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.
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.
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.
At the request of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL), NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey deployed a survey team and a newautonomous 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.
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 Surveynavigation 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 withmultibeam 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.
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.
“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.
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
South Carolina: Charleston
Virginia: Hampton Roads
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.
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.
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.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the federal leader in emergency hydrographic response. Consecutive strong storms during the 2017 hurricane season made response efforts challenging, and emphasized the importance of having a well-trained and versatile staff. Coast Survey’s regional navigation managers, navigation response teams (NRTs), and mobile integrated survey team (MIST) worked with partners before and after the storms to quickly and safely reopen ports and waterways.
The MIST equipment is a mobile, quick-install side scan and single beam sonar kit that can be quickly set up on a vessel of opportunity. Recently, Coast Survey sent the MIST team to Astoria, Oregon to conduct a hydrographic survey of the Mott Basin area, which the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requested to confirm charted depth and obstruction data.
The MIST group used this as an opportunity to give NRTs experience with setup, usage, and tear down of MIST equipment, as well as to perform a system test prior to the upcoming hurricane season.
The team installed and integrated the MIST equipment on a USCG Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (TANB) vessel. TANB vessels are normally used for navigation aid maintenance, but can serve as a vessel of opportunity for hydrographic surveys using MIST equipment. During the 2017 hurricane season, NOAA used USCG vessels of opportunity in Florida and Puerto Rico for rapid hydrographic survey response.
The deployment to Mott Basin in not only provided USCG with hydrographic data to meet their operational mission, but also allowed NOAA to exercise equipment that will be critical to any upcoming storm or emergency response.
Coast Survey’s NRTs conduct hydrographic surveys to update NOAA’s suite of nautical charts. The teams are strategically located around the country and remain on call to respond to emergencies speeding the resumption of shipping after storms, and protecting life and property from underwater dangers to navigation.
Recently, NOAA navigation response team 5 (NRT5), responded to a survey request from U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Sector New York following several groundings near Rockaway Point in Queens, New York. Waves and currents often influence the size and shape of nearshore sandbars, and the USCG was concerned that a sandbar may have expanded beyond the area depicted on the nautical chart. Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten, Eli Smith, and Michael Bloom traveled from New London, Connecticut, to Jersey City, New Jersey, to launch their vessel and start the survey of the area.
The location of the shoal and characteristics of the sandbar created challenging conditions for the survey team. In addition, the crew was asked to survey at a tighter contour (6-foot) than the standard 4-meter (13.1-foot) contour so that they could more clearly define the boundaries of the shoal. To fulfill this requirement, the crew of NRT5 took strong precautions to mitigate risks associated with surveying in shallow water with breaking waves and strong currents, and closely monitored conditions for changes throughout the day.
Conditions changed quickly. The northeast experienced unseasonably warm temperatures, and a thick blanket of fog engulfed New York Harbor as the warm air met the cold water of the ocean, harbors, and bays. With weather conditions thought to be better outside of the harbor and to likely improve later in the morning, the team cautiously transited to the project area and found conditions were indeed much more favorable.
Despite the challenges, NRT5 successfully completed the survey of the area by the end of the week. While the 6-foot contour was not reached in all areas due to breaking waves, the data was interpolated to that scale using lines of data run across the shoal in between wave sets. NRT5 has processed and analyzed the acquired data and Coast Survey will use it to create products to improve the resolution of the charted shoal and prevent future incidents.
Coast Survey’s NRTs conduct hydrographic surveys to update NOAA’s suite of nautical charts. The teams are strategically located around the country and remain on call to respond to emergencies speeding the resumption of shipping after storms, and protecting life and property from underwater dangers to navigation. NRT5 team members contributed the content of this story.
On March 12, 2018, NOAA Coast Survey’s navigation response team 5 (NRT5) located the T/V Captain Mackintire, an 80-foot towing vessel that sank off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine. The U.S. Coast Guard requested assistance finding the vessel, citing concerns of environmental hazards due to an unknown amount of fuel remaining onboard.
While being transferred from Maine to New York by the smaller tug, Helen Louise,Mackintire‘s seaworthiness became questionable. The crew aboard the Helen Louise contacted USCG Sector Northern New England for support. The USCGC Reef Shark patrol boat assumed towing responsibility of Mackintire and around 2 a.m. on February 22, the Reef Shark cut the towing line as Mackintire sank.
As soon as NRT5 received the USCG request to locate the Mackintire, the team—Lt. j.g. Dylan Kosten, Michael Bloom, and Eli Smith—departed from their homeport of New London, Connecticut, for Kennebunkport.
Surveying in a small vessel in Maine during March is highly restricted by cycles of low pressure, known as nor’easters, which in some cases create 100 mile per hour winds, coastal flooding, and blizzard conditions. Recognizing a narrow window of opportunity before the next storm hit, NRT5 amended their existing plan—to begin survey post nor’easter—and instead launched immediately upon arrival. Accompanied by Lara Herrmann, USCG, the team headed offshore to begin their search.
Within 15 minutes of initiating survey operations at the location provided by the USCG, the team found the tug using multibeam sonar imagery. Upon inspection, they determined the vessel is laying on its starboard side in 45 meters of water, 300 meters to the southwest of its last known position. With survey operations completed, the team opted to remain in Kennebunkport to weather the storm before returning to New London.
NOAA’s navigation response team 2 (NRT2), homeported in Fernandina Beach, Florida, conducted a survey around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and additional members of the Tampa Bay Harbor Safety Committee requested the work and expressed interest in establishing alternate routes for recreational boating traffic. Alternative routes will alleviate increasing congestion where the main ship channel passes beneath the bridge. This area is naturally restrictive to navigation and, as a result, there have been multiple accidents and near accidents here in the past.
Lt. j.g. Patrick Debroisse from NOAA Research Vessel Bay Hydro II installed a topographic lidar system on NRT2, which marked the first time a lidar system was employed from an NRT boat. The lidar system enabled 3D data to be collected for those portions of the bridge that are above water line. NRT2 collected lidar data for associated bridge protective structures and two fixed light range towers in addition to the bridge and bridge supports.
The accurate positional and dimensional information gleaned from this data will be used to compliment extensive hydrographic sonar data collected beneath the surface. Together, the complete data set will enable full consideration of area features, both above and below the water line, in determining the placement of alternative routes.
A USCG approval decision is anticipated in the spring. If approved, the chief of the cartographic team will work to have the alternate routes added to all affected NOAA charts.
The NRT2 team consists of James Kirkpatrick (team lead), Lucas Blass, and Howie Meyers. NOAA’s NRTs operate trailer-able survey launches to provide time-sensitive information during emergency response and maritime incidents such as vessel groundings, sinkings, or cargo loss. The launches are equipped with multibeam and side scan sonar, which can help identify navigation hazards and mitigate risk to life and property.