NOAA travels to Puerto Rico to help ports recover from Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 21, as a strong Category 4 hurricane. The storm brought sustained winds of 150 mph and dropped over 18 inches of rain in some areas. Although these islands have seen their fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms, the last storm of this intensity to hit Puerto Rico was the San Felipe Segundo hurricane in 1928. The widespread flooding, winds, and storm surge from Hurricane Maria devastated the islands leaving them without power and their critical ports paralyzed as debris, shoaling, and damaged infrastructure prevents large vessels from entering safely.

“The people of Puerto Rico are suffering and will need unprecedented levels of support from their fellow Americans to rebuild their homes, businesses, and communities,” said Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of the NOAA Office of Coast Survey. “The ports are currently unsafe for large ships, and it is necessary to restore Puerto Rico’s maritime commerce to make rebuilding possible.”    

NOAA conducts emergency hydrographic surveys following hurricanes at the request of the USCG to ensure there is no hidden debris or shoaling that pose a danger to navigation. Once our teams notify the USCG of our findings, the quicker ports can re-open and resume shipping, bringing critical equipment and goods to the areas in need.

As Hurricane Maria made its way toward the islands, NOAA Coast Survey monitored it closely. Kyle Ward, NOAA’s southeast navigation manager, worked with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) District 7, USCG Sector San Juan, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to coordinate response efforts prior to the storm. This laid the groundwork for positioning our assets in strategic locations ready for deployment

NOAA’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST) (Mike Annis, Lt. Cmdr. Jon French, John Doroba, and Michael Bloom) completed hydrographic survey work in Key West, Florida, following Hurricane Irma and was transported via USCG C-130 from Naval Air Station Jacksonville to the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. The team then traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, via USCG Cutter Venturous and arrived on Saturday, September 23. The MIST is currently surveying the Port of Arecibo, an important fuel and chemical port.

NOAA loads the MIST kit and crew on board the USCG C-130 aircraft at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
NOAA loads the MIST kit and crew on board the USCG C-130 aircraft at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

 

USCG C-130 aircraft containing the NOAA MIST kit at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
USCG C-130 aircraft containing the NOAA MIST kit at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is enroute from Port Everglades, Florida, to Puerto Rico and is expected to arrive on Thursday, September 28. Thomas Jefferson will work with USCG to identify port priority to begin survey operations upon arrival. Navigation response team 2, in Fernandina Beach, Florida, defueled their vessel in preparation for potential deployment via USCG aircraft to Puerto Rico.

Once emergency hydrographic operations are complete and ports re-open in Puerto Rico, the work is far from done. During a hurricane, the shoreline can change significantly, marine debris may not have been detected in initial response surveys, and shoaling may have occurred in the approaches to ports. Survey work and chart updates must continue so that the accuracy of NOAA Coast Survey’s suite of nautical charts are restored to pre-storm conditions.

This blog post will be updated as we receive further information from the field.

NOAA Ship Rainier concludes it’s 2017 survey of Deer Passage, Alaska

NOAA Ship Rainier has been diligently surveying Deer Passage in the vicinity of Cold Bay and King Cove, Alaska, for the past month.

This navigationally significant area between Unga Strait and Sanak Island provides the only protected route for vessels transiting between the Gulf of Alaska, the very busy Unimak Passage, and the Bering Sea beyond. Deer Passage is heavily trafficked by fishing vessels, coastal freight traffic, and Alaska Marine Highway System ferries, and serves as an alternate route for deep-draft vessels on Trans-Pacific routes between North America and Asia. While in the area, Rainier observed particularly heavy use of the waterway by vessels engaged in local and Bering Sea fisheries, and towing vessels supporting remote Alaskan communities with barge service.

The area was last surveyed between 1911 and 1941, utilizing lead line and rudimentary single-beam sonar technology. Rainier’s modern, full-bottom coverage bathymetry will supersede all prior survey data and improve safety of navigation through updated nautical charts. During this year’s campaign on this multi-year project, Rainier completed three survey areas north and east of Deer Island and King Cove. Dangers to navigation identified in these surveys will be added to NOAA’s charts in the coming weeks, with full chart updates to follow after the data are fully processed and reviewed for quality.

The total area surveyed by Rainier in the Cold Bay and King Cove Vicinity during the 2017 Field Season, complied by Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Gahlinger.
The total area surveyed by Rainier in the Cold Bay and King Cove vicinity during the 2017 field season, compiled by Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Gahlinger.

