NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson completes 2018 survey work in the Approaches to Houston-Galveston

By Lt. Charles Wisotzkey

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson departed the western Gulf of Mexico in early August 2018 after completing scheduled survey operations on the Approaches to Houston project. Data collected for the project will update nautical charts for the approaches to the main shipping channel leading to the ports of Houston and Galveston.

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Thomas Jefferson‘s project area located southeast of the entrance to Galveston Bay.

The Port of Houston is the largest U.S. port in terms of foreign trade and petroleum products. The main shipping channel extends from Houston, down the Buffalo Bayou, through Galveston Bay, and into the Gulf of Mexico at the pass between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. The approaches to Galveston Bay are heavily trafficked by all manner of commercial vessels. In fact, the anchorages outside of the entrance to Galveston Bay were among the busiest traffic areas the ship’s command had experienced.

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Automatic Identification System (AIS) traffic near the entrance to Galveston Bay. Each red, green, and blue symbol represents a separate vessel. Most of the offshore AIS symbols represent, in this instance, large commercial vessels (MarineTraffic 2018).
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A closer look at Thomas Jefferson‘s project area highlights its navigational characteristics.

Multiple safety fairways and numerous oil platforms with pipeline infrastructure are shown in the image above. The safety fairways are kept clear of oil and gas infrastructure and are used by large commercial traffic to transit around the Gulf of Mexico; however, obstructions are sometimes reported and charted within the bounds of the safety fairways. 

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An example of an abnormal traffic situation caused by the presence of position approximate (PA) obstructions in the safety fairway that leads into the entrance to Galveston Bay.

The image above shows two charted position approximate (PA) obstructions within the safety fairway to the south of Thomas Jefferson’s main project area. As seen in the image, two vessels favor the north side of the safety fairway in order to avoid the charted PA obstructions and passing nearer to each other than would otherwise be prudent. In this case, both PA obstructions were disproved by Thomas Jefferson and will be removed from the chart.

Overall, the Approaches to Houston project was highly successful. Thomas Jefferson was able to collect over 9,500 linear nautical miles and more than 500 square nautical miles of survey data. In addition to the two PA obstructions described previously, Thomas Jefferson corrected the position of five navigationally significant wrecks and obstructions, disproved the existence of one additional navigationally significant charted obstruction, identified two previously uncharted wrecks, provided updated Aid to Navigation data to the U.S. Coast Guard, and located numerous uncharted and/or exposed pipelines. This work will improve chart quality for an area of critical importance to our nation’s economy.

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The crew of the Thomas Jefferson, along with local Houston/Galveston NOAA partners, shared the positive impact of the ship’s work at a successful public relations event in Galveston, Texas, in July. From left to right: Ensign Sydney Catoire (Thomas Jefferson), Charles Rowland (Navigation Response Branch (NRB)), Alan Bunn (NOAA navigation manager), Erin Diurba (NRB), Katie Magee (National Weather Service (NWS)), Sarah Randall (NWS), Dan Jacobs (NRB), and Cmdr. Chris Van Westendorp (CO Thomas Jefferson). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOAA positions hydrographic survey assets in Hawaii in preparation for Hurricane Lane

As Hurricane Lane approaches the Hawaiian Islands as a Category 4 storm with wind gusts reaching 150 mph in some locations, NOAA is prestaging personnel and hydrographic survey assets to help speed the resumption of shipping post storm.

According to a recent news release from the office of Governor David Ige of Hawaii, the state is in the process of closing commercial harbors. Gov. Ige states, “This is important because the harbors are our lifeline to essentials such as food and products. We must protect the harbors and piers so that shipping operations can resume once the storm has passed.”

Projected path of Hurricane Lane as seen in nowCOAST™
Projected path of Hurricane Lane as seen in nowCOAST™ as of early afternoon (EDT) August 23, 2018.

Coast Survey mobilizes survey teams to search for underwater debris and shoaling after hurricanes, to speed the resumption of ocean-going commerce. In this case, since navigation response team (NRT) vessels are unable to reach Hawaii, NOAA’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST) is traveling to Oahu with survey equipment in tow. Comprised of hydrographic survey experts with experience in rapid emergency response, the MIST can quickly install a sonar kit on a “vessel of opportunity” and be out on the water as soon as practicable. For the first time, the team will be using a new multibeam echo sounder kit, adding to the traditional arsenal of side scan and singlebeam sonars. This new capability will allow the MIST to provide high resolution depth information throughout the survey area.

