will be exploring other options for the boats. For instance, Z-Boats have an onboard streaming video camera, so the operator can see what the boat “sees” in real-time, raising the possibility of additional uses beyond depth measurements. And although these Z-Boats are fitted with single beam echo sounders appropriate to very shallow water, there is an option to fit them with side scan sonar, or a multibeam system, for other applications.

“Deploying the Z-Boat from the Thomas Jefferson is a significant milestone for the NOAA fleet,” said Rear Admiral David Score, director of the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. “In the coming decade, these types of unmanned systems will become the norm. We will be able to build on Thomas Jefferson’s experience in unmanned systems as we expand these programs into the broad range of scientific observations that the NOAA fleet provides.”

The ship is selecting the nicknames of the two Z-Boats. Go to the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson Facebook page, and see what names they are considering!

Hurricane Katrina: 10 Years Later   Leave a comment

Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, affecting millions of lives. This disaster brought together all of Coast Survey’s capabilities on an unprecedented scale to help in response and recovery efforts in the storm’s aftermath. Ten years later, Coast Survey reflects back on the planning and response to Hurricane Katrina, and looks to their progress in developing tools to aid in coastal resilience.

Explore the story map.

image of story map

Hurricane Katrina: Ten Years Later
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey looks back

Posted August 24, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Report from the Arctic: Surveying Kotzebue Sound 2015   Leave a comment

By Starla Robinson, project manager in Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division

Two hundred years after Otto von Kotzebue and the crew of the Ruiric explored what would later be named Kotzebue Sound, NOAA ships Fairweather and Rainer follow in the same tradition. Two centuries ago they were searching for the Northwest Passage in support of trade. Today, we explore to improve the science and safety of navigation in support of commerce, environmental protection, and local communities. Our bathymetric data and observations will also be used to better inform coastal decision-making.

kotzebue-historical charts

Original chart of Kotzebue Sound (left). 1973 chart of Kotzebue Sound (right). Today’s chart of the project area is not significantly different from that of 1973.

Many things have changed since the crew of the Ruiric braved these waters. However, operations in the Arctic are still challenging. For much of the year Kotzebue Sound is frozen over. The remote location makes arriving and maintaining basic needs of the ships and crew difficult–just being here is a success.

Technology has made navigation safer and surveying more efficient. For example, rather than the discrete lead lines that were once used to obtain depth measurement data in this project area (which is about the size of Delaware), multibeam echo sounders acquire the same amount of data in just one square meter. For multibeam surveys, the speed of sound must be measured in the water column and the motion of the vessel must be recorded and corrected in the data. We use side scan sonar to produce imagery of the sea floor. GPS is used to triangulate our position rather than sailors taking bearings on shore stations. To better refine our precision, we construct horizontal and vertical control stations that must be operational before bathymetry data can even be collected.

It takes teamwork on and off the ship and NOAA has brought together many resources. Contractors are used to establish vertical control stations recording water levels. The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) monitors the data and creates tide models. Subject matter experts in side scan sonar assist with the surveying effort. Teams on land plan and support the expedition and continue to process the data for the chart after the ships have left. Many things have to align to make our charting efforts a success.

On the ship, our exposed location limits survey activities.  The small boats for survey can only be deployed when the sea state is safe. Teams must brave the surf to maintain the control stations.  The crews of the Rainier and Fairweather work hard to take advantage of windows of good weather. They work long hours, in rough conditions, away from convenience and family, in pursuit of the chart. We are today’s explorers seeing the full picture of the seafloor for the first time.

Chart of Kotzebue Sound, AK, with bathymetric data.

NOAA survey progress map highlighting hydrographic survey coverage by NOAA ships Fairweather and Rainier as of August 17, 2015.

Coast Survey welcomes Guy Funnell from the UK Hydrographic Office   Leave a comment

Hydrographic offices around the world often share expertise and experiences in order to improve products and processes. In that vein, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey welcomes Guy Funnell, a product manager from the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office who will be working with us in a unique employee exchange.

The exchange will be of immense benefit to Coast Survey, as we continue to explore practices and technologies to improve Coast Survey’s product management.

The UKHO is an equivalent to Coast Survey, but with some major differences. While Coast Survey and the UKHO have a working relationship going back over a century, the UKHO got a jump on us in chart production, producing their first chart (of Quiberon Bay in Brittany) in 1800. We came along a little later, when President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation in 1807, calling for a survey of the coast.

The two agencies have developed different nautical chart production and distribution processes.

The UKHO is a part of the Ministry of Defence, operating as a trading fund (a type of government department or agency).  It uses the revenue it makes to meet its outgoings, whereas Coast Survey’s funding comes from tax dollars so our products are free to the public. Another difference is in the collection of hydrographic data for application to Admiralty Charts. The UKHO does not have their own fleet of ships and survey equipment, and so they rely on the Royal Navy, the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and contractors for charting data; Coast Survey primarily uses NOAA ships and contractors. UKHO makes arrangements with other countries for their nautical charting data; we do not.

The two agencies have a lot to learn from each other. One of Funnell’s challenges will be to learn how the U.S. regulatory shipping environment compares to other parts of the world. For instance, he will look at our tier of federal, state, and local regulations, how the regulations are enforced, what impacts they have on operations, and how users comply and demonstrate that they comply, as well as how they are inspected. Guy also aims to understand the different operational factors for coastal and river traffic, how they compare to the UK, and how they serve the international mariner.