While working on this project, Rainier was very happy to have the opportunity to moor in King Cove for a day to provide tours to the community and students from the local school. The ship and her crew welcomed 151 people on board to show them the good work of NOAA, Coast Survey, and  Rainier.

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School group in King Cove that visited NOAA Ship Rainier.

After Rainier completed 2017 operations in the Deer Passage area on August 30, it transited to Kodiak, Alaska, for re-supply and crew rest over Labor Day weekend. Next, the ship will be heading across the Gulf of Alaska and down the Inside Passage before leaving her survey launches in Seattle, Washington, for a major survey system upgrade while the ship surveys the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Please contact NOAA Ship Rainier’s public relations officer ENS Michelle Levano, michelle.levano@noaa.gov, for more information.

NOAA helps ports recover in Georgia and Florida following Hurricane Irma

Just as Hurricane Harvey response was wrapping up for some of NOAA Coast Survey’s navigation response teams (NRT), personnel and survey assets were positioned in preparation for the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.   

For the NRTs, this meant traveling hundreds of miles with a survey vessel in tow, facing challenges such as locating fueling stations, finding available lodging, and finding opportunities to rest. For the mobile integrated survey team (MIST), which is available to travel anywhere in the U.S. when hydrographic survey assistance is needed by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), this meant finding transportation to a disaster area and a  “vessel of opportunity” to survey from once there.

Hurricane response efforts and logistics are closely coordinated by Coast Survey’s Navigation Services and Hydrographic Surveys divisions which include regionally located navigation managers, NRTs, and survey ships. This combination of expertise ensures that we are often the first ones on the water after a hurricane, making sure there is no hidden debris or shoaling that pose a danger to navigation. Once our teams notify the USCG of our findings, the quicker ports can re-open and resume shipping, and homeland security or defense operations.

Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia

Mid-Atlantic Navigation Manager Ryan Wartick, located in Norfolk, VA, is working with the USACE Savannah District on tasking for NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson and NRT 2.

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is transiting from Norfolk, VA, to the Savannah/Brunswick area and is expected to arrive Thursday evening, September 14. They intend to survey portions of the port of Savannah and once complete, will travel to Brunswick.

NRT 2 (homeported in Fernandina Beach, FL, with James Kirkpatrick, Lucas Blass, and Alex Ligon – augmenting from NRT 1) is transiting to Brunswick, GA, from the NOAA Disaster Response Center in Mobile, AL, following Hurricane Harvey survey response. The team will begin surveying the waters around Brunswick including the East River and Jekyll Island Range inward on Wednesday, September 13.

Savannah and Brunswick update 9/13/17: NRT 2 is standing by as surveying in Brunswick was completed by USACE.

Miami, Florida

Southeast Navigation Manager Kyle Ward is positioned in Miami and coordinating operations and response efforts with USCG District 7.

The MIST (operated by Michael Annis, Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan French – augmenting from NRT 1, and John Doroba – augmenting from the Coast Survey Development Lab) traveled from the NOAA Disaster Response Center in Mobile, AL, via U.S. Coast Guard CASA HC-144A Ocean Sentry to Miami on Monday, September 11. This was the first flight into Miami post storm. The team is currently surveying the Fisher Island Channel in the port of Miami on board a vessel of opportunity provided by the Miami-Dade Police Department.

MIST team prepares to depart Mobile, AL, on the U.S. Coast Guard HC-144.
MIST team prepares to depart Mobile, AL, on the U.S. Coast Guard HC-144.
MIST hydrographic survey equipment being transported to Miami.
MIST hydrographic survey equipment being transported to Miami.
Miami-Dade police officers Abel Lopez and Levy Semino, the NOAA Coast Survey MIST team.
Miami-Dade police officers Abel Lopez and Levy Semino, with the NOAA Coast Survey MIST team Michael Annis, LCDR Jonathan French, and John Doroba.
Location of Fisher Island Channel where the MIST team is surveying in response to Hurricane Irma
Location of Fisher Island Channel where the MIST team is surveying in response to Hurricane Irma.

Miami update 9/13/17: MIST completed survey operations in the Port of Miami. The data provided by the MIST to the USCG Captain of the Port aided in the decision to re-open the port to cruise ships (with draft restrictions). MIST and southeast navigation manager are traveling to the Florida Keys to support hydrographic survey efforts.

