Archive for the ‘Nautical charts’ Category

How accurate are nautical charts?   3 comments

Charts will provide more information on “zone of confidence”

It is a major challenge – some might say an impossibility – to keep all thousand U.S. nautical charts up to date. But exactly how out of date is the chart data? Chart users will get a better idea now that Coast Survey is gradually rolling out a new chart feature called the zone of confidence, or “ZOC” box. It will replace the source diagram that is currently on large-scale charts. Source diagrams, and now the improved ZOC, help mariners assess hydrographic survey data and the associated level of risk to navigate in a particular area.

The first charts to show the new ZOC box are 18622, 18682, 18754, and 11328. They were released on April 7.

Both source diagrams and ZOC diagrams consist of a graphic representation of the extents of hydrographic surveys within the chart and accompanying table of related survey quality categories. Where the old source diagrams were based on inexact and sometimes subjective parameters, however, the new ZOC classifications are derived more consistently, using a combination of survey date, position accuracy, depth accuracy, and sea floor coverage (the survey’s ability to detect objects on the seafloor).

To see the zones of confidence on charts, look for the chart markings (A1, A2, B, C, and D) on the chart itself. Check the ZOC box (located on non-water portions of the chart) for the date of the data acquisition, the position accuracy, the depth accuracy, and characterization of the seafloor for each particular zone.

ZOC categories

Why do users need a “zone of confidence?

The age and accuracy of data on nautical charts can vary. Depth information on nautical charts, paper or digital, is based on data from the latest available hydrographic survey, which in many cases may be quite old. In too many cases, the data is more than 150 years old. Sometimes, particularly in Alaska, the depth measurements are so old that they may have originated from Captain Cook in 1778.

Mariners need to know if data is old. They need to understand the capabilities and the limitations of the chart. In particular, the mariner should understand that nautical chart data, especially when it is displayed on navigation systems and mobile apps, possess inherent accuracy limitations.

Before the advent of GPS, the position accuracy of features on a paper chart was more than adequate to serve the mariner’s needs. Twenty years ago, mariners were typically obtaining position fixes using radar ranges, visual bearings, or Loran C. Generally, these positioning methods were an order of magnitude less accurate than the horizontal accuracy of the survey information portrayed on the chart. Back then, Coast Survey cartographers were satisfied when we plotted a fix with three lines of position that resulted in an equilateral triangle whose sides were two millimeters in length at a chart scale of 1:20,000. In real world coordinates, the triangle would have 40-meter sides. Close enough!

Now, with GPS, charted locations that are off by 10 or 15 meters are not nearly close enough. Mariners now expect, just as they did 30 years ago, that the horizontal accuracy of their charts will be at least as accurate as the positioning system available to them. Unfortunately, charts based on data acquired with old survey technologies will never meet that expectation.

Source data is deficient by today’s standards

The overall accuracy of data portrayed on paper charts is a combination of the accuracy of the underlying source data and the accuracy of the chart compilation process. Most nautical charts are made up of survey data collected by various sources over a long time. A given chart might encompass one area that is based on a lead line and sextant hydrographic survey conducted in 1890, while another area of the same chart might have been surveyed in the year 2000 with a full-coverage shallow-water multibeam echo sounder.

In general, federal hydrographic surveys have used the highest standards, with the most accurate hydrographic survey instrumentation available at the time. On a 1:20,000-scale chart, for example, the survey data was required to be accurate to 15 meters. Features whose positions originate in the local notice to mariners, reported by unknown source, are usually charted with qualifying notations like position approximate (PA) or position doubtful (PD). The charted positions of these features, if they do exist, may be in error by miles.

Similarly, the shoreline found on most NOAA charts is based on photogrammetric or plane table surveys that are more than 30 years old.

Another component of chart accuracy involves the chart compilation process. Before NOAA’s suite of charts was scanned into raster format in 1994, all chart compilation was performed manually. Cartographers drew projection lines by hand and plotted features relative to these lines. They graphically reduced large-scale (high-detail) surveys or engineering drawings to chart scale. Very often, they referenced these drawings to state or local coordinate systems. The data would then be converted to the horizontal datum of the chart, e.g., the North American 1927 (NAD27) or the North American Datum 1983 (NAD83). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NOAA converted all of its charts to NAD83, using averaging techniques and re-drawing all of the projection lines manually.

When NOAA scanned its charts and moved its cartographic production into a computer environment, cartographers noted variations between manually constructed projection lines and those that were computer-generated. They adjusted all of the raster charts so that the manual projection lines conformed to the computer-generated projection.