Funnell will also further his understanding of how NOAA operates. In particular, he will examine the integration of navigation products and services to other NOAA services, the collection of data from private or academic sources, our working relationships with ports and terminal operators, and customer feedback for new product development. As Coast Survey continues our move into digital products, synchronicity will also be an important area for exploration.

Upon his arrival in the U.S., one of Funnell’s first stops was in New Orleans, which is the largest complex of ports and the most congested waterway in the U.S. During an early morning, deep-draft ship transit up the Mississippi River to a terminal near Baton Rouge with New Orleans-Baton Rouge Pilots Association’s Jason Ledet, Funnell witnessed first-hand the importance of NOAA’s environmental digital/electronic data and charting resources.

Guy Funnell (standing) observes navigational challenges of the Mississippi River, with NOBRA pilot Jason Ledet.

Guy Funnell (standing) observes navigational challenges of the Mississippi River, with NOBRA pilot Jason Ledet.

Off the ship, Guy was in consultations and discussions with Louisiana chart agents and distributors of both Admiralty and NOAA products.

Guy Funnell (left) meets with NOAA-certified print-on-demand chart sub-agent Horizon Nautical.

Guy Funnell (left) meets with NOAA-certified print-on-demand chart sub-agent Horizon Nautical.

Guy Funnell’s stay in the U.S. will last until the end of September. Coast Survey’s Rachel Medley, the acting chief of Navigation Services Division’s Requirements and Products Management Branch, will then join him in the United Kingdom. From October to December, Medley will work at the UKHO Product Management Department, where she will learn the UKHO’s best practices for management of their products. (Watch this space for Medley’s posts about her experiences in the UK!)

Posted August 13, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

Coast Survey participates in international Arctic survey project – Part 2   1 comment

By Edward Owens

In a previous post, Edward shared his initial experience on board the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent as they traveled from Halifax, Canada, toward Tromsø, Norway. Today, he provides an update as well as a look at some of the features they found on the seafloor along the way.

photo of Edward Owens

Edward Owens on board Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent.

It is a Sunday and our transit across the Atlantic on board Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent  is nearly complete. We’ll arrive in Tromsø, Norway, on Tuesday morning where we’ll rendezvous with a pilot boat to complete the final leg of our internationally coordinated hydrographic mission, as the latest contribution to the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation.

Shortly after leaving Newfoundland, our communications capabilities dropped out and the science team began to coordinate the continual logging and processing of the hydrographic data. With a few minor tweaks, our deep-water EM122 multibeam and Knudsen 3260 sub-bottom systems were acquiring excellent data. Our route to Norway has been fairly direct, but modified in a few places of interest such as the mid-Atlantic Ridge zone, to junction existing multibeam data in the area and to develop curious features derived from satellite derived bathymetry. The weather has cooperated for us quite well and we have only experienced some patches of fog and a single 24 hour storm event. This event was more like a gail, however, where the winds were 50 to 55 knots and the seas about 6 to 8 meters, enough to put spray over the wheel house and for Neptune to assure us we were fast approaching the Arctic Circle crossing.


The “Atlantic Heart” found on the western mid-Atlantic ridge.

During our transit along and over the mid-Atlantic ridge the echosounders portrayed a dynamic seafloor of uneven terrain, gorges, trenches, ridges, and peaks. Of greatest interest to the team were a handful of small volcano-like seamounts ranging from 100 to 300 meters proud of the seabed and from 500 to 1500 meters across, all in over 2,000 meter depth range. The two most significant of these have been tentatively named  the “Atlantic Heart” and the “Egg Cup”.

There is plenty of data to describe the area’s geological past. This section of seabed, and the ridge in general, forms part of the fault line that separates the European and North American tectonic plates and is being slowly formed by seafloor spreading. The two plates are moving apart by about 2 to 5 millimeters a year and as they do, molten magma from beneath the Earth’s crust seeps through the cracks from far beneath the surface which becomes lava and then cools and solidifies to form new seabed.

This process forms the ridge and all its visible scars, and it is in this area where we find the most dramatic seabed. These areas of uneven terrain are often the best places to find biogenic reefs and deep-water faunal communities. Many species of fish, coral, starfish, crab, and plenty of worms have been found living in association with these areas and aggregate to form nurseries and colonies. In this way, seabed mapping can begin to locate these communities which can then be managed effectively and conserved accordingly.


The “Egg Cup” found on the eastern mid-Atlantic ridge.

The Captain and crew are as fine as you could ever hope to sail with. There have been numerous social events and gatherings to get to know each other and share stories, along with the extremely important events surrounding the right of passage for all those, myself included, to graduate from a “pollywog” to a “shellback” if one can prove themselves worthy and of strong enough will to pass challenges and humiliation that Neptune demands in order to be accepted into his Northern realm of the Arctic Circle.

I will leave blank the details surrounding this rite of passage for all those who may experience this ceremonial affair. I will, however, leave you knowing I am now a loyal subject of this realm as dictated by my certificate from the Captain to alert all narwhals, walrus, and creatures of the sea that my sacrifices and suffering were sufficient to merit this honor.

Posted August 5, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts


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