As seen most recently in response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the team’s flexibility allows them to quickly respond in waterways where the U.S. Coast Guard needs them most. For Hurricane Lane response, the MIST members include Mike Annis, NOAA scientist and lead of NOAA’s MIST; Erin Diurba, team member of NRT Galveston, Texas; Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten, officer in charge of NRT New London, Connecticut; and Michael Bloom, team member of NRT New London.

Mike Annis (right), NOAA scientist and lead of NOAA’s Mobile Integrated Survey Team (MIST), and LCDR Jonathan French, mount side scan sonar on a Coast Guard vessel in Key West.
NOAA MIST will install hydrographic survey equipment on a “vessel of opportunity” in Hawaii similar to their project in Key West, Florida, (pictured) when responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Mike Annis (right) and Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan French (left) mount a side scan sonar on a Coast Guard vessel.

NOAA’s northwest and Pacific Islands regional navigation manager, Crescent Moegling, is currently embedded within the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU) and working with Coast Guard District 14, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Transportation Harbors. She will be assisting with port survey prioritization and providing information on the status of NOAA’s survey assets and their readiness. As soon as the Coast Guard can assess where survey response is needed most, the NOAA team will deploy.

NOAA and Coast Guard survey shallow channels in eastern Chesapeake Bay to update aids to navigation

By Lt j.g. Patrick Debroisse

The area of the Chesapeake Bay along the Eastern Shore of Maryland is one of our nation’s treasures. Home to unique underwater grasses, fish, and shellfish, this complex transition from river to sea is also home to millions of tons of sediment delivered annually from eroding land and streams. Recreational boaters, fisherman, and cruising vessels are keenly aware of the shifting sands and sediment deposits in these shallow waters and rely on aids to navigation (ATON) — a system of beacons and buoys — to travel safely to and from the harbors and docks along the shoreline.

U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) from Crisfield, Maryland, recently requested the assistance of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to help identify areas where ATON were in need of repair, relocation, or removal due to the shifting sediment of these nearshore areas. Crew from NOAA research vessel Bay Hydro II and from navigation response team (NRT) 1 (homeported in Stennis, Mississippi) operated an Echoboat autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) from a USCG vessel to survey these shallow waters. 

Lt j.g. Patrick Debroisse readies the Echoboat ASV for hydrographic survey
Lt j.g. Patrick Debroisse (NOAA, junior officer in charge, Bay Hydro II) readies the Echoboat ASV for hydrographic survey in the nearshore waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
Alex Ligon (NOAA NRT1) works with USCG Boatswain Mate (BM) 1 Lee Durfee, BM2 Collin Blugis, and Machinery Technician 3 Matt Kemp to load the ASV on the USCG vessel.
Alex Ligon (NOAA, NRT 1) works with USCG Boatswain Mate (BM) 1 Lee Durfee, BM 2 Collin Blugis, and Machinery Technician 3 Matt Kemp to load the ASV on the USCG vessel.

The team first visited Slaughter Creek, near Taylor’s Island, where the USCG believed sediment in the channel was shifting, requiring potential ATON relocation. The second area was in Pocomoke River, east of Smith Island, where shoaling in the already shallow channel was of concern, as well as the existence of unused ATON anchors. The ASV, equipped with side scan sonar to search for underwater objects, and a multibeam echo sounder to check the contours of the channels, surveyed both areas.

Once the survey data is processed and delivered to the USCG ANT, they can make informed decisions about ATON maintenance. Finding old ATON anchors and recycling them back into service is a potential cost savings for the USCG. NOAA and the USCG plan to operate the Echoboat ASV in this area again, surveying the waters for a possible wreck in Fishing Bay and for old ATON moorings replaced by a day shape.

Echoboat ASV surveys in the Pocomoke River Channel to investigate possible shoaling.
Echoboat ASV surveys in the Pocomoke River channel to investigate possible shoaling.
Alex Ligon (NOAA NRT 1) watches the ASV data in real-time. The ability to watch the data real time allows real-time decision making for survey planning and preliminary products to be provided to the Coast Guard ANT.
Alex Ligon (NOAA, NRT 1) watches the ASV data in real-time, which allows for real-time decision making for survey planning and preliminary products.

Coast Survey recently surveyed the waters of Lake Champlain using the Echoboat ASV.  This portable unit provides flexibility and allows survey teams to further develop procedures and to train more individuals in its use for future operations around the country.

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.