Many electronic chart positional discrepancies that are observed today originate from the past graphical chart compilation techniques. The manual application of survey data of varying scales to the fixed chart scale was a source of error that often introduced biases. Unfortunately, on any given chart, the magnitude and the direction of these discrepancies will vary in different areas of the chart. Therefore, no systematic adjustment can automatically improve chart accuracy.

Coast Survey is addressing the accuracy problem

NOAA’s suite of over a thousand nautical charts covers 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, and includes 3.4 million square nautical miles of U.S. jurisdiction within the Exclusive Economic Zone (which is an area that extends 200 nautical miles from shore.) About half of the depth information found on NOAA charts is based on hydrographic surveys conducted before 1940. Surveys conducted with lead lines or single-beam echo sounders sampled a small percentage of the ocean bottom. Due to technological constraints, hydrographers were unable to see between the sounding lines. Depending on the water depth, these lines may have been spaced at 50, 100, 200, or 400 meters. Today, as NOAA and its contractors re-survey areas and obtain full-bottom coverage, we routinely discover previously uncharted features (some that are dangers to navigation). These features were either: 1) not detected on prior surveys; 2) man-made objects, like wrecks and obstructions, that have appeared on the ocean bottom since the prior survey; or 3) the result of natural changes that have occurred since the prior survey.

Coast Survey is also improving our chart production system. As NOAA developed its charts over the centuries, cartographers relied on separate sets of data: one set for traditional paper charts, and another for the modern electronic navigational charts. We are currently integrating a new charting system that will use one central database to produce all NOAA chart products. The new chart system slims down the system while it beefs up performance, speeding new data and updates to all chart versions of the same charted areas and removing inconsistencies.

As always, NOAA asks chart users to let us know when you find an error on a NOAA chart. Just go to the discrepancy reporting system, give us your observation, and we will take it from there.

Posted April 8, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Cartography, Nautical charts

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Maria Mitchell: Coast Survey’s “indefatigable comet-seeker”   Leave a comment

Among women trailblazers, there is one who may not be sufficiently recognized: Maria Mitchell, the first female professional employed by Coast Survey. March is Women’s History Month, so it is especially appropriate to introduce this extraordinary woman to the Coast Survey audience.

According to the National Women’s History Museum, Mitchell “probably was the first woman employed in a professional capacity by the federal government. Although women had been hired as cooks, laundresses, etc., her 1849 employment appears to be the first case of a woman earning an annual salary for work based on knowledge of an academic field.”

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August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889

Actually, Coast Survey records indicate that she began her Coast Survey career in August 1845, when the agency hired her as an astronomic observer, based in Nantucket. Coast Survey Superintendent Alexander Dallas Bache asked Marie and her father, William Mitchell, to assist in observations associated with a project to establish a cardinal point for latitude and longitude for the United States and North America. Records indicate that Bache paid her $300 a year.

Retired NOAA Captain Albert “Skip” Theberge has woven Maria Mitchell’s story into his history of the U.S. Coast Survey.

“Bache’s progressive, although somewhat tight-fisted, views on managing personnel led to the Coast Survey being the first federal agency to hire women for professional work both within its ranks as permanent personnel and on a contract basis. The astronomer, Maria Mitchell of Nantucket, was the pioneer in this radical departure from custom,” Theberge writes.

Maria distinguished herself from the outset. On January 15, 1846, William Mitchell wrote to Bache, “I may say then that about all the moon culminations, since Loomis left us, have been taken (when visible) except through a part of one lunation, when Maria and myself were absent at Worcester. Maria alternates with me in these with a zeal (shall I also say skill?) very gratifying to an old man.”

On October 1, 1847, Maria used a telescope to discover a comet. “Her discovery was a major step in establishing her fame as the foremost nineteenth century woman scientist in the United States,” Theberge observes.

People today might find it strange to discover that there was actually an internal agency debate on whether to publicize Maria Mitchell’s association with the Coast Survey. Her own father wrote to Bache in 1848, expressing fear that some of the less enlightened members of Congress might note “…why, he employs a woman what a waste of money.”

Fortunately, Bache was not swayed by such concerns. He wrote a congratulatory note to “the lady astronomer in whose fame I take personal pride as having in some degree helped to foster the talent which has here developed… We congratulate the indefatigable comet-seeker on her success; is she not the first lady who has ever discovered a comet? The Coast Survey is proud of her connection with it…”

Phebe Kendall Mitchell, Maria Mitchell’s sister, picks up Maria’s history:

“In 1849 Miss Mitchell was asked by the late Admiral Davis [Charles Henry Davis], who had just taken charge of the American Nautical Almanac, to act as computer for that work, – a proposition to which she gladly assented, and for nineteen years she held that position in addition to her other duties… In this year, too, she was employed by Professor Bache, of the United States Coast Survey, in the work of an astronomical party at Mount Independence, Maine.” (Kendall, P.M. 1896. Maria Mitchell Life, Letters, and Journals. p. 24. Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston.)