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First cruise ships to enter the Port of Miami after it was re-opened (with restrictions) by the USCG Captain of the Port following Hurricane Irma.

Tampa, Florida

Eastern Gulf Coast Navigation Manager, Tim Osborn, is in Tampa coordinating efforts along the west coast of Florida.

NRT 5 (homeported in New London, CT,  with Ensign Dylan Kosten, Eli Smith, Michael Bloom, and Charles “Wess” Rowland – augmenting from NRT4) traveled hundreds of miles south with their vessel in tow to Tampa, FL, and arrived on Monday, September 11. The team is now surveying in Tampa Bay.

Tampa update 9/13/17: NRT 5 continues to survey in Tampa in coordination with USACE. USCG Captain of the Port allowed three fuel vessels to enter the port (with restrictions).

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View of the first fuel ship entering the Port of Tampa after Hurricane Irma, as it passes NRT 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOAA positions personnel and survey assets in preparation for Hurricane Irma

As Hurricane Irma approaches Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm, NOAA is positioning personnel and hydrographic survey assets to help speed the resumption of shipping post storm. In the wake of a hurricane, NOAA’s personnel and survey assets provide essential information when ports need to quickly but safely re-open, limiting significant economic losses caused by prolonged disruptions to the maritime transportation system.

NOAA’s Southeast Navigation Manager Kyle Ward is working with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) District 7 providing information on the location of NOAA vessels and their readiness. He is also working with USCG Sector San Juan to determine priority ports in the predicted path of the hurricane. Eastern Gulf Coast Navigation Manager Tim Osborn is standing by in Lafayette, LA, after finishing up Hurricane Harvey response efforts in Corpus Christi. Mid-Atlantic Navigation Manager Lt. Ryan Wartick is standing by in Norfolk, VA, after assisting with Hurricane Harvey response in the Houston-Galveston area.

NOAA Coast Survey’s navigation response teams (NRT)—small vessels with three-person crews—have been strategically positioned in the region and are ready to respond as Irma approaches Puerto Rico and heads toward Florida. NRT 2 (homeported in Fernandina Beach, FL) demobilized after Hurricane Harvey response efforts and is headed to the NOAA Disaster Response Center (DRC) in Mobile, AL. NRT 5 (homeported in New London, CT) will be traveling south toward Florida by the end of the week once essential survey equipment is installed on the vessel.

For areas like Puerto Rico, where NRTs can’t reach, Coast Survey sends the mobile integrated survey team (MIST). Currently, the MIST equipment is being sent to the DRC from Galveston and will be ready to ship to Puerto Rico. Coast Survey’s small autonomous underwater vehicle can potentially be used in Puerto Rico as well. All positioned survey assets are fully staffed.

NOAA’s two large hydrographic survey vessels in the region are also ready for response. NOAA Ship Ferdinand Hassler is in Jacksonville, FL, standing by and NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is in Charleston, SC, standing by. NOAA has several hydrographic survey vessels already under contract that have the potential to respond if needed.

Update 9/7/17: Given the most current storm track, NOAA ships Ferdinand Hassler and Thomas Jefferson are seeking shelter in Norfolk, VA, and will return south immediately after passage of the storm.

Updated NOS Asset Location Image 9/9/17:

 

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NOAA’s nowCOAST™ system contains the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) potential storm surge flooding map which depicts the risk associated with coastal storm surge flooding resulting from tropical cyclones.

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Projected path of Hurricane Irma as seen in nowCOAST™.

 

 

 

 

 

NOAA helps ports recover from Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey is the first major hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. Harvey strengthened to a Category 4 reaching landfall along the Texas coast on Friday, August 25, at peak intensity. By the next day, the storm weakened to a tropical storm bringing torrential rainfall to the region.

Before Harvey reached landfall, Coast Survey headquarters and field units were planning and positioning assets in strategic locations in proximity to the Texas coastline. Two navigation response teams—small vessels with three-person crews—were deployed and awaiting tasking for survey work prioritized by the U.S. Coast Guard, in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ports, terminal operators, state officials, and local emergency responders. The western Gulf Coast navigation manager, Alan Bunn, was positioned at the Houston/Galveston Incident Command Center (ICC), to coordinate response efforts. The eastern Gulf Coast navigation manager, Tim Osborn, traveled from Lafayette, LA, and was positioned at the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi ICC, to coordinate response efforts.