Coast Survey prepares to serve nation during 2018 hurricane season

“But, sir, what does the country want in the coast survey? They want a very useful work done, a very important work done, and they want it done in the best manner.” U.S. Senator John Davis (MA), 1849, explaining the importance of the coast survey to safety and the U.S. economy during the 30th Congress, 2nd Session

As the nation’s nautical chartmaker, NOAA Coast Survey provides critical emergency response information to coastal communities and waterways. Each year, Coast Survey prepares for hurricane season in order to perform the work in—as the late Senator Davis put it—“the best manner.” Last year’s string of powerful hurricanes underscored the importance of coordinated efforts for storm preparation, response, and recovery. With the official start of the 2018 hurricane season just around the corner, Coast Survey’s regional navigation managers spent the large part of April and May meeting with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), port authorities, NOAA National Weather Service, and communities to prepare emergency response capabilities.

Understanding each others’ roles and responsibilities ahead of time is imperative to a response effort as strong storms can shut down ports and compromise our nation’s marine transportation system. Our East Coast and Gulf Coast navigation managers report on NOAA’s survey capabilities and critical assets at hurricane exercises and planning meetings. With Coast Survey’s expertise in underwater detection, NOAA navigation response teams and survey ships are often first on the water following a hurricane, making sure that no hidden debris or shoaling pose dangers to navigation.

Tim Osborn (left), the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, Dr. Neil Jacobs (center), Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction
Tim Osborn (left), the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, Dr. Neil Jacobs (center), Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, prepare to interact with attendees of the Hurricane Awareness Tour in Lakeland, Florida. Credit: Tim Osborn

This year, NOAA navigation managers participated in hurricane exercises in:

  • Texas: Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Houston/Galveston/Freeport
  • Louisiana: Port Charles, Port Fourchon
  • Alabama: Orange Beach
  • Florida: Lakeland, Tampa, Port Canaveral
  • Georgia: Savannah
  • South Carolina: Charleston
  • Virginia: Hampton Roads
  • Maryland: Baltimore
  • Pennsylvania: Delaware River and Bay (Philadelphia port complex)

Meetings are planned with USCG Sector San Juan staff as well as Puerto Rico South Coast Harbor Safety and Security in early June.

NOAA's southeast navigation manager, Kyle Ward (left) meets with USCG, Port Authority and other representatives of the Maritime community at the pre-hurricane meeting hosted at Port Canaveral, Florida.
NOAA’s southeast navigation manager, Kyle Ward (left) meets with USCG, Port Authority and other representatives of the maritime community at the pre-hurricane meeting hosted at Port Canaveral, Florida.

Additionally, Tim Osborn, the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, Alan Bunn, the navigation manager for the west Gulf Coast, and Lt. Cmdr. Jay Lomnicky, chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch, recently participated in the Gulf Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team (JHT) meeting. This large Gulf-wide event held each year at the Port of New Orleans includes USCG, tug and tow industry, pilots, deep draft navigation, ports, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and NOAA partners from Brownsville, Texas, spanning east to Panama City, Florida. Each participant is a working member of the JHT for the current hurricane season.

Alan Bunn (center), the navigation manager for the west Gulf Coast, and Lt. Cmdr. Jay Lomnicky (right), chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch, attend a presentation by the USCG at the Gulf Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team meeting. Alan Bunn was presented with a Command Coin from USACE Galveston, in recognition thanks for his efforts, and that of OCS, in the Hurricane Harvey Response.
Alan Bunn (center), navigation manager for the west Gulf Coast, and Lt. Cmdr. Jay Lomnicky (right), chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch, attend a presentation by the USCG at the Gulf Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team meeting. Alan Bunn was presented with a Command Coin from USACE Galveston, in recognition for his efforts, and that of OCS, in the Hurricane Harvey response. Credit: Tim Osborn

Capt. Jim Crocker, chief of NOAA’s Navigation Services Division, and Kyle Ward,  navigation manager for the Southeast Coast, participated in a USCG District 7 workshop in Miami, Florida, to discuss the region’s readiness for the upcoming hurricane season. District 7 is responsible for six regionally-based sectors stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to Key West, Florida, and Saint Petersburg, Florida, to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last year, each of these sectors was impacted by either Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, or both storms. Hydrographic survey vessels operated by NOAA and the USACE are considered critical assets to the USCG.

When severe weather isn’t heading for the coast, NOAA navigation managers work directly with pilots, mariners, port authorities, and recreational boaters to help identify navigational challenges facing the marine transportation system, and provide the resources and services that promote safe and efficient navigation.