Posted March 24, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

New tips for understanding nautical chart symbols   1 comment

SymbolGlobeAs a responsible boater, you examine your nautical chart before sailing, determined to avoid problems during a nice trip along the coast. Charts are packed with symbols and abbreviations, so you might refer to the free copy of U.S. Chart No. 1, which lists all of the symbols used on NOAA nautical charts. It is an excellent quick reference for identifying unfamiliar symbols.

However, sometimes mariners need a deeper understanding…

Coast Survey is now providing additional information about complex or particularly confusing chart symbols to augment what is available in U.S. Chart No. 1. The first two tip sheets are available now. Coast Survey will add more chart symbology tip sheets to the U.S. Chart No. 1 webpage as the need arises.

Understanding NOAA chart symbology

K46.1 - FishHaven

Fish havens: The typical U.S. Chart No. 1 entry, such as this one for fish haven, lists only the name and the symbols. The tip sheet explains what fish havens are, what they look like in context with other charted features, and what restrictions may apply to them.

AnchorageSymbols

Anchorages and harbors of refuge: The anchor symbol has been used for decades to represent an anchorage on U.S. nautical charts, but the specific meaning of the symbol has evolved over the years. The tip sheet explains what the symbol means now – and, perhaps more importantly, what it doesn’t mean.

Questions or suggestions? Email USChart1@noaa.gov.

Posted March 1, 2016 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Cartography, Nautical charts

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Coast Survey announces surveys by navigation response teams   2 comments

NRT data will be used to update nautical charts

Coast Survey’s navigation response teams have proven their value, time and again, especially after hurricanes when ports suspend operations, and shipping (or naval movements) cease until Coast Survey’s small boats can locate underwater dangers to navigation. But what do the six navigation response teams (NRTs) do during those long periods between deployments for maritime emergencies? They are busy, mostly year-round, collecting hydrographic data for updating nautical charts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Navigation response teams survey for chart updates, emergency response, and homeland security.

Plans for 2016

Responding to requests from mariners around the country, Coast Survey has set some aggressive projects for the NRTs this year. Starting from Northeast and working our way around the coasts…

NEW YORK

Beginning in June and throughout the summer, NRT5 will survey the Hudson River, with a focus on the area from Albany to Kingston. This is a continuation of the project started at the request of the Hudson River Pilots (as reported in NOAA plans multiyear project to update Hudson River charts). We are planning to have Coast Survey research vessel Bay Hydro II join the NRT for most of the summer, to get as much new charting data as possible. In October, NRT5 will move to Eastern Long Island Sound, to finish up some shallow survey work adjacent to recent NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson’s extensive survey project. The officer-in-charge of NRT5 is NOAA Lt. Andrew Clos. The officer-in-charge of Bay Hydro II will be NOAA Ensign Sarah Chappel.

GEORGIA

In March, NRT2 starts a 16-month survey project in Saint Andrew Sound. The area, which has significant traffic from small boats, tugs, and barges, is reportedly experiencing small boat groundings, and Coast Survey’s navigation manager in the area has received several requests for a modern survey. Coast Survey will use the data to update NOAA chart 11504 and ENC US5GA12M, as well as other charts covering portions of the specific surveyed areas. The existing charted soundings are from partial bottom coverage surveys dating back to the early 1900s. NRT2 is led by Erik Anderson.

EASTERN GULF OF MEXICO – BILOXI AND MOBILE

NOAA Chart - 11376_Public

NRT1 will check out the 18-yr-old reported depths to update chart 11376 inset.

NRT1 will spend March and April acquiring data off the coast of Biloxi, Mississippi, to update the Intracoastal Waterway chart 11372. They will then move to Alabama for some long-overdue “chart clean up” work at the northern end of the Mobile Ship Channel, outside of the area controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Mobile project will investigate charted items, verify reported depths, and update older NOAA bathymetry (vintage 1961) that is depicted in the inset area of NOAA chart 11376. Since the Mobile survey probably will not take the entire rest of the season, depending on interruptions for hurricane response, we are assessing additional survey needs in the area. NRT1 is led by Mark McMann.