Responding in Corpus Christi

Navigation response team (NRT) 2, (homeported in Fernandina Beach, FL) was prepositioned in College Station, TX, when they received the first request to assist in the vicinity of Corpus Christi. While surveying this area, they were tasked with acquiring additional side scan sonar data which helped facilitate the salvage of a 90-foot steel crane boom that broke off a drill ship. The team worked with the USCG to place a salvage buoy on its location, marking the boom for near-term removal. The team continued to survey the main ship channel edges and along the jetties framing Corpus Christi Pass.

Navigation Response Team 2 in Corpus Christi Bay with a view of the Harbor Bridge.
Navigation Response Team 2 in Corpus Christi Bay with a view of the Harbor Bridge.

 

Left: A large drill ship broke loose from the port during Hurricane Harvey, losing a 90-foot steel crane boom. Using multibeam and sidescan sonar, NRT 2 found the boom. This image also shows the large jetties framing the pass. Right: Image of the large steel crane boom attached to the ship prior to the storm.
Left: A large drill ship broke loose from the port during Hurricane Harvey, losing a 90-foot steel crane boom. NRT 2 collected side scan sonar data to assist the USCG in salvage efforts. This image also shows the large jetties that frame the pass. Right: Image of the large steel crane boom attached to the ship prior to the storm. Image courtesy: U.S. Coast Guard

The team also worked the USCG to verify the operation of a newly broadcasted set of synthetic aids to navigation for the pilots to bring deep draft ships to port. These “virtual” aids to navigation can be used in situations where information is needed faster than a buoy can be placed. After the initial work in Corpus Christi Pass was completed, the Captain of the Port reopened the port to deep draft vessels (with restrictions).

“Thank you all for the outstanding support in this effort.” – Darrell Johnson, USACE in Corpus Christi

Thank you to our navigation managers and NRT 2—James Kirkpatrick and Lucas Blass from north Florida and Alex Ligon from Stennis, Mississippi—for working with the USCG and USACE in this response effort. NRT 2 is now headed northeast to Matagorda Bay to do similar survey work in the pass and along the jetties. NRT 2 will then continue to Victoria Barge Channel, Seadrift, and LaPorte. 

Navigation Response Team 2 with vessel in tow ready for work in Matagorda.
Navigation Response Team 2 with vessel in tow ready for work in Matagorda Bay.

 

Responding in Houston/Galveston

NRT 4 (homeported in Galveston, TX, with Dan Jacobs, Erin Diurba, and Charles “Wess” Rowland) was in a holding pattern following the storm as their survey boat was inaccessible due to flooding. The team was unable to reach it until waters receded in the Houston area. The team is now surveying the Galveston Ship Channel and Bolivar Anchorages. Lt. j.g Patrick Debroisse from Bay Hydro II provided assistance to NRT 4.

The mobile integrated survey team (MIST) equipment was shipped to Stennis, Mississippi, and is now in Galveston with its support crew, Michael Annis, Joshua Bergeron, and Eli Smith. The team is integrating the MIST unit—single beam and side scan sonar— on the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary vessel R/V Manta.

David Evans and Associates, a NOAA hydrographic surveys contractor, is also enroute to the Houston/Galveston area. Their vessel, R/V Blake, will support survey efforts there.

 

NOAA Ship Fairweather in western Alaska: A season of searching and survey

By ENS Linda Junge

NOAA Ship Fairweather has been busy during the last couple months. Three major activities have broken up the peak summer months of this field season.

The Fairweather finds a sunken fishing vessel

The Fairweather located the wreck of the F/V Destination, a crabbing vessel that sank this past February off the coast of St. George Island in the Bering Sea. The disappearance of Destination had been the subject of a major U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue effort and subsequent investigation. The second NOAA research vessel to search for the Destination, Fairweather continued the efforts of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which looked for the sunken vessel in spring. Data collected by the Fairweather’s ship and launch sonars permitted multiple methods of visualization of the Destination as it rests on the seafloor, which will aid the Coast Guard.

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Multibeam echo sounder image of the F/V Destination, seen here lying on its port side, with the house in the foreground, bow to the left, and stern to the right.

The crew of Fairweather hopes that the finding of Destination might bring some closure to the families of the six fishermen who lost their lives in this tragedy. Now that the wreck has been located, the Coast Guard has continued their investigation in an effort to better understand circumstances which lead to Destination’s sudden sinking.