WEST GULF OF MEXICO – TEXAS

NRT4 will spend all of 2016 surveying in Galveston Bay, including the bay entrance and newly charted barge channels along the Houston Ship Channel. The team is working with Coast Survey’s navigation manager for Texas to identify additional charted features that require investigation to reduce localized chart clutter and improve chart adequacy.  NRT4 is led by Dan Jacobs.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

NRT6 is slated to survey the Suisun Bay anchorage used by MARAD’s National Defense Reserve Fleet, to acquire updated depths. Afterwards, NRT6 will move throughout the bay area to address charting concerns reported by the San Francisco Bar Pilot Association near Pittsburg, Antioch, San Joaquin River, and Redwood City. Coast Survey will use the data to generally update NOAA chart 18652 and ENC US5CA43M, as well as larger scale charts of the specific surveyed areas. NRT6 is led by Laura Pagano.

PACIFIC NORTHWEST

It has been a while since Coast Survey has had an operational NRT presence for Oregon and Washington, but this is the year we are bringing NRT3 back on line. Team lead Ian Colvert is shaking the dust off NRT3 and preparing to restart survey operations. He is working with the Coast Survey navigation manager to develop survey priorities for this summer and fall.

NRTleads

Team leads for Coast Survey’s navigation response teams

Charting the data

Once the navigation response teams process and submit the data acquired during the surveys, the information is further processed in Coast Survey’s Atlantic and Pacific hydrographic branches, and then submitted to our cartographers for application to the charts. The turnaround time for updating the chart depends on the update calendars for each regional cartographic branch. If the NRTs find any dangers to navigation, the information will be relayed to mariners through the Local Notice to Mariners postings and will be applied to NOAA’s electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®), online products, and print-on-demand paper charts. Critical updates will be applied to charts more quickly than normal depth adjustments.

Wishes for fair skies and following seas in 2016   3 comments

 

NOAA Winter Coast w Masefield quoteSeason’s greetings from everyone at NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey!

Posted December 22, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

NOAA and Cuban chartmakers working together to improve maritime safety   1 comment

Callender, Gomez, and Glang

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.

cubaSAISh

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.

 

Upgrading Great Lakes operational forecast systems   Leave a comment

by Thomas Loeper, Coast Survey navigation manager for the Great Lakes

Have you ever wondered how scientists make short-term forecast water levels, currents, and water temperature for the Great Lakes? They use the National Ocean Service’s operational forecast systems. There are now five different computer forecast modeling systems running for the Great Lakes — one for each lake. The forecast guidance from these forecast systems supports a variety of activities, including environmental management, emergency response for incidents like hazardous materials spills, homeland security, and search and rescue, as well as safe and efficient navigation of recreational and commercial vessels along the entire Great Lakes system.

The current operational forecast systems have been operational since 2005/2006, and Coast Survey is planning upgrades in the coming years. The original forecast systems were developed in the early 1990s as a collaborative effort between NOAA’s National Ocean Service, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the National Weather Service, and the Ohio State University. They were the first civilian coastal ocean systems to produce regularly scheduled predictions for the U.S.

The new forecast systems will have double the forecast horizon, from 60 to 120 hours, and provide higher horizontal and vertical resolution predictions.

VariablesAffectingWater

Model inputs include currents, winds, and temperatures

The inputs to the forecast systems include atmospheric forecasts and observations such as surface winds, cloud cover, air temperature, and dew point temperature, along with water levels, water temperatures, and tributary flows along its grid boundaries. To model the lake, scientists use an unstructured 3-D grid of points that extend from the surface to the bottom of the lake. The grid provides more detail in areas of great concern, i.e., in harbors or in chokepoints like the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. NOAA feeds this information into a 3-D oceanographic circulation model to generate the forecast guidance.

MackinacMeshModel

Lakes Michigan and Huron operational forecast system grid detail in the Straits of Mackinac

Upgrades to the Great Lakes operational forecast systems

First, NOAA will update the forecast system for Lake Erie. The Lake Erie Operational Forecast System is expected to be operational by March 2016. By 2017, the upgraded system will help scientists forecast harmful algal bloom. Additionally, NOAA is developing an ice module to incorporate into the forecast systems for all the Great Lakes.

LakeErie

Upgraded Lake Erie operational forecast system grid with horizonal spacing from 400m to 3.5km

Second, we are developing a new combined forecast system: the Lakes Michigan and Huron Operational Forecast System. This model upgrade combines both lakes since they act — hydraulically — as one giant lake, essentially forming the largest lake in the world by surface area. This system is scheduled for operations sometime in 2018.

Nowcast/forecast graphics are available as map views from the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) Operational Forecast System site. To view real-time and forecast conditions as web map services, use the recently upgraded nowCOAST. NowCOAST is a GIS-based webmap service providing more frequently updated observations for coastal and Great Lakes regions along with coastal and marine weather forecasts now available 24 hours a day.

nowCOAST-outreach-meeting-blog-LEOFSsfccur-displayedonnowcoast

nowCOAST image of surface water currents prediction from Lake Erie operational forecast system

Posted December 11, 2015 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

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