The Fairweather surveys the mouth of the mighty Yukon River, the longest river in Alaska!

Traveling from St. George Island, Fairweather arrived to the Yukon Delta on a calm morning in mid-July. After anchoring in shallow waters over 15 miles offshore, two launches were deployed to cruise to the river mouth. There, the survey launches—equipped with state-of-the-art multibeam sonar systems—picked their way up narrow winding channels to the main inland waterways. Fairweather’s survey team used AIS track histories, satellite-derived bathymetry (SDB), and local knowledge to guide their investigations and collect data from the delta’s main navigable channels.

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Local boat provides guidance down the river.

This project was a great opportunity to compare SDB data to on-the-water reality observed on the launches. The Fairweather launches used colorful SDB images to estimate water flow, helpful in approximating the deeper channels.

Routes taken up the river channels generally followed the satellite-derived bathymetry data provided.
Routes taken up the Yukon River channels generally followed the satellite-derived bathymetry data provided.

The Yukon River is the most important supply route for most of interior western Alaska as well as the longest river in in the state. Thousands of people depend on the dry goods and fuel that are barged up and down the river every day. The mouth of the Yukon has not been surveyed since 1899. Since then, significant changes to the navigable channels and land masses of the delta have occurred on this dynamic river.

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Multibeam data collected over charted land masses along the Yukon River.
Here a day marker has fallen into the river after the land it rested on eroded away.
A day marker has fallen into the Yukon River after the land it rested on eroded away.

Safe shelter from the storm: the Fairweather surveys a critical Arctic port of refuge.

After arriving in Nome for a well-deserved port call, Fairweather set off again for the beginning of a new project area within the Arctic, the survey of Port Clarence. Port Clarence is a large bay located south of the Bering Strait. This natural harbor is a rare shelter along the exposed northwest coast of Alaska. As the Northwest Passage becomes more accessible, an increasing number of ships will need to seek shelter from the frequent storms of the Bering Sea. Port Clarence, now home to two small villages and with road access to Nome, may be poised to see more ship traffic in coming years.

Port Clarence is a large, flat area, perfect for side scan sonar (SSS) use. The crew of Fairweather outfitted two launches with Klein 5000 side scan units for use in the area, effectively tripling the survey coverage. Multibeam echo sounders were used concurrently with the SSS to confirm the depth of any rocks or obstructions.

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Fairweather launches prepped and ready to go with Klein side scan units.

Despite the sudden, violent squalls that frequent Port Clarence and slow the Fairweather’s survey progress, the crew has been knocking out huge segments of survey area. Soon the ship will be packing up and transiting to Yakutat in southeast Alaska, where the next survey awaits!

Fifteen years later: Remembering a beloved crew member

The date, August 13, 2002, stands out in the memory of many Coast Survey employees, but most poignantly for the crew of NOAA Ship Rainier. It was this day in Prince William Sound, Alaska, when NOAA Ship Rainier’s survey launch capsized after being struck by high waves, killing Eric Koss, one of their beloved crewman and coxswain. The small launch was conducting nearshore surveys off Point Elrington in Prince William Sound. The seas were rough, but typical for the area. When the launch capsized, two of the crew members, David Fischman and NOAA Corps Ensign Jennifer Johnson, swam to safety, but Eric perished in the accident.

Wreckage of Rainier launch washed ashore in Resurrection Bay, Alaska.
Wreckage of the Rainier launch washed ashore in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Eric Koss on NOAA Ship Rainier.
Eric Koss on NOAA Ship Rainier.

The echos of this accident still reverberate through the NOAA community, and particularly the hydrographic ships that work in Alaska. Nearshore operations are planned and executed with this event in mind. Limits for inshore work are now set a project level and laser scanners are being employed specifically to move crew members out of the dangerous nearshore environment.

Memorials to Eric can be found on NOAA Ship Rainier, the Pacific Hydrographic Branch in Seattle, and at Coast Survey headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. But perhaps the most important memorial can be found on chart 16702, where Koss Cove is located just west of Point Elrington.

Koss Cove in Resurrection Bay as seen on chart 16702. Commemorative survey marker honoring Eric Koss (right).
Koss Cove in Prince William Sound, Alaska, as seen on chart 16702 (left). Commemorative survey marker located near Koss Cove honoring Eric Koss (right).